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Good governance, but where's the voice?

By Loh Chee Kong, TODAY
12 July 2007

First, the good news: Singapore continues to rank among the best in five out of six areas in the World Bank's latest worldwide governance indicator report.

In particular, it received almost perfect scores in corruption control and government effectiveness.

But the bad news is that in the category of "voice and accountability", which measures political, civil and human rights, the Republic's score hit its lowest since 1996 and it was placed in the bottom half of the 212 countries and territories surveyed.

While Singapore led Southeast Asia in all the governance indicators, it ranked behind Asian countries such as Hong Kong and India when it came to voice and accountability.

According to the World Bank, the latest report — which covers the decade from 1996 — revised the bank's earlier scores after five new data sources, such as the Gallup World Poll and the Open Budget Index, were added. These revisions in "virtually all cases result in minor changes in our earlier estimates", the report stated.

However, the revisions saw Singapore move up dramatically in voice and accountability for 2005.

Last year's edition of the report had placed Singapore in the 38th percentile for that year. After the revision, the Republic was placed near the 56th percentile.

In the latest report, Singapore was placed below 114 other countries, at the 46.6 percentile, in 2006. After the latest revisions, the only time the Republic fared worse was in 1996 (when it was placed at the 46.4 percentile) when the World Bank started the report.

Nevertheless, Singapore registered year-on-year improvements in the other indicators, where it was ranked among the best-managed 16 or so countries.

Singapore's rankings in the survey showed the country to be "one of the best-managed business environments in the world", said the World Bank.

Its representative in Singapore, Mr Peter Stephens, noted that the Republic had emerged relatively unscathed in an eventful decade and it was "easy to see why business has such confidence in Singapore as a place to invest and a location for major operations".

Said Mr Stephens: "Singapore has weathered the collapse of the technology boom, the emergence and competitive pressure of China, Sars and the advent of terrorism. Its systems of governance allow it to make decisions and implement them in ways that not only produce high-quality results, but which businesses can trust."

On the global front, the report showed emerging economies catching up with the rich nations. More than a dozen countries, most of them from the former Eastern Europe communist bloc, scored higher on key measures of governance than countries such as Greece and Italy.

China has improved its anti-corruption stand and the rule of law, but civil freedoms and political stability declined, the World Bank found.

In the region, Thailand — which is undergoing political transition following a military coup last year — experienced significant dips in the areas of political stability, and voice and accountability. In the former category, it was placed near the 16th percentile, ranking it just above 35 or so of the countries in the report. In the voice and accountability area, it was rated 32.2, down from 51.4 in 2005.

Malaysia was placed in the upper half of the rankings in all of the indicators except voice and accountability, where it was ranked in the 38th percentile.

It also registered a 4.3-percentile-point drop — to 58.7 — in political stability.

- TODAY/so

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