Any Indian visiting Singapore would be amazed by the clean roads, smooth traffic, ubiquitous greenery, clean air, among many other wonders. If the visitor is curious, he will probe deeper into what makes the country tick. He will discover that it’s not just the streets, but the Singapore government, public institutions, society & culture which are also clean & incorrupt.

What can India learn from Singapore to fight corruption & become cleaner?

Singapore is not 100% clean and corruption cases do dot the landscape. But the country routinely does well in international rankings by bodies like Transparency International & World Bank. So its worthwhile to study what they do.

Recently, Singapore’s PM Lee mentioned 3 factors which have kept Singapore clean.

  1. Singapore started with a strong political leadership in 1959, a leadership determined to eradicate corruption
  2. A strong political will, and an institutionalized anti-corruption framework
  3. A society and culture that eschews corruption, developed over time

As he himself put it, these 3 factors are no rocket science, and, in principle, any country can do it.


In the interesting book with the same title as this note, author V.Raghunathan discusses the paradox of corruption in India. A small proportion of Indians seeking bribes force the vast majority into paying up. Bribe payers express helplessness & justify their actions. Weak laws and poor enforcement contribute to little fear of detection & punishment. Human greed wrecks havoc. The bribing culture flourishes and society gets used to it over time. In a country like India, where the less educated masses lookup at politicians & bureaucrats as saviors, and not as equals who are just doing a different job, exploitation & corruption have free reign.

Where does India stand vis-a-vis the 3 secret sauces of Singapore?

I would like to believe we started, in 1947, with a strong, committed & clean leadership. Over time, corruption creeped in, as is natural in any system. Our political will to fight corruption was severely tested and we failed. Our institutions – police, judiciary, other anti-corruption bodies – didn’t keep up and failed us. Our society got more attuned to bribe giving & taking, and our very culture got poisoned.

When a habit gets ingrained within the culture and customs of a society, it’s not easy to change it. Our current approach to fight corruption is largely through grassroots movements and half-hearted attempts at changes to some institutions.

We are trying to win a race by wearing better shoes and doing occasional exercises. But winning starts with the head.

We need a strong political leadership, determined to eradicate corruption.

Singapore PM Speech

The Corruption Conundrum by V Raghunathan