Pacific Money

How Corrupt is the Indo-APAC Region in 2013?

Recent Features

Pacific Money

How Corrupt is the Indo-APAC Region in 2013?

Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index doesn’t give Indo-APAC watchers much reason to celebrate.

Transparency International, a global non-governmental organization that monitors corruption worldwide, has released its annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). The methodology employed by the group is to aggregate expert opinions across other watchdog agency, including Freedom House, the Economist Intelligence Unit, the World Bank among others, and ultimately produce a ranking of nation-states from least corrupt to most corrupt. Fortunately, in the interest of remaining transparent itself, Transparency International graciously presents its findings in the form of an interactive map and an infographic. See the embedded map below and the full report here:

Unfortunately, as readers can see, the news isn’t all too good for the Indo-APAC region, which is almost entirely shaded in the range of dark orange to red (indicating high levels of corruption). Singapore, perhaps unsurprisingly, tops the regional ranking for low corruption, tied for fifth place globally with Norway and just ahead of Switzerland. Singapore is followed by Hong Kong at rank 15 globally. Two out of the next three top performers should come as no surprise: Japan and Australia, both OECD liberal democracies with developed governance structures. South Korea, the other Asian OECD contender, weighs in at rank 46 worldwide. The tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan emerges third in the Indo-APAC corruption rankings (and an impressive rank 31 worldwide). Taiwan closes the ranks of the low-corruption Indo-APAC countries at 36.

At the other extreme of the spectrum — the most corrupt countries in Indo-APAC — are North Korea and Afghanistan. The former’s inclusion on the list should come as no surprise, but the latter’s inclusion struck a disappointing chord, at least in the United States, which has been trying to foster better governance in the war-torn country before it heads to the polls next year to determine the successor to Hamid Karzai. Even though the rankings are based on perceptions, the case of Afghanistan may be grounded in reality, with a Pentagon audit turning up $230 million of AWOL equipment in the country.

The story for the two Asian giants — India and China — remained roughly stagnant. Their rankings dipped slightly while their scores for corruption perceptions remained almost constant (China gained one point, indicating a modest decrease in perceptions of corruption). Corruption has been a hot political issue in both India and China in the past year. In India, Anna Hazare’s popular movement has evolved into what is currently known as the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP, meaning the “Common Man Party”), which vows to fight what it sees as the endemic corruption in the Indian Congress Party-led establishment through transparency. Anna Hazare’s original cause in 2011 was to see the Jan Lokpal bill passed, which would have provided an independent check on government corruption.

In China, the spectacle surrounding Bo Xilai’s trial and downfall brought the issue of corruption within the Communist Party to the top of the national agenda. Xi Jinping’s effort to consolidate power has highlighted the importance of “party discipline” (CCP-speak for corruption) in this generation of Chinese leadership.

Things in ASEAN don’t look too good either, with the exception of Singapore, the regional paragon. The ASEAN states all rank roughly in the same tier of the corruption perceptions with the notable exception of Malaysia, which comes in at a respectable rank 53 this year.

Indo-APAC’s big surprise is perhaps Myanmar, which pops up at rank 157 this year (that’s up from 172 last year). The CPI ranking seems to vindicate its reform process, which began under Thein Sein, as somewhat of a success in fomenting better governance across the country. Of course, rank 157 leaves much to desire, but a positive trend is reassuring. It’s also worth considering that given that the ranking primarily bases its methods on expert perceptions, it’s unsurprising that Myanmar comes out higher than before — perceptions of its government have undoubtedly improved among experts.

Corruption remains a significant issue for most of the Indo-APAC region. Public sector corruption is often cited as a major source of systemic risk for external investors and businesses. Corruption can also cause issues beyond mere fiscal unease for these states; as Transparency International notes  “future efforts to respond to climate change, economic crisis and extreme poverty will face a massive roadblock in the shape of corruption.” While the CPI isn’t the definitive measure of corruption across the region by any means, it provides a useful schema for reasoning about the state of governance in this economically vibrant, emerging region.

Ankit Panda is Associate Editor of The Diplomat. Follow him on Twitter at @nktpnd.