With an average score of 45, the Asia Pacific region struggles to combat corruption and tackle the profound health and economic impact of COVID-19.
With a score of 88, New Zealand is consistently one of the top performers on the CPI, both in the region and around the world. The country is followed by Singapore (85), Australia (77) and Hong Kong (77). Conversely, Cambodia (21), Afghanistan (19) and North Korea (18) earn the lowest scores in the region.
While Asia Pacific is diverse in both size and scale, most countries still struggle to improve their anti-corruption efforts. Despite limited examples of progress, some bright spots exist where countries have made substantial gains to build integrity.
After decades of tireless efforts, Papua New Guinea (PNG) (27) celebrated a huge victory last year with the passing of legislation to establish an anti-corruption commission. Similarly, the Solomon Islands (42) appointed the first ever director general of its national anti-corruption commission, which can now focus on recruiting and training staff to get up and running.
COVID-19 corruption challenges in the Pacific
In some Pacific countries, COVID-19 and Cyclone Harold exposed several cracks in already weak governance systems.
Civil society actors and allies across Vanuatu (43), PNG and the Solomon Islands called for greater transparency and accountability in the COVID-19 response.
In PNG, civil society demanded an audit of emergency funds and procurement to ensure an inclusive process. In the Solomon Islands, little progress has been made since the passing of the 2018 anti-corruption law and, in 2020, key government actors were accused of diverting funds intended to help people struggling during the pandemic.
The Solomon Islands recently announced the intention to ban Facebook, under the guise of preventing the spread of misinformation and to the dismay of the public. In Vanuatu (43), the government announced restrictions to press freedom, which were enabled by its state of emergency.
Too little progress in Asia
In Asia, key economies such as India (40), Indonesia (37) and Bangladesh (26) experienced slow progress in anti-corruption efforts, with several government commitments to reform not yet materialising effectively.
The Maldives (43), which climbed 14 points on the index since last year, shows a positive trend and experienced advances in democratic space and the removal of several repressive laws.
With a score of 19, Afghanistan is a significant improver on the CPI, climbing 11 points since 2012. The country instituted significant legal and institutional reforms and recently announced plans to establish a new anti-corruption commission.
As part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Myanmar (28) and Timor-Leste (40), continue to steadily build their integrity infrastructure. Myanmar is a significant improver on the CPI, increasing 13 points since 2012, while Timor-Leste also shows significant improvement, jumping 10 points since 2013.
Countries to watch
With a score of 43, Vanuatu remains stagnant on the CPI. Highly vulnerable to the impact of natural disasters, it was hit the hardest by Cyclone Harold at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since its independence in 1980, Vanuatu has been politically volatile, with frequent motions of no confidence filed against the government. The former Prime Minister Charlot Salwai was the first to complete a full four-year term in office in more than a decade. Political instability has contributed to an environment rife with bribery, nepotism and misappropriation of funds.
In a positive development, the country is taking steps to engage citizens in public service delivery with the aim of improving efficiency and effectiveness. However, implementation of the necessary legal, policy and other anti-corruption frameworks remains a challenge. For example, difficulties with the implementation of a right to information law highlight concerns over timely fulfilment of information requests.
With a score of 28, Myanmar is a significant improver on the CPI, increasing 13 points since 2012.
Investigations of high-level officials and the implementation of legal and institutional reforms point to some progress in the country’s anti-corruption efforts and an increased political will to combat graft.
A recent report, the Global Corruption Barometer - Asia, found that an overwhelming number of Myanmar citizens think their government is doing a good job in tackling corruption, and that ordinary people can make a difference in the fight against corruption.
However, despite these improvements, there are legal and structural gaps that hinder anti-corruption efforts. In addition, the military continues to act with impunity and the government does little to protect human rights, including freedoms of expression and assembly.
The protection of human rights in Myanmar, including freedoms of speech, assembly and association, is a critical foundation for good governance and integrity. (Image: Shutterstock / Chaton Chokpatara)
Since 2014, China improved steadily on the CPI, increasing six points from a score of 36 in 2014 to 42 in 2020. Additionally, in the most recent Global Corruption Barometer for Asia, 64 per cent of citizens in China believed that corruption decreased in the 12 months prior to the survey. However, 62 per cent still think that government corruption is a big problem, highlighting that there is more work to be done. To that end, 28 per cent of citizens pay bribes for public services and 32 per cent use their personal connections to receive public services. This translates to hundreds of millions of people, and China still has a long way to go in curbing corruption.
China needs to urgently and immediately put into place systems to reduce bribery within the public service sector.
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