The chief justice of Singapore’s Supreme Court used a recent case to set out new sentencing guidelines for private bribery, especially when it involves services that have a strong nexus to the public welfare.
In PP v Syed Mostofa Romel  SGHC 117 (avaliable here), Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon increased a convicted defendant’s jail term from two months to six months. The defendant was a ship inspector at Singapore’s terminal. He was convicted of soliciting bribes in exchange for lenient ship inspections.
CJ Menon said the government operates differently than it did a hundred years ago. Today there is increased privatization and outsourcing of services. But that doesn’t detract from the fact that public services are still involved, he said.
The chief justice also cited a study by Pak Hung Mo showing that a 1% increase in corruption levels reduces the growth rate by about 0.72%.
“Clean and honest dealing is one of our key competitive advantages,” CJ Menon said. “Corruption compromises the predictability and openness which Singapore offers and investors have come to expect. This is a hard won prize achieved through our collective efforts as a society and we must not allow these to be undone.”
Pak’s study, “Corruption and Economic Growth” (2001) 29 Journal of Comparative Economics, is here (pdf).
In sentencing a defendant for private-sector corruption, the chief justice said, the court will consider the effect of the corruption on Singapore as a place where legitimate dealings are expected, free of graft.
“Singapore deals with the intersection of public and private sector corruption by extending at the sentencing stage, the public service rationale to private agents who supply public services or handle public money,” CJ Menon said.
He divided private corruption into three broad (and non-exhaustive) categories.
The first is when a person is bribed to give the paying party a benefit. For example, a person may be bribed to buy or recommend the paying party’s goods. Usually, it is the paying party who suggests the bribe. Whether or not there is a jail sentence will depend on the facts.
The second is when a person is bribed to avoid performing a duty. For example, a person who is supposed to carry out inspections is bribed to slacken the inspection, or to turn a blind eye to deficiencies. Usually, it is the paying party who suggests the bribe. These cases “will frequently attract custodial sentences,” CJ Menon said.
The third is when a person is bribed so that he will not harm the paying party (whether or not the harm may be lawfully inflicted). For example, a person who is supposed to issue licenses is bribed in order to ensure that the license application is not misplaced or delayed. Usually, it is the receiving party who asks for the bribe. Persons who receive this category of bribe can generally expect to be jailed.
About the third category, CJ Menon said: “This kind of corruption is antithetical to everything that Singapore stands for as it undermines the confidence that if a person needs something such as a permit or license to do business in Singapore, it will be forthcoming without bribes being paid. It also destroys the notion that business in Singapore is clean and transparent, and that rules are there for good reason rather than to give people in whom discretion is vested or upon whom duties are placed, opportunities to have their palms greased and their pockets lined.”
The three categories, the chief justice said, are not watertight and “shade into one another.” They are reminders that sentencing “is an intensely factual exercise.”