South Asia: Tales from those battling corruption everyday
South Asians regularly have to pay bribes when dealing with their public institutions, be it to speed up paperwork, avoid problems with authorities such as the police, or simply access basic services.
A new survey of six South Asian countries published 22 December by Transparency International, the anti-corruption organisation, found that more than one in three people who deal with public services said they pay bribes. In previous surveys of this nature, only Sub-Saharan Africa had a higher rate of bribe-paying.
The report, Daily Lives and Corruption, Public Opinion in South Asia, surveyed 7500 people between 2010 and 2011 in Bangladesh, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The results help explain why the region is perceived to have some of the world’s highest levels of corruption, with none of the surveyed countries in the top half of Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. In fact, they all score less than 3.5 out of 10.
Political parties and the police are the most corrupt institutions in all six countries according to the survey, followed closely by the parliament and public officials. Officials entrusted to oversee deals related to buying, selling, inheriting and renting land were the next most likely to demand a bribe.
But amid these poor indicators, there is hope. Here are some stories of successful fights against corruption from across the region:
Bangladesh – making education fairer
Corruption in education is a problem in Bangladesh – from the collection of bribes for admission to schools and charges for free text books, to teacher misconduct and poor management.
Within a year of adopting an integrity pledge by Alokdia Primary School in Madhupur – where officials committed to act with integrity and citizens commit to monitor what they are doing – changes have been seen in the school and in the community.
Unauthorised payments have stopped and text books are distributed for free. School officials work with parents to manage the school more effectively. The dropout rate has fallen from 30 per cent to 7 per cent, and in the most recent final exams, 80 per cent of students scored the top marks available. The school’s state grade has improved from C to A.
Bangladesh – minimising risks in climate finance
In March 2011 an investigative journalist in Bangladesh discovered that US $34,000 earmarked for re-forestation projects had been handed to an organisation that trains people to repair computers. This was one of 53 such awards, 10 of which went to organisations that were either owned by or linked to local political leaders from Bangladesh’s ruling party.
Transparency International Bangladesh petitioned parliament over this, resulting in an official review of the award process.
India – holding healthcare accountable
Holding those in public office to account can be a challenge and public services like healthcare and education suffer accordingly. Negotiated within communities, our development pacts open dialogue between officials and those they serve. By signing these pacts, officials commit to act openly and honestly while citizens monitor the public servants.
Thanks to one such pact signed in 2010, healthcare provision in Mochha, India is improving. The construction of a new building for the local health centre is underway, and opening hours have been extended so that more people can receive the care they need. Doctors’ attendance has become much more regular. Elsewhere in India, primary schools, community halls and village water tanks have all been built as a result of pacts.
Pakistan – fighting land grabs
Land grabbing by the so-called “land mafia” is reportedly prolific in Pakistan.
Amir and Fatima* bought a small plot of land in Karachi and began paying regular contributions towards the local infrastructure. Several years later, they wanted to build a home on the land, but found a wall erected around it. They say they were barred from entering by armed guards. When the local police refused to file a complaint, Amir turned to Transparency International Pakistan. With their assistance, legal proceedings began.
The case never came to court. Instead, a few months later, the wall around Amir and Fatima’s land was mysteriously removed, and the guards vanished. Transparency International Pakistan learned that a local politician had allegedly been involved in the appropriation of Amir and Fatima’s property, and had likely been deterred from pursuing the case by Transparency InternationaI Pakistan’s involvement.
* names have been changed
Nepal – transparency in political financing
The regulation of political funding is a fairly new phenomenon in Nepal and the relevant rules were introduced only recently. Transparency International Nepal carried out research to evaluate them.
The research focused on examining transparency and accountability in the financing of the eight major parliamentary parties in the country. Compared with Bangladesh and Indonesia, Nepal had the lowest average score out of the three countries – with particular vulnerabilities existing in state oversight, reporting and the engagement of civil society.
Drawing attention to the findings, Transparency International Nepal has written to leaders of major political parties to initiate reforms on political finance. Our chapter recommended to the Speaker of the Assembly that the country’s new constitution address legal loopholes and include state funding of political parties.