Image Source: Transparency International
March 2017
REGION: East Asia and the Pacific

Transparency International’s report, People and Corruption: Asia Pacific, outlines detailed results of extensive survey research on perceptions and experiences of corruption across the Asia Pacific region. The report is part of a series for the Global Corruption Barometer and aims to assist governments in developing strategies to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which include reducing corruption and bribery. The authors argue that because “corruption diverts public funds, leads to inefficient service provision, and channels resources away from those most in need,” it “presents a real barrier to achieving other SDGs such as ending poverty and hunger, ensuring inclusive education, improving health outcomes, combatting climate change, and achieving gender equality.” Therefore, reducing public sector bribery should not only be viewed as goal in itself, but also as playing an essential role in meeting other SDGs.

The project surveyed a random sample of over 20,000 adults in 16 countries and territories across the Asia Pacific region between 2015 and 2017. While corruption was prominent across all areas, there was a great deal of variation in perceptions and experiences of corruption from area to area.

When asked how the level of corruption had changed in the last year, 40% of those surveyed believed it had increased, 22% believed it had decreased, and 33% believed it had not changed. These perceptions differed across the region, with China having the most respondents believing corruption had increased (73%), and Myanmar, Sri Lanka, and Thailand having the least (14%-22%). Police were perceived to be the most corrupt of nine powerful groups in each society, with 39% of those surveyed reporting that “most” or “all” police are involved in corruption. Police were followed by “legislatures, government officials, and local government councillors,” which were viewed as highly corrupt (35%-37%). Over 75% of those surveyed in Thailand and Pakistan believed police were corrupt, whereas less than 10% felt the same way in Australia and Japan. Respondents’ feelings toward their government’s performance in fighting this corruption were divided, with 50% saying their government was doing badly, and 41% saying the opposite. The South Korean government was viewed as fighting corruption poorly by the greatest number of citizens (76%), followed by Hong Kong, Vietnam, Japan, Mongolia, and Malaysia (60%-62%). India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Thailand had the most citizens reporting that their government was doing well at combatting corruption (49%-72%).

More than one in four people reported having paid a bribe for some public service in the past year, over 900 million people across the entire region. Bribery was most prominent in India, with nearly 70% of people having paid a bribe, followed by Vietnam with 65%. Bribery was lowest in Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea, where fewer than 5% of respondents had paid a bribe. Police were reported as most likely to take bribes, with roughly one third of people who encountered police utilizing bribery to get assistance or avoid paying a fine. Health care was the least likely service to be given in exchange for a bribe, with 18% of respondent reporting having paid a bribe to get access. Younger people were more likely to use bribery to access a public service than older people were, and bribery was used in similar proportions among men and women. In Thailand, India, and Pakistan, the poorest individuals were much more likely to have paid a bribe, which the authors believe may be a result of having fewer alternatives, or because they have less power or influence to avoid paying bribes. In Taiwan, China, Cambodia, Myanmar, and Vietnam, the richest people were most likely to use bribery, which the authors suggest may be because these individuals have more resources, or because they want quicker or better service.

A majority of people believed that they could make a difference in anti-corruption efforts (63%). In Australia, Taiwan, and Indonesia, 78% to 80% of people felt empowered to fight corruption, whereas only a third of Pakistani citizens felt the same way, which was substantially less than all other areas. Across the region, people viewed reporting corruption and refusing to pay bribes as the most effective actions against corruption. Other positive actions, such as voting for clean candidates and parties, signing a petition, or joining or supporting an anti-corruption organization, were viewed as effective by only 6% of respondents or fewer. More than one in five people felt that ordinary people cannot do anything to combat corruption. Thirty-six percent of respondents believed corruption goes unreported due to fear of the consequences, 15% believed it would not make a difference, and 13% believed it was because people did not know where or how to report it. The lack of confidence in official reporting channels appears to be based on actual experience. Of those who had reported a bribery incident, less than a quarter said the authorities took any action as a result, and over a quarter reported suffering a negative repercussion.

To curb corruption and achieve the SDGs in this region, the authors make several recommendations. First, heads of state must immediately and publicly commit to the SDGs to reduce bribery and corruption by 2030. Additionally, governments must implement legislation and practice at the national level to deliver on their anti-corruption commitments. Transparency should be promoted through implementation of access to information legislation and open government practices. A zero-tolerance policy for corruption should be adopted, pursuing prosecution and applying appropriate sanctions. Police must urgently address corruption within their ranks and work to gain public confidence. Governments should integrate anti-corruption targets in all SDGs to reduce corruption risks. Comprehensive legislation based on prevailing international standards must be put in place to protect whistleblowers. Finally, anti-corruption agencies should engage with citizens willing to report bribes, and to refuse to pay bribes, while also implementing outreach programs to encourage people to report corruption and ensure user-friendly reporting mechanisms.


NOTE: This summary is produced by the Rule of Law Collaborative, not by the original author(s).

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