With widespread corruption in many Asian countries, Singapore and Hong Kong SAR have proved exceptions: their governments’ strong political will and reliance on single “Type A” anticorruption agencies (ACAs) have effectively and impartially enforced anticorruption laws. By contrast, the governments in China, India, and the Philippines have failed to minimize corruption due to weak political will and reliance on multiple ineffective and poorly resourced “Type B” ACAs. This essay draws on the experiences of these five countries to identify four lessons for policy-makers to enhance the effectiveness of their ACAs.

Corruption is a serious problem in many Asian countries. On Transparency International's 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index (cpi), countries like China, India, and the Philippines have earned low scores as they remain plagued by pervasive corruption due not only to their governments’ reliance on ineffective anticorruption agencies (acas), but also to the lack of political will to fund and enforce anticorruption efforts. Singapore and Hong Kong sar, however, are exceptions, having earned high cpi scores of 84 and 77, respectively.1 In these two countries, the public reports a lower level of perceived corruption and a greater trust in politicians because of their success in minimizing corruption (see Table 1). Why have Singapore and Hong Kong succeeded in combating corruption while India, China, and the Philippines have failed to do so? What lessons can policy-makers learn from these cases? This essay addresses these questions and identifies four lessons for policy-makers to enhance the effectiveness of acas.

Table 1

Perceived Extent of Corruption in Five Asian Countries, 2016

Corruption Perceptions Index Rank (and Score)Political and Economic Risk Consultancy Rank (and Score)Global Competitiveness Index (gci): Diversion of Public Funds Rank (and Score)gci: Irregular Payments and Bribes Rank (and Score)gci: Organized Crime Rank (and Score)gci: Public Trust in Politicians Rank (and Score)
Singapore 7 (84) 1 (1.67) 3 (6.2) 3 (6.7) 7 (6.4) 1 (6.4)
Hong Kong sar 15 (77) 4 (3.40) 12 (5.9) 12 (6.3) 18 (6.0) 21 (4.6)
China 79 (40) 11 (7.50) 44 (4.1) 54 (4.3) 78 (4.7) 30 (4.2)
India 79 (40) 16 (8.13) 34 (4.5) 49 (4.5) 97 (4.3) 31 (4.2)
Philippines 101 (35) 10 (7.05) 102 (2.9) 105 (3.2) 89 (4.3) 99 (2.4)
# of Ranked Countries 176 16 138 138 138 138
Corruption Perceptions Index Rank (and Score)Political and Economic Risk Consultancy Rank (and Score)Global Competitiveness Index (gci): Diversion of Public Funds Rank (and Score)gci: Irregular Payments and Bribes Rank (and Score)gci: Organized Crime Rank (and Score)gci: Public Trust in Politicians Rank (and Score)
Singapore 7 (84) 1 (1.67) 3 (6.2) 3 (6.7) 7 (6.4) 1 (6.4)
Hong Kong sar 15 (77) 4 (3.40) 12 (5.9) 12 (6.3) 18 (6.0) 21 (4.6)
China 79 (40) 11 (7.50) 44 (4.1) 54 (4.3) 78 (4.7) 30 (4.2)
India 79 (40) 16 (8.13) 34 (4.5) 49 (4.5) 97 (4.3) 31 (4.2)
Philippines 101 (35) 10 (7.05) 102 (2.9) 105 (3.2) 89 (4.3) 99 (2.4)
# of Ranked Countries 176 16 138 138 138 138

Note: The Corruption Perceptions Index expresses scores on a scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean); the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy expresses scores on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 being the best grade possible; and the Global Competitiveness Index indicators are expressed as scores on a 1 to 7 scale, with 7 being the most desirable. Source: Transparency International, “Corruption Perceptions Index 2016,” https://www.transparency.org/news/feature/corruption_perceptions_index_2016 (accessed January 25, 2017); Political and Economic Risk Consultancy, “Annual Review of Corruption in Asia–2016,” Asian Intelligence 944 (2016): 1; and Klaus Schwab, ed., The Global Competitiveness Report 2016–2017 (Geneva: World Economic Forum, 2016), 147, 197, 203, 297, 319.

In October 1951, 1,800 pounds of opium worth us$133,330 were stolen in Singapore by a group that included three police detectives. The revelation of the opium hijacking scandal exposed the British colonial government's mistake in making the Singapore Police Force's Anti-Corruption Branch responsible for combating corruption in 1937, after the 1879 and 1886 Commissions of Inquiry had confirmed that police corruption was rampant. As the police failed to curb corruption, the British colonial government rectified its mistake by replacing the Anti-Corruption Branch with the world's first aca, the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (cpib), in September 1952.2 On June 8, 1973, in Hong Kong, Chief Superintendent of Police Peter Godber, who was being investigated for corruption, escaped to the UK. His escape angered the public and revealed the ineffectiveness of the Royal Hong Kong Police Force's Anti-Corruption Office. Governor Sir Murray MacLehose accepted the recommendation of the Blair-Kerr Commission of Inquiry to establish an aca that would be independent of the police, and the Independent Commission Against Corruption (icac) was formed on February 15, 1974, almost twenty-two years after the cpib.3 As British colonies, both Singapore and Hong Kong adopted the colonial government's method of combating corruption, which ignored the conflict of interest of relying on the police even though police corruption was widespread.4 The decision by the British colonial governments in Singapore and Hong Kong to replace the police with an independent aca was the breakthrough needed to combat corruption effectively in both territories. However, the cpib was ineffective during its first eight years due to weak legal powers and inadequate personnel. The People's Action Party (pap) government assumed office in 1959 and enacted the Prevention of Corruption Act in 1960 to strengthen the cpib by enhancing its legal powers and providing it with adequate funding, personnel and operational autonomy to perform its functions effectively. Similarly, Governor MacLehose and his successors continued to support the icac in Hong Kong with adequate budget, personnel, and autonomy. The most important reason for Singapore's and Hong Kong's successes in combating corruption is the sustained political will of their governments as reflected in the cpib's and icac's per capita expenditures and staff-population ratios from 2008 to 2014. In that period, the icac had more personnel, a larger budget, a higher per capita expenditure, and a more favorable staff-population ratio than the cpib (see Table 2). But, as we will see, both the icac and cpib had higher per capita expenditures and more favorable staff-population ratios than the lead acas in India and the Philippines. Table 2 Per Capita Expenditures and Staff-Population Ratios of the cpib and icac, 2008–2014 2008201020122014 cpib Personnel 86 90 138 205 Budget us$11.2 million us$14.7 million us$20.3 million us$29.3 million Per Capita Expenditure us$2.32 us$2.90 us$3.82 us$5.36 Staff-Population Ratio 1:56,163 1:56,408 1:38,496 1:26,682 icac Personnel 1,263 1,321 1,282 1,358 Budget us$97.7 million us$104.65 million us$112.96 million us$120.14 million Per Capita Expenditure us$13.40 us$14.89 us$15.78 us$16.59 Staff-Population Ratio 1:5,780 1:5,317 1:5,581 1:5,333 2008201020122014 cpib Personnel 86 90 138 205 Budget us$11.2 million us$14.7 million us$20.3 million us$29.3 million Per Capita Expenditure us$2.32 us$2.90 us$3.82 us$5.36 Staff-Population Ratio 1:56,163 1:56,408 1:38,496 1:26,682 icac Personnel 1,263 1,321 1,282 1,358 Budget us$97.7 million us$104.65 million us$112.96 million us$120.14 million Per Capita Expenditure us$13.40 us$14.89 us$15.78 us$16.59 Staff-Population Ratio 1:5,780 1:5,317 1:5,581 1:5,333 Source: Republic of Singapore, Singapore Budget 2008–2014: Annex to the Expenditure Estimates (Singapore: Budget Division, Ministry of Finance, 2008–2014); and Hong Kong sar, Budget Estimates 2008–2014 (Hong Kong: Financial Secretary's Office, 2008–2014), Head 72, icac. The per capita expenditures and staff-population ratios of the cpib and icac were calculated by the author. Apart from providing the cpib and icac with the necessary legal powers, budget, and personnel, their governments have also provided these acas with the operational autonomy to perform their functions without political interference. That means that they can be independent watchdogs capable of investigating all corruption cases, without fear or favor, and regardless of the position, status, or political affiliation of the persons under investigation. Political scientist Robert Gregory describes the cpib and icac as good examples of acas with high de facto independence and high operational impartiality. Even though the cpib comes under the jurisdiction of the Prime Minister's Office in Singapore, the prime minister does not interfere in its daily operations; the director reports to the secretary to the cabinet. The cpib's operational impartiality has been protected by the pap leaders whose “political self-denial” has maintained its de facto independence and sustained its impartial reputation and popular legitimacy.5 Another important reason for the successes of the cpib and icac is their impartial enforcement of the anticorruption laws in Singapore and Hong Kong, respectively. In both cases, anyone found guilty of a corruption offense is punished regardless of his or her position, status, or political affiliation. The cpib has investigated five pap leaders and eight senior civil servants in Singapore without fear or favor from 1966 to 2014. For example, cpib Assistant Director Edwin Yeo was charged on July 24, 2013, with misappropriating us$1.41 million from 2008 to 2012. He was found guilty of criminal breach of trust and forgery and sentenced to ten years’ imprisonment on February 20, 2014.6 The icac has also not hesitated to investigate political leaders and senior civil servants in Hong Kong sar if they are accused of corruption offenses.7 The investigation of the corruption scandals involving the former Chief Executive of Hong Kong Donald Tsang in February and April 2012 culminated in his conviction on February 17, 2017, for misconduct in public office: he had not disclosed his rental negotiations with a property tycoon, Bill Wong, while his cabinet was reviewing a digital broadcasting license request from Wong's radio company. Tsang was sentenced to twenty months’ imprisonment on February 22, 2017.8

Finally, Singapore and Hong Kong sar have succeeded in minimizing corruption because of their comprehensive approach in dealing with all corruption complaints. The cpib adopts a “total approach to enforcement” by focusing on both major and minor cases of public and private sector corruption, as well as “both giver and receiver of bribes” and other crimes uncovered in the investigation of corruption complaints.9 Bertrand de Speville, the icac commissioner from 1992 to 1997, contends that the icac has succeeded in gaining public confidence by ensuring that all corruption reports, no matter how small, are investigated and kept confidential.10

There are two types of acas: Type A acas that perform only anticorruption functions and Type B acas that perform both anticorruption and noncorruption-related functions.11 The cpib and icac are Type A acas responsible for investigating corruption cases, preventing corruption, and providing anticorruption education. However, unlike Singapore and Hong Kong, China, India, and the Philippines have failed to curb corruption not only due to the weak political will of their governments, but also the ineffectiveness of their multiple Type B acas (see Table 3). While some acas in these countries are Type A, including China's National Corruption Prevention Bureau (ncpb), India's state anticorruption bureaus (acbs), and the Philippines’ Special Anti-Graft Court, they are largely ineffective due to limited resources.

Table 3

acas in China, India, and the Philippines

Anticorruption AgencyType of aca
China Central Commission for Discipline Inspection Type B
Ministry of Supervision Type B
Supreme People's Procuratorate Type B
National Corruption Prevention Bureau Type A
India Central Bureau of Investigation Type B
Central Vigilance Commission Type B
State Anti-Corruption Bureaus Type A
State Vigilance Commissions Type B
Philippines Office of the Ombudsman Type B
Special Anti-Graft Court Type A
Presidential Commission on Good Government Type B
Inter-Agency Anti-Graft Coordinating Council Type B
Office of Deputy Secretary for Legal Affairs Type B
Anticorruption AgencyType of aca
China Central Commission for Discipline Inspection Type B
Ministry of Supervision Type B
Supreme People's Procuratorate Type B
National Corruption Prevention Bureau Type A
India Central Bureau of Investigation Type B
Central Vigilance Commission Type B
State Anti-Corruption Bureaus Type A
State Vigilance Commissions Type B
Philippines Office of the Ombudsman Type B
Special Anti-Graft Court Type A
Presidential Commission on Good Government Type B
Inter-Agency Anti-Graft Coordinating Council Type B
Office of Deputy Secretary for Legal Affairs Type B

Source: Compiled by the author.

The first manifestation of the weak political will of political leaders in China, India, and the Philippines in curbing corruption is their long-standing reliance on multiple yet ineffective acas, without making any improvements to enhance their effectiveness. For example, eighteen acas were created by the various presidents in the Philippines from the establishment of the Integrity Board by President Elpidio Quirino in 1950 to the creation of the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission (pagc) and the Governance Advisory Council by President Gloria Arroyo in 2001.12 The proliferation of acas in the Philippines has led to “duplication, layering and turf wars.”13 Instead of coordinating their activities and cooperating with each other, the five current acas in the Philippines compete for recognition, personnel, and resources because they are understaffed and poorly funded.

The Office of the Ombudsman (omb) was established as a Type B aca in 1979 by President Ferdinand Marcos to be responsible for five functions: investigation of inefficiency and anomalies; prosecution of graft cases in the Special Anti-Graft Court; disciplinary control of elected and appointed officials (except members of Congress and judiciary and impeachable officials); public assistance; and graft prevention.14 However, the omb has suffered from a limited budget and severe staff shortages. Former Ombudsman Simeon Marcelo compared the budget and personnel of the omb and Hong Kong sar's icac in 2004 and found that: 1) the icac had 837 field investigators compared with the omb's eighty-eight; 2) the omb's staff-population ratio of 1:71,340 was much higher than the icac's staff-population ratio of 1:5,354; and 3) the icac's per capita expenditure of us$12.43 exceeded by 124 times the omb's per capita expenditure of us$0.10. He concluded that the omb was “designed to fail because of its crippling lack of resources.”15 The omb was severely understaffed in 2014 with 980 vacancies; its 1,214 personnel constituted only 55.3 percent of its established strength of 2,194 positions.16

Apart from its limited budget and personnel, the omb lacks credibility. Filipino citizens filed impeachment complaints against Ombudsman Aniano Desierto in 1996, 2001, and 2002 for betraying the public trust. Even though these complaints were dismissed by Congress, the impeachment cases had “sullied the already unsavoury reputation of the Ombudsman.”17 The omb was later pejoratively described as “the Street Ombudsman” because Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez devoted its limited resources to investigating petty corruption instead of continuing her predecessor's exposure of grand corruption.18 As Gutierrez was the classmate of First Gentleman Miguel Arroyo, she was criticized for protecting the interests of President Gloria Arroyo and her husband, their friends, and political allies. She was impeached by Congress in 2011 for not investigating the allegations against former President Arroyo and resigned as Ombudsman.19

President Corazon Aquino formed the Presidential Commission on Good Government (pcgg) in February 1986 to identify and retrieve the money stolen by the Marcos family and their cronies. The pcgg is not strictly an aca because it is not involved in investigating corruption cases or in corruption prevention and education. The pcgg has failed to meet its objective of recovering the loot stolen by the Marcos family after thirty years; it has outlived its usefulness and should be abolished as soon as possible.20 The Inter-Agency Anti-Graft Coordinating Council (iacc) is a voluntary alliance formed by the heads of the omb, Civil Service Commission, Commission of Audit, National Bureau of Investigation, and the pagc in 1997. The iacc's role is to enhance coordination among its member agencies, but it has met infrequently and failed to ensure collaboration among these agencies. Gutierrez “deactivated” the iacc by not convening it. The iacc's inability to coordinate the activities of the acas is reflected in the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime's Country Review Report of the Philippines, which highlights “inter-agency coordination and limited resources” as the twin challenges faced by the omb in investigating bribery and embezzlement cases.21 Like the pcgg, the iacc has also outlived its usefulness and should be disbanded.

After winning the 2016 presidential election, Rodrigo Duterte identified “fixing the criminality problem, drugs, and stopping corruption” as his top priorities. He increased the low salaries of the police and military because the starting monthly salary of php14,000 (us$301) for a police officer was adequate only for the officer's commuting expenses.22 Duterte's election victory is attributed to his “zero-tolerance approach” to corruption, which “resonated with the immense frustration many Filipinos feel over the widespread corruption that has plagued” the Philippines for many years.23 However, Duterte's focus on combating drugs at the expense of fighting corruption was a serious mistake, and further increased opportunities for graft among the notoriously corrupt police force.24 Of China's four acas, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (ccdi) is the most important, and is responsible for disciplining Communist Party of China (ccp) members accused of corruption and other offenses. ccp members found guilty of disciplinary offenses, including corruption, are punished with increasing severity, varying from a warning, serious warning, demotion from duty, expulsion from the ccp with a two-year probation period, to expulsion from the ccp and transfer to the judicial system for those accused of accepting bribes exceeding rmb5,000 (us$748). The ccp was criticized for protecting those party cadres under investigation by shielding them in “a safe nest” and exempting them from criminal punishment.25 Among the 115,143 ccp members disciplined from 1992 to 2006, 44,836 (38.9 percent) were warned and 32,289 (28 percent) were given a serious warning. In other words, two-thirds of the ccp members who were disciplined “got away with only a mild to serious warning that appeared to have no real punitive consequences.”26

The ccp has historically treated its corruption leniently because of the political tradition of not imposing legal penalties on members to avoid embarrassing the ccp and the government and to prevent the erosion of official authority. Thus, instead of punishing high-ranking officials, which is seen as shameful and threatening to party-state authority, the preferred option is to rely on “internal resolution.” Not surprisingly, corrupt party officials believed that they were unlikely to be caught or punished.27

There are three additional reasons why some corrupt officials are punished less severely. First, those cooperative corrupt officials who make voluntary confessions, provide information on the corruption of other officials, or return illegal income to the government are punished less severely. Second, some corrupt officials receive reduced punishment depending on the amount of money embezzled or number of bribes received. Third, when there are many corrupt officials, only seriously corrupt officials are punished, while the less corrupt officials are exempted from punishment to avoid paralyzing the operations of the city or local government because “when the number of corrupt agents becomes too high, curbing corruption becomes too difficult, if not impossible.”28 The inconsistencies in investigating and punishing corrupt officials at the central and local levels in China have undermined the credibility of the disciplinary agencies and encouraged them to believe that they would be unlikely to be punished for their offenses.29

The ccdi, Ministry of Supervision (mos), and the Supreme People's Procuratorate are ineffective acas because the “limited coordination between the three agencies, a lack of timely, actionable information, and narrow oversight capabilities all hinder anticorruption work.”30 The ncpb was formed in 2007 to implement preventive measures, monitor the transfer of assets across the organizations, facilitate and promote information sharing between agencies, and monitor corrupt practices among private enterprises, social organizations, and nongovernmental organizations. However, as the ncpb has only thirty personnel to perform its functions and is located within the mos, it cannot enhance coordination and facilitate cooperation among the acas in China. Apart from its limited independence and minimal enforcement capabilities, its creation has increased complexity instead of improving coordination. The ncpb is in “a highly untenable position” because it lacks the power to enforce its mandate of coordinating the work of the acas.31

India also relies on ineffective acas to curb corruption, with the Central Bureau of Investigation (cbi) – the lead aca – and the Central Vigilance Commission (cvc) being the most important. Both the cbi and the cvc rely on a vast network of anticorruption bureaus (acbs) and state vigilance commissions (svcs) in India's twenty-eight states to deal, respectively, with anticorruption and vigilance work. The acbs derive their powers of investigation from the Police Act because they are regular police units. The cbi has sixteen zones and sixty branches, with each state having a branch or unit at the state capital (or a major city). The svcs are patterned after the cvc and are assisted by the special police establishments in conducting investigations of corruption by public servants.32

The cbi was established in 1963 as a Type B aca, as reflected in the functions of three of its six divisions. The Anti-Corruption Division is responsible for investigating corruption and fraud cases committed by public servants working for the central government. The Economic Crimes Division investigates bank and financial frauds; import, export, and foreign exchange violations; large-scale smuggling of narcotics, antiques, and cultural property; and smuggling of other contraband items. The Special Crimes Division deals with cases of terrorism, bomb explosions, sensational homicides, kidnapping for ransom, and organized crime.33

The cbi's Achilles’ heel is that it is a police agency that derives its investigating powers from the Delhi Special Police Establishment Act of 1946. This means that, unlike Singapore's cpib or Hong Kong sar's icac, the Government of India (goi) has continued to employ the traditional British colonial government's ineffective method of relying on the police to curb corruption.

The experiences of the cpib and icac have confirmed the folly of relying on the police to curb corruption when they are themselves corrupt; the “golden rule” is that “the police cannot and should not be responsible for investigating their own deviance and crimes.”34 As one commenter put it, trusting police to curb corruption is like “giving candy to a child” and trusting him not to eat it.35 Singapore and Hong Kong took fifteen years (1937–1952) and twenty-six years (1948–1974), respectively, to learn this important lesson. Unfortunately, the goi has not learned it after fifty-four years; it still relies on the cbi, which is a police agency, to fight corruption in the midst of widespread police corruption in India. This weakness is not surprising, since “the greatest failing of India's domestic political system is its inability or unwillingness to curb widespread corruption.”36

The cbi's second limitation is that, as a Type B aca, it investigates and prosecutes corruption cases and other economic and special criminal activities, including terrorism and organized crime. With the Mumbai terrorist attacks in 2008 and the current international concern with combating terrorism, it is difficult for the cbi to focus exclusively on its anticorruption functions because of the competing demands on its limited resources. Consequently, the cbi has accorded higher priority to combating terrorism than to fighting corruption. Furthermore, the important functions of education, prevention, and the coordination of anticorruption activities are also neglected in India.

Third, the cbi is understaffed and poorly funded. While its actual strength has increased from 4,908 personnel in 2002 to 5,676 personnel in 2014, the number of vacancies has remained at 1,012 (17.1 percent) in 2002 and 1,000 (15 percent) in 2014. The cbi's inability to fill its many vacancies from 2002 to 2014 reflects its chronic staff shortage, as manifested in its unfavorable staff-population ratio of 1:228,206 in 2014.37 As the cbi is “a very small organization as compared to the quantum of crimes” committed in India, former cbi Joint Director B. R. Lall recommends the expansion of its personnel by 20 percent annually over the next decade.38

Finally, the cbi is perceived by the public as “a pliable tool of the ruling party, and its investigations tend to become cover-up operations for the misdeeds of ministers.”39 Former Central Vigilance Commissioner N. Vittal has criticized the cbi's lack of independence and credibility because it is “a football between the party in power and the party in opposition”: the cases initiated by one regime are neutralized by the next. Former cbi Director D. R. Karthikeyan acknowledged that as the cbi was a government department, it was “expected to work as per the direction of its employer.”40

The cvc was created in 1964 as a Type B aca to investigate improper transactions by public servants; examine complaints of corruption, misconduct, lack of integrity, or other malpractices committed by public servants; supervise the vigilance and anticorruption work of ministries, departments, and public enterprises by requesting and checking their reports on these activities; and request the cbi to investigate a case or entrust the complaint, information, or case for inquiry to the cbi, or to the ministry, department, or public enterprise concerned.41 Since the enactment of the cvc Act in 2003, the cvc has also been responsible for supervising the cbi's operations by conducting monthly meetings with the cbi director to review the progress and quality of the cases being investigated.42

The cvc is also understaffed as, in addition to its three commissioners and 238 personnel, it also relies on 199 full-time and 438 part-time central vigilance officers to handle the 62,362 complaints and 5,492 vigilance cases received in 2014.43 In addition to its severe staff shortage, the cvc's second limitation is that it is an advisory body that relies on other public agencies to investigate the complaints of misconduct by civil servants that it receives. The cvc's limited budget and personnel means that it has to rely on the vigilance divisions of ministries and government departments.

There are four lessons policy-makers in countries with rampant corruption can learn from these cases. The most important lesson is that political will is essential for success in combating corruption. Political will refers to the sustained commitment of political leaders to implement policies to minimize corruption in their countries; it is important because leaders “can change a culture of corruption if they wish to do so” by enacting the laws and allocating the funds for enforcing these laws.44 The tone from the top is critical for success because political leaders set the example by determining the direction, goals, and priorities of their country's anticorruption strategy. Robert Rotberg contends that “sincerely anti-corrupt leaders can influence the official behavior of entire leadership cohorts and of whole countries,” as shown by the examples of Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore and Seretse Khama in Botswana.45 Unfortunately, political will is scarce, especially in Asian countries where corruption is widespread because those persons “who are the greatest beneficiaries of corruption have the greatest power and use the corrupt nature of government to maintain that power.”46

An analysis of the effectiveness of fifty acas by the World Bank concludes that “political will and commitment are the cornerstone of every successful anti-corruption effort.”47 While all governments have budget constraints, their “allocation of limited resources for aca activities” signals their lack of “genuine commitment to the aca's mission.”48 Two important indicators of political will are the budget and personnel allocated to the acas. First, the aca's per capita expenditure is calculated by dividing its budget in U.S. dollars for a selected year by the country's population for the same year. Second, the aca's staff-population ratio is assessed by dividing the country's population for a selected year by the number of the aca's personnel for the same year.49 Using these indicators, the strong political will of the governments of Hong Kong sar and Singapore in curbing corruption is manifested in the higher per capita expenditures and more favorable staff-population ratios of the icac and cpib (see Table 4). Conversely, the weak political will of the governments of the Philippines and India in combating corruption is reflected in the lower per capita expenditures and unfavorable staff-population ratios of the omb and cbi.

Table 4

Comparison of acas in Five Asian Countries

cpi Score, 2016 (0–100)gdp Per Capita, 2015Lead acaLead aca's Per Capita Expenditure, 2014Lead aca's Staff-Population Ratio, 2014
Singapore 84 us$52,888 cpib (Type A) us$5.36 1:26,682
Hong Kong sar 77 us$42,327 icac (Type A) us$16.59 1:5,333
China 40 us$8,027 ccdi (Type B) No Data No Data India 40 us$1,598 cbi (Type B) us$0.05 1:228,206 Philippines 35 us$2,904 omb (Type B) us$0.39 1:81,631 cpi Score, 2016 (0–100)gdp Per Capita, 2015Lead acaLead aca's Per Capita Expenditure, 2014Lead aca's Staff-Population Ratio, 2014 Singapore 84 us$52,888 cpib (Type A) us$5.36 1:26,682 Hong Kong sar 77 us$42,327 icac (Type A) us$16.59 1:5,333 China 40 us$8,027 ccdi (Type B) No Data No Data
India 40 us$1,598 cbi (Type B) us$0.05 1:228,206
Philippines 35 us$2,904 omb (Type B) us$0.39 1:81,631

Note: China's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection does not publish data on its budget and personnel. Source: Transparency International, “Corruption Perceptions Index 2016,” https://www.transparency.org/news/feature/corruption_perceptions_index_2016. Data on gdp per capita are available at https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.PCAP.CD. The per capita expenditures and staff-population ratios of the four acas were calculated by the author from their budgets and personnel in 2014.

The second lesson is that policy-makers must initiate appropriate reforms to tackle corruption by addressing its causes. However, despite what is known about the causes of corruption, most governments have failed to do so because it is easier to deal with the symptoms than to address the root causes of corruption.50 President Xi Jinping's anticorruption campaign in China was launched in 2012 against the “tigers and flies,” or those senior and junior officials who had become rich through bribery and patronage. However, this campaign is ineffective because it has only introduced regulations to curb extravagance and gift-giving without tackling the other four causes of corruption in China: low public-sector salaries, red tape, low probability of detecting and punishing corrupt ccp members, and lack of accountability of local government officials.51

Economist Daron Acemoglu and political scientist James Robinson believe that “poor countries are poor because those who have power make choices that create poverty. They get it wrong not by mistake or ignorance but on purpose.”52 The rampant corruption in many Asian countries has not improved because their political leaders have made decisions that facilitate rather than curb corruption. Furthermore, corrupt politicians, civil servants, businesspersons, and citizens in these countries resist and subvert the implementation of comprehensive anticorruption reforms to protect their vested interests. Without substantive reforms to address the causes of corruption in Asian countries, their anticorruption efforts will continue to be ineffective.

The success stories of Singapore and Hong Kong sar show that minimizing corruption in Asian countries is not an elusive dream. There is now a wealth of knowledge on the causes of corruption that policy-makers can distill to enhance the effectiveness of their anticorruption measures.53 What appears to be lacking, however, is the political will of policy-makers in China, India, the Philippines, and other Asian countries to address the causes of corruption.

The third lesson for policy-makers is to establish a Type A aca, like the cpib or icac, and enhance its capacity, instead of relying on a Type B aca or multiple acas. Denmark, Finland, and New Zealand have relied on other institutions instead of Type A acas to ensure good governance, but many Asian countries cannot rely on this option because they lack the strong institutions to deal with rampant corruption.54 Since combating corruption is difficult and requires extensive financial and human resources, it would be more effective for policy-makers to establish a single Type A aca (such as the cpib or icac), which is dedicated solely to performing anticorruption functions, instead of any number of Type B acas (such as the ccdi, cbi, or omb), which have to perform both corruption and noncorruption-related functions. These acas would be more effective if they focused exclusively on combating corruption and relinquished their noncorruption-related functions to other domestic agencies.

The final lesson for policy-makers is that they should ensure that the new Type A aca functions as an independent watchdog that investigates all corruption cases impartially, without fear or favor, and regardless of the position, status, or political affiliation of those persons being investigated. Singapore's cpib and Hong Kong's icac are good examples of independent watchdogs. The second role of an aca–as the “attack dog” of a government that abuses its powers by using corruption allegations as a weapon against its political opponents–is undesirable and should be avoided.

Over the past two decades, anticorruption campaigns have frequently been used in China against political enemies to undermine their power base in the ccp. There are four prominent examples of the ccp leaders’ reliance on the ccdi as an attack dog against their political foes. The first example is the 1995 investigation of Chen Xitong, Beijing's party secretary, which was orchestrated by President Jiang Zemin because of the rivalry between his Shanghai faction and Chen's Beijing faction. Chen was sentenced to sixteen years’ imprisonment for graft involving the misappropriation of rmb555,000.55 Second, Chen Liangyu, Shanghai's party chief, was fired by President Hu Jintao in 2006 for his alleged role in the misuse of rmb3.2 billion from Shanghai's rmb10 billion pension fund. As Chen was an obstacle to his political control, Hu used the “antigraft card” to remove him from office; Chen was imprisoned for eighteen years for bribery and abuse of power in 2008.56 The third case involved Bo Xilai, Chongqing's party chief, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2012 for bribery, embezzlement, and abuse of power. Destroying Bo gave Xi Jinping “a weapon with which he could taint Bo's associates and accelerate the consolidation of his power.”57 The fourth example is the 2014 ccdi investigation of Zhou Yongkang, the minister of public security from 2002 to 2007, for corruption, which resulted in the confiscation by the procuratorates of us\$16.05 billion worth of assets from his many residences across seven provinces in China. Zhou was expelled from the ccp in 2014, not only because of his corruption offenses, but also especially for his conspiracy with Bo Xilai to challenge Xi Jinping's leadership.58

The third role of an aca as a “toothless” or paper tiger is also undesirable as it reflects the government's weak political will to curb corruption by not providing the aca with the necessary legal powers, budget, personnel, and operational independence to enforce the anticorruption laws impartially. The Korea Independent Commission Against Corruption (kicac) was formed in South Korea in 2002, but was a weak replica of Hong Kong's icac because it could not investigate corruption cases. Its successor, the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission (acrc) not only inherited the kicac's Achilles’ heel of being unable to investigate corruption cases, but its anticorruption functions were further diluted when the kicac was merged in 2008 with the Ombudsman and Administrative Appeals Commission to form the acrc, a Type B aca. South Korea's inability to improve its cpi score beyond 53 to 56 from 2012 to 2016 reflects its failure to curb corruption and is an indictment of its futile strategy of relying on such paper tigers as the kicac and acrc throughout the past fifteen years.59 Hence, it is not surprising that 76 percent of South Korean respondents in Transparency International's Global Corruption Barometer in 2017 believed that their government was doing badly in fighting corruption.60

Unlike the acrc, the omb in the Philippines can investigate and prosecute corruption cases in addition to its other functions of graft prevention, disciplinary control, and providing assistance to public requests to expedite the delivery of services. However, the omb's ineffectiveness as the lead aca in combating corruption is the result of its serious staff shortage, limited budget, poor reputation, and inability to cooperate with the other acas in the Philippines. This explains why the omb is also viewed as a paper tiger instead of a watchdog or attack dog.

The success of the cpib and icac in combating corruption has resulted in the proliferation of Type A acas around the world. It is not difficult for policy-makers to establish a Type A aca in their country if they wish to do so. The challenge for them, however, would be to ensure that the new Type A aca would have sufficient legal powers, budgets, and trained personnel to investigate corruption cases impartially and function effectively as an independent watchdog. It would be pointless for policy-makers in Asian countries to establish a Type A aca if they lack the political will to ensure that it functions independently and effectively.

1

Hong Kong was a British colony until July 1997 when it became a Special Administrative Region (sar) of China. For convenience, Hong Kong sar is referred to as a country in this essay.

2

Jon S.T. Quah, Combating Corruption Singapore-Style: Lessons for other Asian Countries (Baltimore: School of Law, University of Maryland, 2007), 9–16.

3

Jon S.T. Quah, Curbing Corruption in Asian Countries: An Impossible Dream? (Bingley, United Kingdom: Emerald Group Publishing, 2011), 252–253.

4

Jon S.T. Quah, “Best Practices for Curbing Corruption in Asia,” The Governance Brief 11 (2004): 1–2.

5

Robert Gregory, “Political Independence, Operational Impartiality, and the Effectiveness of Anticorruption Agencies,” Asian Education and Development Studies 4 (1) (2015): 130–131.

6

Jon S.T. Quah, “Singapore's Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau: Four Suggestions for Enhancing Its Effectiveness,” Asian Education and Development Studies 4 (1) (2015): 77, 80–81.

7

Ian Scott, “Political Scandals and the Accountability of the Chief Executive in Hong Kong,” Asian Survey 54 (5) (2014): 966–972.

8

“Ex-hk Chief Jailed 20 Months for Misconduct,” Straits Times, February 23, 2017, A3.

9

Soh Kee Hian, “Corruption Enforcement,” paper presented at the Second Seminar of the International Association of Anti-Corruption Associations, Chongqing, China, May 17–18, 2008, 1–2.

10

Bertrand de Speville, Hong Kong: Policy Initiatives against Corruption (Paris: Development Centre of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 1997), 55–56.

11

Jon S.T. Quah, “Learning from Singapore's Effective Anti-Corruption Strategy: Policy Recommendations for South Korea,” Asian Education and Development Studies 6 (1) (2017): 20–21.

12

Quah, Curbing Corruption in Asian Countries, 136.

13

Gabriella Quimson, National Integrity Systems: Transparency International Country Study Report, Philippines 2006 (Berlin: Transparency International, 2006), 30.

14

Office of the Ombudsman, Annual Report 2008 (Quezon City, Philippines: Office of the Ombudsman, 2009), 7–8.

15

Simeon V. Marcelo, Combating Corruption in the Philippines: Are We Plundering our Chances or Doing it Better? (Quezon City, Philippines: National College of Public Administration and Governance, University of the Philippines, 2005), 1–3.

16

Office of the Ombudsman, Annual Report 2014 (Quezon City, Philippines: Office of the Ombudsman, 2015), 35.

17

Sheila S. Coronel and Lorna Kalaw-Tirol, Investigating Corruption: A Do-It-Yourself Guide (Quezon City, Philippines: Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, 2002), 261–262.

18

“The Street Ombudsman,” Newsbreak Online, November 21, 2006.

19

M. Cayabyab, “ph Ombudsman Behind other Anti-Corruption Agencies in Asia,” VERA Files, May 10, 2011.

20

Jon S.T. Quah, “Evaluating the Effectiveness of Anti-Corruption Agencies in Five Asian Countries,” Asian Education and Development Studies 4 (1) (2015): 154.

21

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, Country Review Report of the Philippines (Vienna: United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2012), 8, 35.

22

“Fixing Crime, Corruption Top of Agenda for Philippines’ Duterte,” Channel NewsAsia, May 11, 2016.

23

Beatriz Paterno, “What Does Rodrigo Duterte's Victory Say about the Philippines’ Experience with Corruption?” The Global Anticorruption Blog, May 20, 2016.

24

Ana P. Santos, “Philippine Drug War Continues Despite Corruption,” Deutsche Welle, February 14, 2017.

25

Flora Sapio, Implementing Anti-Corruption in the PRC: Patterns of Selectivity, working paper no. 10 (Lund, Sweden: Centre for East and Southeast Asian Studies, Lund University, 2005), 8–10.

26

Minxin Pei, “Fighting Corruption: A Difficult Challenge for Chinese Leaders,” in China's Changing Political Landscape: Prospects for Democracy, ed. Cheng Li (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2008), 230–232.

27

Lening Zhang, “White-Collar Crime: Bribery and Corruption in China,” in Crime and Social Control in China, ed. Jianhong Liu, Lening Zhang, and Steven F. Messner (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2001), 28, 33.

28

Yongshun Cai, State and Agents in China: Disciplining Government Officials (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2015), 130–131.

29

Ibid., 133.

30

Jeffrey Becker, “Tackling Corruption at its Source: The National Corruption Prevention Bureau,” Journal of Chinese Political Science 13 (3) (2008): 287.

31

Ibid., 291, 297–299.

32

Quah, Curbing Corruption in Asian Countries, 97.

33

Central Bureau of Investigation, Annual Report 2014 (New Delhi: Central Bureau of Investigation, 2015), 4.

34

Maurice Punch, Police Corruption: Deviance, Accountability and Reform in Policing (Portland, Ore.: Willan Publishing, 2009), 245.

35

Quah, “Best Practices for Curbing Corruption in Asia,” 2.

36

Michael Auslin, The End of the Asian Century: War, Stagnation, and the Risks to the World's Most Dynamic Region (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2017), 118.

37

Central Bureau of Investigation, Annual Report 2004 (New Delhi: Central Bureau of Investigation, 2005), 29; and Central Bureau of Investigation, Annual Report 2014, 84.

38

B. R. Lall, Who Owns the CBI? The Naked Truth (New Delhi: Manas Publications, 2007), 230–231.

39

S. S. Gill, The Pathology of Corruption (New Delhi: HarperCollins Publishers India, 1998), 238.

40

N. Vittal, Ending Corruption? How to Clean Up India (New Delhi: Penguin Books India, 2012), 132–134, 23.

41

C. V. Narasimhan, “Prevention of Corruption: Towards Effective Enforcement,” in Corruption in India: Agenda for Action, ed. S. Guhan and Samuel Paul (New Delhi: Vision Books, 1997), 264–265.

42

Central Vigilance Commission, Annual Report 2008 (New Delhi: Central Vigilance Commission, 2009), 1–2.

43

Central Vigilance Commission, Annual Report 2014 (New Delhi: Central Vigilance Commission, 2015), xi, 14, 23–24.

44

Ian Senior, Corruption–The World's Big C: Cases, Causes, Consequences, Cures (London: Institute of Economic Affairs, 2006), 184.

45

Robert I. Rotberg, “Leadership Alters Corrupt Behavior,” in Corruption, Global Security, and World Order, ed. Robert I. Rotberg (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2009), 342; and Robert I. Rotberg, The Corruption Cure: How Citizens and Leaders Can Combat Graft (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2017), 228–245.

46

Senior, Corruption–The World's Big C, 187.

47

Francesca Recanatini, “Anti-Corruption Authorities: An Effective Tool to Curb Corruption?” in International Handbook on the Economics of Corruption, vol. 2, ed. Susan Rose-Ackerman and Tina Soreide (Cheltenham, United Kingdom: Edward Elgar, 2011), 565.

48

Ibid., 549.

49

Jon S.T. Quah, “Benchmarking for Excellence: A Comparative Analysis of Seven Asian Anti-Corruption Agencies,” Asia Pacific Journal of Public Administration 31 (2) (2009): 182.

50

Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, Think Like a Freak: How to Think Smarter about Almost Everything (London: Allen Lane, 2014), 66–67.

51

Jon S.T. Quah, Hunting the Corrupt “Tigers” and “Flies” in China: An Evaluation of Xi Jinping's Anti-Corruption Campaign (November 2012 to March 2015) (Baltimore: Carey School of Law, University of Maryland, 2015), 4, 88–91.

52

Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson, Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty (London: Profile Books, 2012), 68.

53

See Daniel Treisman, “What Have We Learned about the Causes of Corruption from Ten Years of Cross-National Research?” Annual Review of Political Science 10 (2007): 211–244.

54

See Jon S.T. Quah, “Different Paths to Curbing Corruption: A Comparative Analysis,” in Different Paths to Curbing Corruption: Lessons from Denmark, Finland, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Singapore, ed. Jon S.T. Quah (Bingley, United Kingdom: Emerald Group Publishing, 2013), 226–232.

55

“Web of Deceit: Main Characters in the Chen Xitong Scandal,” Straits Times, August 10, 1998.

56

Quah, Hunting the Corrupt “Tigers” and “Flies” in China, 77–78.

57

John Garnaut, The Rise and Fall of the House of Bo (Melbourne: Penguin Group, 2012), 129–130.

58

Quah, Hunting the Corrupt “Tigers” and “Flies” in China, 79–81.

59

Quah, “Learning from Singapore's Effective Anti-Corruption Strategy,” 23, 26.

60

Coralie Pring, People and Corruption: Asia Pacific Global Corruption Barometer (Berlin: Transparency International, 2017), 11.