Summary: Leadership in Anticorruption: Insights into Singapore & NYC’s Investigative Agencies

The Center on Global Economic Governance (CGEG) and the Urban and Social Policy Concentration at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) hosted an event on “Leadership in Anticorruption: Insights into Singapore & NYC’s Investigative Agencies” on April 2, 2018.

Following an introduction by Ester Fuchs, Director of the Urban and Social Policy Concentration at Columbia SIPA, both Wong Hong Kuan, Director of Singapore’s Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB), and Mark G. Peters, NYC Department of Investigations (DOI) Commissioner, gave remarks on their experiences. Paul Lagunes, CGEG Faculty Associate and Assistant Professor of International and Public Affairs at Columbia SIPA, then moderated a panel discussion, which included questions and comments from Xiaobo Lü, Professor of Political Science at Barnard College, and Jennifer H. Arlen, Norma Z. Paige Professor of Law at New York University.

In her opening remarks, Professor Fuchs noted pervasiveness of corruption: it exists at every level of government in all corners of the world. Corruption transcends ideology and all types of political regimes. Fuchs stressed that, given the potential for corruption to poison any form of government, we must seek to understand it better and develop institutions to root it out.

CPIB Director Wong then gave a brief overview of CPIB’s structure, mandate, and oversight during his talk. He highlighted how Singapore is among the least corrupt countries in the world and has adopted a “zero-tolerance” approach to corruption control. Most CPIB prosecutions have involved private sector individuals, with public official prosecutions exceedingly rare. With strong political will as the foundation for any anti-corruption framework, Wong noted four additional key elements. These include: (1) strong anti-corruption laws, (2) an independent and fair judiciary, (3) a responsive public service, and (4) an effective enforcement body. In his conclusion, Wong noted challenges facing CPIB in the future include large financial flows due to the city’s position as a financial hub and rapid advances in technology.

DOI Commissioner Peters next offered remarks on DOI’s operations and achievements in New York. DOI, one of the oldest anti-corruption units in the world, essentially acts as an inspector general for New York City. DOI releases detailed reports on their investigations, offering transparency and accountability of their work. The unit’s centralized structure allows for a single investigative body to speak with a unified voice on key issues. Peters believes the federal government should adopt a similar structure, with a national inspector general having a mandate to oversee all federal departments. Peters gave examples of DOI investigations, including their work arresting a Brooklyn Assemblywoman who had used taxpayer dollars for personal benefit, uncovering Department of Correction officials who smuggled contraband into city prisons, and exposing city health officials who were siphoning money meant for foods stamp recipients for personal use. DOI also looks into mismanagement by city departments, which creates the fertile ground for corruption to take root.

In the following panel discussion, Professor Arlen noted the effectiveness of decent wages for civil servants in reducing the incentive to take bribes. She also posed questions to Wong and Peters regarding deferred prosecution agreements in Singapore and the potential use of bounties in New York to encourage more reporting of corruption. Professor Lü brought up the relative cost-effectiveness of the investigative bodies for both cities and if in New York the level of proof required to convict public officials had been raised since a recent Supreme Court ruling on the matter.

A lively Q&A session with the audience followed the panel discussion. Lagunes, then, concluded the event with a brief statement that recognized Singapore and New York City as case studies of progress in the fight against corruption.

This event was organized in partnership with the Economic and Political Development Concentration at Columbia SIPA and the Weatherhead East Asian Institute at Columbia University.

Please find DOI Commissioner Mark G. Peters speech for the event here.

Please find CPIB Director Hong Kuan Wong's powerpoint presentation here.

View photos from the event on our facebook page.

By Kevin Gilmartin, MPA ‘18