With India at 85 among 180 nations, Transparency International says Asia a case of ‘grand corruption’

    GovernanceAccountabilityWith India at 85 among 180 nations, Transparency International...
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    With India at 85 among 180 nations, Transparency International says Asia a case of ‘grand corruption’

    The 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) released today Transparency International by shows that corruption levels remain at a standstill worldwide – with 86 per cent of countries making little to no progress in the last 10 years. With the exception of Bhutan, the index gives reason for worry in SouthAsia.

    India’s ranks 85th (up from rank 86 in 2020) among 180 countries in corruption perception index (CPI) in 2021 released by Transparency International today.

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

    India’s score on the index this year, however remains unchanged at 40.

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    The 2021 corruption perceptions index (CPI) shows that corruption levels remain at a standstill worldwide, with 86 per cent of countries making little to no progress in the last 10 years.

    Transparency International found countries that violate civil liberties consistently score lower on the CPI. Complacency in fighting corruption exacerbates human rights abuses and undermines democracy, setting off a vicious spiral, the global watchdog organisation says. As these rights and freedoms erode and democracy declines, authoritarianism takes its place, contributing to even higher levels of corruption.

    While countries in Asia Pacific have made great strides in controlling bribery for public services, an average score of 45 out of 100 on the 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) shows much more needs to be done to solve the region’s corruption problems.

    Even some higher-scoring countries are experiencing a decline as governments fail to address grand corruption, uphold rights and consult citizens.

    “Among those with weak scores are some of the world’s most populous countries, such as China (45) and India (40), and other large economies such as Indonesia (38), Pakistan (28) and Bangladesh (26),” Transparency International says. “A concerning trend across some of these nations is a weakening of anti-corruption institutions or, in some cases, absence of an agency to coordinate action against corruption.”

    Erosion of rights in Asia

    Asia has witnessed 10 years of mass movements calling for action against corruption, but sadly little has changed, Transparency International notes. Public outrage has instead been co-opted by strongmen – in the form of populist leaders in democratic countries and authoritarians elsewhere.

    “From India to the Philippines (33) to China, such leaders have been able to portray themselves as more effective than state institutions and win mandates to gain and stay in power,” the organisation says. “Furthermore, in most countries, corruption is spreading through severe restrictions on the very civil liberties – like freedom of association and speech – which allowed people to take to the streets and call for action.”

    The watchdog organisation says that the case of India is particularly worrying. While the country’s score has remained stagnant over the past decade, some of the mechanisms that could help reign in corruption are weakening, it says.

    “There are concerns over the country’s democratic status, as fundamental freedoms and institutional checks and balances decay. Journalists and activists are particularly at risk and have been victims of attacks by the police, political militants, criminal gangs and corrupt local officials,” the reports says.

    “Civil society organisations that speak up against the government have been targeted with security, defamation, sedition, hate speech and contempt-of-court charges, and with regulations on foreign funding.”

    Furthermore, the lowest scorers in the region, Afghanistan (16) and North Korea (16), have dropped even further (from 19 and 18, respectively) since last year. These two fragile states do not have the basic institutional infrastructure – such as mechanisms for administration and rule of law – to form an integrity system. They also repress citizens who speak out against corruption.

    Petty corruption down, but grand corruption persists

    An encouraging development is the relatively low occurrence of petty corruption in many Asian countries. Tackling bribe-seeking for basic services lightens the economic burden on the poor, improving their standard of living.

    Those countries stuck in the middle of the index, like Malaysia (48), Indonesia (38) and the Maldives (40) face a more complex challenge: grand corruption. This is the abuse of high-level power that benefits the few at the expense of the many, and which can destroy whole sectors, create recessions and end democracies. In such cases mere technical interventions, useful in addressing petty corruption, are not enough.

    Addressing grand corruption requires the systematic dismantling of rent-seeking structures and dishonest cultures that public officials use to pocket public funds. This needs to be driven by political leaders who hold power to account, for the common good.

    COVID-19 opening a door to corruption and repression

    Alongside a massive public health mobilisation, Asian governments responded to the pandemic by rolling out some of the world’s biggest economic recovery plans. But such large-scale responses, conducted without adequate checks and balances, inevitably lead to corruption.

    Wrongdoing in emergency procurement has led to price inflating, the theft of medical supplies and sales of counterfeit medicines and materials. This left many citizens more vulnerable to COVID-19 – and almost certainly cost lives.

    Despite the fact that whistle-blowers, journalists and a vigilant public can help safeguard funds from corruption, COVID-19 has also been used as an excuse to suppress criticism. Bangladesh, Pakistan, Cambodia and Singapore are just a few countries that have increased digital surveillance to silence those trying to hold governments accountable during the pandemic.

    The report highlights another facet of public discourse that direct impacts corruption. It says, “as authoritarian regimes refine their cyber-surveillance technologies, vicious online harassment by government-backed trolls is further restricting freedom of speech.”

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