Imagine a region, a country, a world free of corruption. Where individuals are rewarded on merit, businesses compete on a level playing field, government activities are transparent and the benefits of economic growth reach all citizens.

Singapore comes close to this. Not because it is small but because it is fortunate to have had a prime minister such as Lee Kuan Yew. A strong leader with a clear vision, he brought Singapore to where it is today. And, central to his philosophy and actions was his stance against corruption.

In refusing to protect unscrupulous subordinates, Lee cleaned up Singapore from the top down. There was no face-saving or politicizing in his crackdowns on graft, and this led to a transparent and accountable administration that gave confidence to investors – which, in turn, created the fast and undisrupted growth that made Singapore what it is today.

Time and again we are reminded that successful campaigns against corruption have to come from the very top. A genuine commitment from leadership is vital if bad practices are to be prevented from creeping in. Leading with moral authority is a prerequisite to attaining sustainable success in this battle. It is therefore not unreasonable to demand that present and future leaders are assessed on, among other things, their attitudes to and achievements in combating corruption.

Many countries today have launched their own transparency initiatives. To further these efforts, the Global Agenda Council on Transparency and Anti-Corruption aims to advocate capacity-building programmes among the institutions that prevent and control corruption.

Corruption is a two-way transaction. To significantly curb it in any one country, the buy-in of the private sector is essential. Along with governments, businesses must take responsibility, and civil society can offer support by instilling transparency and accountability in governments and business communities. The Global Agenda Council’s focus will extend to developing and endorsing voluntary self-disclosure and high-level reporting mechanisms.

Another recommendation is to educate the next generation – starting with primary-age children – about the perils of corruption and nepotism. Young people who are awarded internships under the Ten Youth programme, for example, should take an oath of transparency and integrity.

It takes time to change mindsets – especially in Asia, where gift-giving is part of the culture and corrupt practices have provided some degree of advantage. But by educating and raising awareness of how corruption robs a country and its people of the development it deserves, economically as well as socially, and with efforts from all sectors of society, we are one step closer to a better world.

Author: Serge Pun, Chairman, Serge Pun & Associates, Myanmar.

Image: A private money trader counts rupee currency notes at a shop in Mumbai August 1, 2013. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash