How does corruption shape Asia?
What people told us about corruption and bribery in Asia
Illustration by Meel Tamphanon
Despite vast socio-economic and political differences, corruption remains one of the key challenges across Asia, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic and its significant health and economic consequences.
We surveyed nearly 20,000 people in 17 countries across Asia about corruption and bribery. Here's what they told us.
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Our new report, Global Corruption Barometer – Asia, presents the largest, most detailed set of public opinion data on people’s views and experiences of corruption and bribery in Asia.
When it comes to Asian citizens’ experience with corruption, whether through bribery, the use of personal connections, sexual extortion or vote-buying, the results are stark and worrying, and call for immediate and coordinated action.
The GCB Asia surveyed nearly 20,000 citizens across 17 countries. Of those countries surveyed, at least a quarter are considered authoritarian regimes, marked by a lack of civil and political rights like free speech and political and civic participation.
The results show that nearly three out of four people think corruption is a big problem in their country.
Government corruption, by country*
*Percentage of people who think corruption in government is a big problem.
The report also found that nearly one in five people who accessed public services, such as health care and education, paid a bribe in the preceding year. This equates to approximately 836 million citizens in the 17 countries surveyed.
Bribery rates by country*
*Percentage of public service users who paid a bribe in the previous 12 months.
Personal connections guarantee access to public services
In addition to paying bribes, citizens often resort to other means, including the use of personal connections to access the public services they need or to receive a better service. Interestingly, there are gender differences in which types of services are accessed through personal connections.
Bribery or personal connections?
When and why people pay bribes or use personal connections.
Vote-buying is a prevalent practice
Corruption around elections is also prevalent. Nearly one in seven people is offered bribes in exchange for votes at a national, regional or local election in the past five years. In the Maldives, despite allegations of widespread vote-buying, especially during parliamentary elections, no legal case has been prosecuted to date. This is primarily due to loopholes in the legal framework.
Protecting the integrity of elections is critical to ensuring that corruption doesn’t undermine democracy. Throughout the region, election commissions and anti-corruption agencies need to work in lockstep to counter vote-buying, which weakens trust in government.
Anti-corruption agencies regarded as effective
Across Asia, more than three out of four people (76 per cent) are familiar with the anti-corruption agency in their country, of which, 63 per cent think that the agency is doing a good job. Myanmar shows the highest trust in its anti-corruption agency of all countries. It has demonstrated a strong will to curb corruption by investigating cases involving high-level officials, but lacks jurisdiction over the military, which raises concerns amongst experts.
Anti-corruption agency approval rating, by country*
*Percentage of people who said their anti-corruption agency is doing well in the fight against corruption.
Other key findings
We also asked citizens how prevalent corruption is in their country, whether it is rising or declining and whether their government is doing enough to control it. Here’s what we found:
While 38 per cent of people think corruption is increasing, an additional 28 per cent think it stayed the same.
Despite the perception that government corruption is a big problem, many people voice positive support for the actions taken so far by their governments. Sixty-one per cent of people think their government is doing a good job at tackling corruption, yet thirty-two per cent of citizens think that most or all parliamentarians are involved in corruption.
Corruption by institution*
*Percentage of citizens who think most or all people in the following institutions are corrupt.
For the first time, our report highlights data on sextortion in Asia. Sextortion is the abuse of power to obtain a sexual benefit or advantage and often occurs in exchange for public services, like health care or education.
Citizens in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand experience the highest rates of sexual extortion – or sextortion – when accessing a government service or know someone who has.
Sextortion rates by country*
*Percentage of citizens who experience sextortion or know someone who has.
Despite fears of retaliation when reporting corruption, people across the region are hopeful. More than three in five (62 per cent) think that ordinary people can make a difference in the fight against corruption.
The report shows that citizens think corruption is a problem in their country, However, many people also recognise that governments and national anti-corruption agencies are taking concrete steps to fight corruption and promote integrity. To move the needle forward, governments across Asia need to make immediate and concerted efforts to curb corruption, including:
- Empower and engage citizens in the fight against corruption and ensure they can report corruption without fear of retaliation.
- Ensure citizens’ right to information and prioritise easy, accessible and proactive disclosure mechanisms for public information.
- Deepen integrity in democratic processes and reduce vote-buying in elections by ensuring that election commissions and anti-corruption agencies work together to prevent and prosecute vote-buying.
- Prevent bribery and favouritism in public service delivery and strengthen merit-based recruitment processes, introduce competitive salaries, streamline administrative processes, and enhance other preventative measures.
- Safeguard against kleptocracy, state capture and big money in politics. Improve transparency of political financing, strengthen comprehensive regulations to reduce conflict of interest and build transparent beneficial ownership registers.
- Recognise sexual extortion as a form of corruption and take measures to reduce the culture of shaming and victim blaming that discourages people from reporting abuses.
- Strengthen the independence of anti-corruption agencies and uphold previously established principles as required by the UN Convention against Corruption.
GCB Asia 2020 regional trends and country spotlightsLearn more
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Bribery or personal connections?
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