Flawed assumptions behind poor rating for S'pore in defence anti-graft index: Ng Eng Hen

His ministry puts in place strict procedures to ensure that procurement systems adhere to the highest and most rigorous standards, he added.

Get the full story from The Straits Times.

Here is the reply by Minister for Defence Dr Ng Eng Hen to Parliamentary Question on Transparency International's Government Defence Anti-Corruption Index:

Dr Lim Wee Kiak: To ask the Minister for Defence in view of Transparency International's Government Defence Anti-Corruption Index which gives Singapore a poor rating, whether Singapore's defence budget oversight and procurement processes are sufficiently robust.

Dr Ng Eng Hen:

Madam, Singapore and its various Government Ministries and agencies have achieved a reputation for zero tolerance against corruption for many years. For the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF), we have strict procedures to ensure that our procurement systems adhere to the highest and most rigorous standards and I think defence experts acknowledge this. For example, credible defence journals such as Jane's Defence Weekly and Jane's Defence Industry have acknowledged our robust and comprehensive system for procurement. TheFinancial Times also noted the "stringency and transparency" of our processes while the Aviation Week publication lauded Singapore's Defence Ministry as a "reference customer" and a "model of cost-effectiveness" to suppliers and buyers of defence equipment.

Among global defence companies, it is common knowledge that MINDEF buys equipment at very competitive prices and has stringent standards of performance for its purchases.

So the difference between MINDEF's hard-earned and well-known reputation of being stringent, transparent, cost-effective in our procurement practices, and that of Transparency International's defence corruption risk reports which place us in the same category as countries like Afghanistan and Iraq, point to a credibility gap of TI's reports.

We examined TI's assessment and found their assumptions to be flawed and processes weak. For example, TI stated that while there is "no evidence of illicit economic activity", they further went on to add "we may assume some off-budget allocations, perhaps on a limited basis". I don't know what the basis of that assumption is but it is a very, very serious allegation. Further, the evaluator, a person called Mr David Fouquet, added that he has "on good personal authority" that there was a phantom employee on the Ministry of Defence's payroll, without giving any details. We would suggest to TI that their processes need to be strengthened by relying on more authoritative sources and substantiated facts. In fact, TI's analysis seems to be based mainly on Internet sources. We have endeavoured to reach out to this organisation to give them more information but they have flatly declined our offers of more information to debunk their false assertions.

TI also asserts that "parliamentary and legislature to scrutinise the defence budget is not robust due to a lack of opposition voices in the political system". This is a re-hash of old debates that if Singapore does not conform closely to their model of parliamentary democracy, we must be corrupt. TI's reports do injustice to our Members of Parliament here and ignore the strong legislative oversight as well as strong executive controls in our system.

The Defence Budget is presented and passed by Parliament and approved by the President each year. The Parliament appoints a Select Committee, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), to work closely with the Auditor-General's Office to conduct regular scrutiny of our expenditure and accounts. This is further complemented by strong executive oversight, and we have a robust system of checks and balances, an independent Auditor-General who reports to the President, and a clean Civil Service. Detailed information on our anti-corruption, budget, audit and procurement checks and balances are available on public sites.

In fact, more established publications such as the Asian Intelligence Report by the Political & Economic Risk Consultancy Limited consistently ranked Singapore as the least corrupt country in Asia since 2002. Other reputable publications such as the "Governance Matters" report published by the World Bank Institute, the official research arm of the World Bank, has also consistently ranked Singapore in the top 5th percentile out of over 200 countries, in the area of Control of Corruption. The findings from this "Governance Matters" report are drawn from over 20 different indicators, some of which include reputable sources such as the Economist Intelligence Unit and the World Competitiveness Yearbook by the renowned Swiss-based International Institute for Management Development.

Indeed, TI's Headquarters' most recent Corruption Perception Index 2013 placed Singapore as the fifth least corrupt nation in the world. The fact that the same organisation, albeit through two different publications, gives us quite different assessments, again calls into question TI's credibility.

My ministry reiterates that we are committed to upholding Singapore's reputation as a country that is clean, honest and trustworthy, and a Ministry which emphasises the highest levels of integrity and incorruptibility.

Purchase this article for republication.