Thursday, 31 January 2013

S'pore rebuts 'D+' grade in defence anti-graft index

Government tells international group why it doesn't reveal military spending details
By Hoe Pei Shan, The Straits Times, 30 Jan 2013

THE Singapore Government has rebutted a Transparency International report that gave the Republic a "D+" grade in its first Government Defence Anti-Corruption Index.

The Government explained why it does not publicise its military and security spending and stressed its safeguards against corruption in this area.

The Berlin-based group, which has traditionally ranked Singapore as one of the world's least corrupt nations, said in its report: "Overall, the defence and security sector is characterised by a dearth of public information, offset by strong controls against personnel corruption risks."

It grouped Singapore together with Lebanon, South Africa and Mexico as nations with a "high risk" of corruption within government defence.

It looked at 82 countries that accounted for 94 per cent of global military expenditure in 2011 and scored them in bands from very low risk (A) to critical risk (F), after assessing 77 indicators in five key risk areas: politics, finance, personnel, operations and procurement.

It said Singapore fared poorly in areas like financial risk, noting that "no information exists on asset disposal or on any scrutiny it may be subjected to". It also noted that no specific legislation regulates defence procurement.

But Singapore did better in areas like personal corruption risk, where the report noted "effective measures appear to be in place for deterring facilitation payments and bribery".

Dr Oliver Cover, principal author of the study, said Transparency International had engaged with the Singapore Government in coming up with this index, although he had not anticipated Singapore's eventual D+ rating.

In its three-page response, the Singapore Government explained why the Ministry of Defence did not make information more transparent, and emphasised its "zero tolerance policy on corruption".

"Singapore does not publicise the details of our defence and security expenditures, to prevent compromising our security," it said. "By their very nature, defence procurement and spending are not normally the subjects of public discussion."

It also noted that Mindef's monies are "well spent" and that it only buys what it needs.

It listed Mindef's anti-corruption initiatives, including regular security vetting of officers, seminars on professional ethics and corruption-related topics, regular internal audits of its departments at all levels of management, as well as regular reviews of financial procedures and anti-corruption measures.

"All suspected cases of bribery or corruption will be referred to the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau, an independent law enforcement agency that reports directly to the Prime Minister's Office, for investigation and follow-up actions," it added.

"Servicemen who have been convicted of bribery or corruption will be discharged from service in addition to the punishment meted out by the courts."

It also said that defence procurement is governed by rules based on "the principles of competition, transparency, fairness and value for money", and added: "Within the Government, there is clear segregation of duties in the procurement process to avoid conflict of interests."

The chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Defence and Foreign Affairs, Dr Lim Wee Kiak, was surprised by the D+ grade, saying Singapore has a "low risk of corruption".

"I don't think this index signifies much at all and it's not very fair to expect us to reveal information that involves national security," said Dr Lim.

"We shouldn't look too much into the low grade. We don't have to try to win favour or try to score high when national security is more important."

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