Corruption and the role of a strong leader – Singapore vs. Rwanda

I begin with a confession. I may be fairly described as a dyed in the wool admirer of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s Minister Mentor. For those who do not know Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, he is the founding father of modern Singapore, who runs a tight ship and Singapore’s pre-eminent position as a modern, affluent and corruption free society owes entirely to his vision and his determination.

I begin with a confession. I may be fairly described as a dyed in the wool admirer of Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s Minister Mentor. For those who do not know Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, he is the founding father of modern Singapore, who runs a tight ship and Singapore’s pre-eminent position as a modern, affluent and corruption free society owes entirely to his vision and his determination.

What he has achieved for his country in the face of the hopelessly impossible challenges says a great deal about his single minded devotion to public duty in the public interest.

Enriching himself or his family has never been part of his game plan – a trait familiar in Rwanda’s context by H.E President Kagame.

Mr. Lee has never wavered in his belief right at the outset that corruption, humanity’s greatest curse, was not going to be a feature of Singapore’s governance model.

His administration is both clean and efficient, and Singapore’s economy is among the most competitive in the world.

Judged against most indicators, Singapore is among the top global performers. While Rwanda wallows in corruption and are daily buffeted by one financial scam after another across all levels of the Government, although in all fairness we fare much better than our neighbors, but still there is a tendency for leaders to dip their hands in the public coffers.

I am often asked the reason for my being such a loyal Lee Kuan Yew fan. It goes a long way.

As I always say, he is not without a blemish or two, but no man has done more to curb corruption in public life as Lee, to the eternal gratitude of his people who are well served by a corruption-free civil service and political leadership.

The benefits for Singapore have been enormous in reputational terms. Investors know that their investments are safer in Singapore than in many other jurisdictions because Singapore operates a justice system that is incorruptible.

Singapore has succeeded in curbing corruption to a degree that is rarely achieved elsewhere in Asia, except possibly Hong Kong. Singapore does not need a bloated anti-corruption bureaucracy such as Kenya has, or what the Ombudsman is trying to mimic in Rwanda.

But what Singapore has in large measure is political will riding on the shoulders of a remarkable leader whose abhorrence for corruption takes on an almost messianic crusade.

When we think of Singapore before Lee Kuan Yew, what comes to mind was a country that was a corrupt colonial backwater, filthy, ugly and smelly- not unlike Hong Kong at that point.

Today, Singapore has shown the world that by confronting corruption decisively, and by putting in place systems and policies specifically to make unethical public behavior a high risk and low return business, a country will become competitive- which is the name of the game in the globalised economy. How do we fare by comparison?

The government of Rwanda is so far doing an excellent job – thanks to H.E Kagame’s vigilance, and continued hard stance on this issue. I am not just talking about money changing hands.

That is bribery, but equally insidious is bending the rules and exploiting loopholes with a view to defrauding the nation’s coffers.

The Eastern Province scandal is a case in point, where all perpetrators including Mr. Mutsindashyaka are being called to account for their part in this multi-billion ringgit swindle.

The government must continue doing its duty in ensuring that those responsible are brought to justice. A scandal of this magnitude for a country such as ours, where we are still dependent on the kindness of foreigners, is unacceptable.

Rwanda’s politicians should stop confusing their relationship with Mr. Kagame and the President – the two are different people, and it has been evident over the years – no one is invincible out there.

Through sheer force of character, and leading by example, Lee Kuan Yew has been able to make a difference to the lives of his people. Singapore is able today to punch way above its weight.

It is a respected name, human rights NGOs may disagree, and I for one wish Singapore well in its relentless fight against man’s most debilitating social ill.

The writer is a student at Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

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