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Corruption and Its Mitigation Measures: A Comparison Between Singapore and Indonesia

Essays | Megan Yeo

A comparative study between Singapore and Indonesia’s anti-corruption measures. This essay seeks to inform the reader the various mitigation measures Singapore has implemented to combat bureaucratic corruption and compares the possibility of Indonesia adopting such solutions to combat a perennial problem.


Bureaucratic corruption is a topic that has plagued societies around the world for generations. It is found in varying degrees in developing and developed countries, existing in numerous types and forms. As bureaucratic corruption exists in different manifestations, this essay believes that corruption should be viewed as a complex, multi-layered issue, with differing causes and implications that affect both the individual and society overall.[1] The definition of corruption has also been a contentious issue in political science, with every-changing definitions. However, I will define bureaucratic corruption as an individual exploiting public office duties and position of power for their personal gain.

This essay will classify the general major causes of corruption as: the motivation to be corrupt, the opportunity to be corrupt, and the ability to be corrupt.[2] Additionally, under each major causes of corruption, I will argue that the motivation, opportunity, and ability to be corrupt are mainly driven by economic, political, and bureaucratic factors respectively. I acknowledge that there are multiple contextual factors that can contribute to the causes of corruption. Yet, due to constraints, I will only focus on the main ones listed.

Singapore has be touted by many as the prime example of miraculous economic growth. From a country with a newly gained right to self-governance, Singapore in 1960 was poor and corrupt, with its per capita gross national product (GNP) at S$1,330.[3] However, Singapore has made tremendous improvement, that other countries in Africa were eager to learn from Singapore’s successes in an attempt to replicate the same miracles.[4] Singapore has managed to effectively counter each of the root causes of corruption and their contextual factors with its anti-corruption measures such as: the prevention of corruption act, the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau, and instilling an ideology of meritocracy and compensation. As a result, corruption in Singapore is at a low degree. However, I contend that the Singaporean model of anti-corruption will be difficult for other countries like Indonesia to replicate and apply. The possibility of anti-corruption measures being copied and enforced in Indonesia remain pessimistic, due to the unique innate contextual factors Indonesia has that are difficult to resolve.

Major Causes of Corruption

In general, the major causes of corruption are due to the motivation to be corrupt, opportunity to be corrupt, and ability to be corrupt. Each country’s causes of corruption is different, but they can easily be classified under general contextual factors that facilitate the major reasons of corruption.

Economic (Motivation)

The prospects of greater monetary benefit is a major cause that fuels the motivation to be corrupt for public officials. The temptation to gain more financial wealth exists in both first-world and third-world countries, as there is an intrinsic human need to acquire more money for one’s own benefit. This is exacerbated in third-world countries, where the economic conditions are less than desirable for many public servants in comparison to their peers in first-world countries. To public administrators in third-world countries, their need to survive and satisfy basic human needs, overweighs the ideology of ethical administration. As such, it allows for bribery to be rife in many third-world countries, where public servants are paid meagre amounts.[5]Aside from gaining more money to supplement their daily necessities, corrupt officials in third-world countries may be more motivated to commit graft in order to fuel their desire for a luxurious lifestyle. Although in first world countries, public officials are paid sufficiently to cushion their material needs, there are some instances where corruption is committed. This occurs when the state gets more involved in the economy, gaining a hegemony in most socioeconomic sectors.[6]Public officials would have access to a wider range of economic areas, coupled with the innate human nature of greed, may be tempted to accept bribes to maintain their opulent lifestyle.

Political Culture (Opportunity)

The political culture of a country determines the degree of opportunity public officials have to commit corruption. Countries where traditional and societal mentalities that support patronage, parochialism, nepotism, and cronyism; allow for public administrators to exploit the given conditions for their own benefit. This is worsened when public administrators are unable to separate cultural norms with workforce culture in the public administrative sphere. The blurring of lines between the private and public spheres would result in the inability for public administrators to distinguish what is ethically accepted in public administration. Their resulting actions are normalized when they use the country’s traditions as their reasons for legitimacy. Hence, corrupt officials can use such opportunities for their personal gain. Whereas countries that prioritize and cultivate a neutral work mentalitysuch as meritocracy, reduces the number of opportunities for corruption to occur. Countries where public administrators are able to draw a clear line between personal and public life, would be less susceptible in exploiting opportunities to commit bureaucratic corruption. A political culture that emphasizes neutrality, nips one of the root causes of corruption by depriving officials the opportunities to be corrupt. Additionally, with the lack of traditional cultures seeping into the public sector, public officials would not have any opportunity to use traditional cultures as an excuse to legitimize their acts of graft.

Bureaucratic (Ability)

A centralized bureaucratic structure is a cause for corruption, as it provides top officials with a platform to commit corruption without consequences. With a centralized bureaucratic system, decisions are usually made by a top-down basis, the final decision being made at the highest level. This form of authoritarian administration grants the ability for top officials to carry out corruption and pursue their personal gain without repercussions due to the lack of checks and balances.[7]This is worsened when there are weak or a lack of independent organizations that can provide checks and balances to the centralized bureaucracy. With the lack of a watchdog, top officials are able to exploit their ability to further their personal agendas, disregarding their original responsibility of serving the public interest. Additionally, with a stringent bureaucratic process that is seen in a centralized bureaucracy, decision-making is slow and restrained by red tape. In order for decisions to be made quickly, officials may coerce clients to offer bribes to accelerate the process. Thus, it increases the accessibility of top officials to accept bribes, or to commit cronyism or nepotism as their actions will not be restricted by a higher power.

Singapore’s Anti-corruption Measures

Singapore has implemented numerous anti-corruption measures that has ensured the strong improvement of the country which was initially riddled with corruption, to a nearly corrupt-free country. Recently, Singapore was ranked 6thout of 180 countries in a report by transparency international.[8]This highlights the effectiveness of Singapore’s anti-corruption policies, with each policy managing to cull the root causes of corruption swiftly and effectively. However, this does not mean that Singapore is 100% corruption-free. There have been some cases where public officials ranging from different rankings in positions, commit corruption. Yet, if we follow the track record of Singapore from its beginnings as a country with self-governance, Singapore has made remarkable strides in improving incidences of corruption. Singapore’s successes in curbing most cases of corruption lies in its solutions, and how they specifically target all facets that may cause a person to be corrupt. Each solution has their effectiveness. Yet, I argue that the enforcement of all the policies, acts as a multi-faceted solution to corruption, allowing Singapore to enjoy a relatively low rate of corruption.

Prevention of Corruption Act

The prevention of corruption act is a legislative solution to prevent any instances of corruption. The legislation is a key deterrent in culling any motivation to be corrupt for Singaporean public officials. The act was created to ensure the more effectual prevention of corruption.[9]It is a comprehensive deterrent for corruption, as it covers all the loopholes one can find, targeting both the receiver and briber.[10]Not only that, Singaporean public officers must provide justification for the gifts they receive, and the definition of graft is not limited to just money, but an exchange of value.[11]Therefore, offenders cannot find loopholes by accepting bribes in the form of gifts. The penalties for those who commit graft are hefty and numerous, as those convicted can be fined up to S$100,000, or sentenced to imprisonment of up to seven years or both, having their property and resources confiscated, and ordered to pay back the amount of bribes accepted.[12]Such strict penalties act as a powerful deterrent to public officers, as the stiff penalties kills the motivations to commit corruption. By sentencing offenders who commit graft, the Singaporean government sends out a strict message to all public and private officials, that corruption in any form will not be tolerated. A key example, would be the case of former Minister for national Development, Teh Cheang Wan. His interrogation over his suspected acceptance of bribes, indicated that the corruption act was indiscriminate, that there will be punishment for public officials, both high-ranked or low-ranked, who engage in corruption.

Aside from the strict penalties, since its inception in 1960, the act has undergone numerous amendments (in 1963, 1966, and 1981).[13]Amendments are constantly made to this act to ensure that all loopholes are plugged, preventing public officials from actively seeking out loopholes to exploit in order to get away with corruption without facing legal consequences. Following the example of Teh Cheang Wan, his suicide before his sentencing prompted the enactment of the Corruption (Confiscation of Benefits) Act 1989, a new act, whereby the court granted permission for a deceased person’s benefits to be confiscated.[14]Thus, the prevention of corruption act is a powerful legislation that actively deters public officials from being motivated to commit corruption.

Corruption Practice Bureau

The corruption practice bureau (CPIB) was the PAP government’s solution to the corruption issue that Singapore was plagued with during colonial times. The main purpose of the CPIB is to investigate complaints of corruption in public and private sectors, investigate suspected malpractice by public officials, and to reduce opportunities for corruption in the public sphere by analysing practices.[15]The CPIB is powerful as they have the sole ability to enact various sections on the prevention of corruption act.[16]Aside from granting the CPIB legal rights to investigate and pursue complaints of corruption, the PAP government has continuously pumped adequate monetary resources for the CPIB. The CPIB’s budget has increased throughout the years, from S$1,024,370 in 1978 to $20,094,000 in 2010.[17]The CPIB has proved its effectiveness in curbing corruption in Singapore since the PAP government’s takeover, as it boosted Singapore’s international position in the Corruption Perceptions Index from 1995 to 2009.[18]By granting the CPIB sole rights to enforce the prevention of corruption act, and the growing amount of resources dedicated to sustain the work by the CPIB, the PAP government ensures the constant improvement in the bureau’s overall effectiveness. With an increasing amount of financial resources allocated to the CPIB’s budget, the bureau will have sufficient access to resources to carry out research for corrupt cases, causing each complaint of corruption to be investigated to its full potential. This is to prevent the scenario whereby the CPIB is unable to carry out its duties due to resource limitations, allowing cases of corruption to slip through unpunished.

Besides resource allocation and the legal right to enforce the prevention of corruption act, CPIB personnel also undergo skills upgrading. CPIB staff are updated on current management and professional trends in training programs conducted locally or aboard.[19]By constantly upgrading and training staff, the CPIB ensures the continuous improvement in the quality of their personnel when handling cases of corruption. This prepares staff to be prepared when handling new types of corruption cases, as well as being exposed to new innovations regarding management in the public and private sector. Overall, the CPIB is an essential anti-corruption measure that has proved its capabilities since its inception, catapulting Singapore from the bottom to the top in international rankings. With the creation of a body dedicated to fight corruption in both public and private sectors, the CPIB is an integral player in culling the ability to be corrupt, as potential offenders will know that there is an anti-corruption agency that will limit their chances and ability to commit corruption.

Meritocracy and High Wages

A key ideology that the PAP government cultivated in the beginning of Singapore’s independence, was the ideology of meritocracy. The doctrine of meritocracy has been ingrained in Singapore so deeply, that it forms the backbone of the political system.[20]As meritocracy plays an overarching role in the political system, it affects the recruitment of public officials. Recruitment of public servants is heavily based on one’s own merits, whereby the best and most qualified candidates are selected for a specific role. In Singapore, public officials are picked based on a stringent and often extensive criteria. Potential recruits must fulfil certain requirements such as: citizenship, age, educational qualification, experience, medical fitness, and no criminal background.[21]This ensures the overall efficiency of the Singaporean civil service, and fairness in the recruitment of staff, culling all opportunities for the abuse of power as nepotism. Additionally, a meritocratic work culture prevents cronyism and nepotism from being normalized. To deter the motivation to be corrupt, Singaporean public officials are given a large income as compensation for their contributions. Generally, a prime motivation to accept bribes would be low income levels. In Singapore, the income for ministers and top civil servants are measured against the earnings in top sector jobs.[22]By supplying the public service workforce with an income that takes care of their material needs, public servants will be less inclined to accept monetary bribes.

The Singapore Model – A Common Structure for Indonesia to Replicate?

Even though the Singaporean model for anti-corruption has proved its performance legitimacy, it does not guarantee that the same results can be replicated in other countries, especially Indonesia. Singapore is a unique case, whereby the contextual factors surrounding Singapore compliment and boost the model. The Singaporean model was originally created to fit the conditions Singapore has. Indonesia has its own contextual factors, with many differing from Singapore’s. If the whole Singaporean model were to be forced upon Indonesia, it may not see much success. Additionally, Indonesia’s contextual factors, if uncorrected, can render the implementation of the Singapore’s anti-corruption methods useless. The reasons limiting Indonesia’s potential successes, would be the country’s economic situation, and political culture.

Economic Situation

In 2008, Indonesia’s growth domestic product (GDP) was at US$511 billion, and the country was one of the largest economies in the world alongside economic giants like China and Japan.[23]Despite the financial foundations for efficient public administration, Indonesia remained highly corrupt with it ranking 126thout of 180 countries in the 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI).[24]This was due to Indonesia’s GDP per capita being at US$2,250 in 2008, resulting in many public officials being paid low wages in actuality.[25]Low income inhibits the motivation to be corrupt, as public officials are being driven into a corner financially, struggling to satisfy their daily necessities while maintaining their ethics. However, as their basic necessities affects their livelihood directly, low-wage public administrators will prioritise their own interest over ethics. In addition to low-wage public servants, top officials may be incentivized to accept bribes in order to fuel their desire for an opulent lifestyle, or to maintain their luxurious lives. This may result in top officials choosing to engage in underhand means in order to boost their livelihoods, rather than sticking to their ethics in serving the population.

Political Culture and Priorities

The prevalence of rampant bureaucratic corruption in Indonesia, is caused by their political culture. Indonesia’s work ethic mainly stems from its societal norms and constructs. Indonesia operates along the Asian ideology of family and friends first over the community or the state.[26]This means that gift-giving, preferential treatment for family and friends are considered to be the standard in Indonesian society, whereas prioritizing the community first is deemed as unorthodox. With no barriers between societal expectations and work ethics, it provides the opportunity for public officials to be corrupt as the lines are blurred between the personal and public spheres. This renders them unable to distinguish their public office duties from their personal lives. This is worsened as society also accepts the political culture, with very few protests over corruption. Indonesian officials would assume that their cultural traditions should be applied in every sector, including public administration. Due to the tolerance from Indonesians, the political culture provides an impetus for officials to engage in cronyism, nepotism, and clientelism on a regular basis without interference. For cronyism and nepotism, a prime example would be the extensive amount of corruption committed during Suharto’s rule. Suharto’s large family were involved in businesses and were granted monopolies for imports, manufacturing and distribution in various sectors.[27]

Patronage is also considered an integral part of Indonesian culture, stemming from the roots where offerings were given to Javanese rulers.[28]It facilitates the growth of clientelism as Indonesian officials will not find it ethically wrong to offer gifts to civil servants in exchange for their services as a part of an unspoken agreement.[29]With an long-lasting ingrained culture, it would be difficult for Singapore’s anti-corruption measures to be well-received and produce results on a similar scale.


Overall, there are three major causes of bureaucratic corruption: the motivation to be corrupt, the opportunity to be corrupt, and the ability to be corrupt. Singapore has managed to create effective anti-corruption measures for each cause: the Prevention of Corruption Act,the CPIB, and the recruitment process centralized on meritocracy, and high wages as compensation. However, we cannot assume that the Singaporean model is a general one that can be easily applied to Indonesia. The measures Singapore had devised were crafted around the contextual factors specific to the country, and as such, those factors combined exacerbated the success of Singapore’s corruption reduction. Singapore’s small demographic aids the implementation of anti-corruption solutions, as it is easier to pinpoint and investigate a corrupt administrator. Whereas in Indonesia, the large demographic size hinders the quick process in sourcing and punishing a corrupt official. Additionally, Singapore and Indonesia are both vastly different in terms of political culture. While Singapore emphasizes pragmatism and meritocracy, Indonesia is still stuck in the traditional mentality of patron-client relationships and obligations to family. Thus, Indonesian public administrators in both the top and low levels engage in corruption, leading to corruption in Indonesia being at a higher degree in comparison to Singapore. As political culture plays an important role in the motivation, opportunity, and ability to be corrupt in Indonesia, the culture needs to change for Singapore’s measures to work effectively.

All Indonesian ministers and public officials must prioritize efficiency over their culture in public administration. Strict procedures centred on ethics must be inculcated into Indonesian civil servants, whereby it is instinctive to serve the collective good of society rather than themselves. It will be difficult to overturn a deeply ingrained culture and thinking. Yet in the future, if high-ranking officials strongly advocate and facilitate this new mind-set, the fundamentals of Singapore’s anti-corruption policies can be applied to Indonesia, with only tweaks made to suit Indonesia’s context.

About the Author: Megan Yeo is a 2nd year Political Science major who loves to travel and drink variations of tea. She is current serving on the Editorial Board of The Convergence as Executive Secretary and Associate Editor (Essays).


[1]Graham Brooks, David Walsh, Chris Lewis, and Hakkyong Kim, Preventing Corruption: Investigation, Enforcement and Governance (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 11.

[2]Shamsul Haque, “Bureaucratic Corruption” (lecture, PS2244 Week 9, Singapore, March 20, 2018).

[3]Economic and Social Statistics Singapore: 1960-1982(Singapore: Department of Statistics, 1983), 7 and 12. [4]Can Singapore’s Experience be relevant to Africa? (Singapore: Singapore International Foundation, 1994), vii-viii. [5]David J. Gould, “Administrative Corruption: Incidence, Causes and Remedial Strategies,” in Handbook of Comparative and Development Public Administration, ed. Ali Farazmand (New York: Marcel Dekker, 2001), 878. [6]Ibid, 877. [7]Ibid, 877. [8]“Singapore Corruption Perceptions Index 2017,” Transparency International, last modified February 21, 2018, https://www.transparency.org/country/SGP [9]Jon S.T Quah, Administrative and Legal Measures for Combatting Bureaucratic Corruption in Singapore (Singapore: Chopmen Entreprises, 1978), 9. [10]N.C. Saxena, Virtuous Cycles: the Singapore public service and national development (New York: United Nations Development Programme, 2011), 45.

[11]Ibid, 45.

[12]Ibid, 45.

[13]Jon S.T Quah. Public Administration: Singapore Style. (Singapore: Emerald Group Publishing, 2010), 177.

[14]Ibid, 178.

[15]Jon S.T Quah. Curbing Corruption in Asian Countries: An impossible dream? (Singapore: Emerald Group Publishing, 2011), 221.

[16]Quah, Administrative and Legal Measures for Combatting Bureaucratic Corruption in Singapore, 17.

[17]Quah, Curbing Corruption in Asian Countries, 223.

[18]Ibid, 225.

[19]Jon S.T Quah, “Combating Asian Corruption: Enhancing the effectiveness of anti-corruption agencies,”Maryland Series in Contemporary Asian Studies 229, no 2 (2017): 30.

[20]Thomas J Bellows, “Meritocracy and the Singapore Political System,” Asia Journal of Political Science 17, no 1 (2009): 26, accessed March 27, 2018, https://doi.org/10.1080/02185370902767581

[21]Quah, Public Administration Singapore-Style, 75.

[22] Bellows, “Meritocracy and the Singapore Political System,”37.

[23] Quah, Curbing Corruption in Asian Countries, 347.

[24]“Corruption Perceptions Index 2008,” Transparency International, last modified September 22, 2008, https://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/cpi_2008/0

[25] Ibid, 347.

[26]Fiona Roberston-Snape, “Corruption, collusion and nepotism in Indonesia,” Third World Quarterly 20, no 3 (1999): 597, accessed March 29, 2018, https://doi.org/10.1080/01436599913703

[27]Quah, Curbing Corruption in Asian countries, 342.

[28]Roberston-Snape, “Corruption, collusion and nepotism in Indonesia,” 597. [29]Quah, Curbing Corruption in Asian countries, 349.


Bellows, Thomas J. “Meritocracy and the Singapore Political System.” Asia Journal of Political Science 17, no 1 (2009): 24-44. Accessed March 27, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1080/02185370902767581.

Brooks, Graham, David Walsh, Chris Lewis, and Hakkyong Kim. Preventing Corruption: Investigation, Enforcement and Governance. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. Can Singapore’s Experience be relevant to Africa? Singapore: Singapore International Foundation, 1994. “Corruption Perceptions Index 2008.” Transparency International. Last modified September 22, 2008. https://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/cpi_2008/0.

Economic and Social Statistics Singapore: 1960-1982. Singapore: Department of Statistics, 1983. Gould, David J. “Administrative Corruption: Incidence, Causes and Remedial Strategies.” In Handbook of Comparative and Development Public Administration, edited by Ali Farazmand, 872-886. New York: Marcel Dekker, 2001. Hyperlink: https://www-taylorfrancis-com.libproxy1.nus.edu.sg/books/9780203904756/chapters/10.4324/9780203904756-61.

Haque, Shamsul. “Bureaucratic Corruption.” Lecture for PS2244 Week 9, Singapore, March 20, 2018. Robertson-Snape, Fiona. “Corruption, collusion and nepotism in Indonesia.” Third World Quarterly 20, no 3 (1999): 589-602. Accessed March 29, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1080/01436599913703.

Saxena, N.C. Virtuous Cycles: the Singapore public service and national development. New York: United Nations Development Programme, 2011. “Singapore Corruption Perceptions Index 2017.” Transparency International. Last modified February 21, 2018. https://www.transparency.org/country/SGP.

Quah, Jon S.T. Administrative and Legal Measures for Combatting Bureaucratic Corruption in Singapore. Singapore: Chopmen Enterprises, 1978. Quah, Jon S.T. Public Administration: Singapore Style. Singapore: Emerald Group Publishing, 2010. Hyperlink: http://web.b.ebscohost.com.libproxy1.nus.edu.sg/ehost/detail/detail?vid=0&sid=1ea868de-a62c-4b7f-8da9-8b71c3d66567%40pdc-v-sessmgr06&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d.

Quah, Jon S.T. Curbing Corruption in Asian Countries: An impossible dream? Singapore: Emerald Group Publishing, 2011. Hyperlink: https://www-emeraldinsight-com.libproxy1.nus.edu.sg/doi/book/10.1108/S0732-1317%282011%2920.

Quah, Jon S.T. “Combating Asian Corruption: Enhancing the effectiveness of anti-corruption agencies.” Marland Series in Contemporary Asian Studies 229, no 2 (2017): 1-83.

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