Photo: Singapore. Credit: Sven Scheuermeier on Unsplash - Photo: 2018

Patchy Progress on Fighting Corruption across Asia-Pacific

By Sean Buchanan

This is the third in a series of reports highlighting salient aspects of Transparency International‘s latest analysis on challenges posed by corruption around the world as well as successes and failures of efforts targeting a scourge that eats into the vitals of human rights. – The Editor.

LONDON (IDN) – When it comes to the fight against corruption, countries in the Asia-Pacific region are failing on average, according to this year’s Corruption Perceptions Index released by Transparency International.

The index, which ranks 180 countries and territories by their perceived levels of public sector corruption according to experts and businesspeople, uses a scale of 0 to 100, where 0 is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean.

The Asia-Pacific region continues to show a high variance in public sector corruption: from top scorers like New Zealand and Singapore to some of the worst scorers like Cambodia, North Korea and Afghanistan, more than half of the countries in the region score less than 50 on the index, giving the region an average score of 44 on the index.

According to Transparency International, the region has witnessed little progress in the last six years, with only a few countries having experienced small, incremental changes indicating signs of improvement.

No country in the region scored a perfect 100, not even New Zealand – which is regarded as having one of the lowest levels of perceived corruption in the world – or Singapore, which both experienced their share of scandals in 2017.

Afghanistan rates very low on the index, its score having increased by seven points in the last six years, moving from 8 in 2012 to 15 in 2016 and 2017, partly due to some initial efforts nationwide to improve key policies, including better regulation of national procurement activities.

Although Indonesia still has a long way to go in the fight against corruption, it also climbed up the index, moving from 32 to 37 in the last five years. Transparency International attributes the slight improvement to the work of Indonesia’s leading anti-corruption agency (Corruption Eradication Commission, or KPK) in taking action against corrupt individuals.

Despite a stable and clean central government under President Joko Widodo (none of his ministers have been linked to corruption cases), corruption at the level of local governments and districts as well as in parliament and political parties remains widespread.

Other countries, like South Korea, remain fairly stable in their scores over the last six years. However, it has experienced recent high-profile corruption scandals, which led to massive public protests and the impeachment and prosecution of President Park Geun-hye. After losing her presidential immunity, she was charged with bribery, abusing state power and leaking state secrets.

Transparency International reports that often, when individuals dare to challenge the status quo, they suffer the consequences. In some countries across the region, journalists, activists, opposition leaders and even staff of law enforcement or watchdog agencies are threatened, and in the worst cases, even murdered.

The Philippines, India and the Maldives are said to be among the worst regional offenders in this respect. These countries score high for corruption and have fewer press freedoms and higher numbers of journalist deaths. In the last six years, 15 journalists working on corruption stories in these countries were murdered, as reported by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

While freedom of expression is under attack across much of the region, civic space is also reported to be shrinking severely. Civil society organisations in countries like Cambodia, Papua New Guinea and China are permanently under threat from authorities. In Cambodia, the government recently cracked down on civil society with the introduction of a restrictive law against NGOs.

While corruption continues to be a rampant problem across the Asia-Pacific region, improvements will only be made if there is strong political will for change and if a comprehensive strategy is adopted, not one based on isolated actions. According to Transparency International, such a strategy should include:

–   Putting in place laws and institutions that will prevent corruption from happening in the first place. Legal frameworks and access to information are essential components of a healthy political system where citizens can play a role in demanding accountability and preventing corruption. Whistleblower protection mechanisms and autonomous, well-resourced anti-corruption agencies are also a must in the Asia-Pacific region.

–   Reducing impunity for the corrupt. Professional and independent justice systems are necessary where police and prosecutors can respond to technical criteria and not political power plays.

–   Improving space for civil society to speak out. Governments should ensure that activists can speak freely throughout the region without fear of retaliation.

–   Improving integrity and values. Schools and universities should educate youth about ethics and values. Corporations should promote business integrity in the private sector and make these ideals more mainstream. 

Countries across the region are called on to decide where to make substantial changes that will bring about real improvements in their countries.

A comprehensive approach is necessary, says Transparency International, otherwise in the coming year governments will continue to make only marginal improvements at best or deteriorations at worst. [IDN-InDepthNews – 28 February 2018]

Related articles > Beware of Branding Africa as the World’s Most Corrupt Region

                             More Civil Engagement Called for in Eastern, South-East Europe

Photo: Singapore. Credit: Sven Scheuermeier on Unsplash

IDN is flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate. –

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