Asia Pacific: How leaders are big on talk but little on action

View the 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index results

If there was one common challenge to unite the Asia Pacific region, it would be corruption. From campaign pledges to media coverage to civil society forums, corruption dominates discussion. Yet despite all this talk, there’s little sign of action. Between Australia’s slipping scores and North Korea’s predictably disastrous performance, the 2015 index shows no significant improvement. Has Asia Pacific stalled in its efforts to fight corruption?

This year’s poor results demand that leaders revisit the genuineness of their efforts and propel the region beyond stagnation.

The good

The public desire for change is huge. In India, Sri Lanka and elsewhere, we’ve seen a host of governments coming to power on anti-corruption platforms. As corruption continues to dominate media coverage across and beyond the region, increasing interest in the issue has sparked a raft of new research into both public and private sector corruption.

The bad

So why this picture of zero progress? Despite boastful efforts on petty corruption, Malaysia’s 1MBD scandal brought the crux of the challenge into sharp focus: is political leadership genuinely committed to fighting corruption throughout society? The Malaysian prime minister’s inability to answer questions on the US$700 million that made its way into his personal bank account is only the tip of the iceberg.

In India and Sri Lanka leaders are falling short of their bold promises, while governments in Bangladesh and Cambodia are exacerbating corruption by clamping down on civil society. In Afghanistan and Pakistan a failure to tackle corruption is feeding ongoing vicious conflicts, while China’s prosecutorial approach isn’t bringing sustainable remedy to the menace. This inability to tackle root causes holds true across the region – witness, for example, Australia’s dwindling score in recent years.

Malaysia’s 1MBD scandal brought the challenge into sharp focus: is political leadership genuinely committed to fighting corruption throughout society?

What needs to happen

Reversing corruption is clearly not solely down to governments, but they’re the ones with the largest role and the power to create enabling environments for others. This year’s poor results demand that leaders revisit the genuineness of their efforts and propel the region beyond stagnation. They must fulfil promises, and ensure efforts aren’t undermined in practice. Anti-corruption commissions are a prime example here: while their creation across the region is commendable, ongoing political interference and inadequate resources has meant many are unable to fulfil their mandate. This has to be addressed.

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