Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. A speech by Singapore's senior minister Lee Kuan Yew, published in the Insight section of the South China Morning Post on September 27, reminds me of this famous line by the 19th century British historian Lord Acton. Mr Lee's speech told of how the People's Action Party (PAP), which he co-founded in 1954, managed to stay clean and honest even after the PAP succeeded in winning power. Today, despite being the ruling party in Singapore since 1959, the PAP has a reputation for being corruption-free. So has the country. That is no mean feat, as is evidenced by the numerous corruption scandals involving politicians that have surfaced in countries surrounding Singapore over the years. Mr Lee attributed the PAP's integrity to its policy of giving no hostages to fortune. Unlike political parties in many other democratic countries, which have to seek donations from either trade unions or big businesses to fund costly campaigns to win elections, the PAP relies on volunteers to staff its branches and run elections. In so doing, the party does not have to worry about having to return favours to their donors, thus stopping the development of so-called 'money politics', with political parties beholden to their financial backers. What makes the PAP even more remarkable as a clean political party is that it has not allowed its members to abuse the power they possess as government ministers to secure private gains for themselves or their families. Power corrupts for the simple reason that the temptation to use power for one's own benefit seems to be an inherent feature of human nature. In the old days, kings and queens wielding absolute powers used to persecute their opponents, wage wars, levy taxes and build palaces at will. They were guided more by their personal desires and ambitions rather than the interests of their subjects. In the contemporary world, the emergence of the concepts of separation of powers and parliamentary democracy as the guiding principles of government has reduced the risk of abuse of powers by our leaders. But even elaborate systems of checks and balances are found to have failed to prevent some countries from being plundered by errant holders of high offices who turn out to be crooks. That is why Mr Lee's speech is worth reading. Students who want to learn more about Singapore are advised to read two books by Mr Lee, pictured below, that tell the story of Singapore's transformation from a British colonial outpost to an independent and affluent country. - The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew and From Third World to First: The Singapore Story: 1965-2000.