By Gaspar Ruiz-Canela
Bangkok, Nov 24 (efe-epa).- An estimated 836 million Asians may have paid bribes to public officials, especially police officers, according to a survey on corruption carried out in 17 countries of the region by nonprofit Transparency International, which was released on Tuesday.
The figure is equivalent to 19 percent of the population, in proportion to the surveyed people who acknowledged having paid bribes during the past one year for accessing public services – including health and education – in countries like India (39 percent), Cambodia (37 percent), Indonesia (30 percent) and Thailand (24 percent).
Malaysia and Japan were the countries with the least amount of people – 2 percent – who admitted paying bribes, followed by South Korea (10 percent) and Nepal (12 percent), according to TI’s Global Corruption Barometer – Asia report.
“This suggests that people are paying bribes to speed up essential services, highlighting red tape and inefficient bureaucracy, while pushing those without the means at their disposal to the back of the queue,” the NGO said in a statement.
TI, headquartered in Berlin, said that corruption – ranging from actions in the parliament to sexual extortion – is a major problem in Asia, which affects trust in governments and public institutions.
“Despite vast socio-economic and political differences, corruption remains one of the key challenges across Asia,” the group said in the report, based on a survey of 20,000 people carried out between March 2019 and September 2020.
Around 74 percent of the respondents said that government corruption was a big problem, while 24 percent thought that it was a small or nonexistent issue.
The percentage of those who considered it a major problem varies from countries like Indonesia (92 percent), Taiwan (91 percent), Maldives (90 percent) or India (89 percent) and Cambodia (33 percent), Myanmar (50 percent) or South Korea (55 percent).
Around 62 percent of the Chinese respondents thought corruption was a big issue, while the figure climbed to 84 percent in Japan.
Around 28 percent of the Chinese confessed to having paid bribes, while in Japan the number as low as 2 percent.
In general, around one in three Asians had little or no trust in their government, with the number rising to 27 percent for courts and 28 percent in the case of police.
For the first time, the TI barometer included questions on sexual extortion, an abuse of power that consists of obtaining illegal sexual favors, often in exchange for a public service.
Around 8 percent of the respondents said they were affected by this practice, with the number rising to 18 percent in Indonesia, 17 percent in Sri Lanka and 15 in Thailand, and dropping to 1 percent in Maldives and 2 percent in Japan.
Around 38 percent of the participants thought that in general corruption had increased in the last 12 months, while 32 percent opined that it had dropped and 28 percent did not perceive any change.
One in seven respondents admitted having received vote-buying offers during the elections, although the percentage varied widely between countries like Thailand and Philippines (28 percent) or India (18 percent) and Myanmar and Japan (3 percent), or Cambodia and China (6 percent).
“Protecting the integrity of elections is critical to ensuring that corruption doesn’t undermine democracy,” said Delia Ferreira Rubio, the chair of Transparency International. “
“Throughout the region, election commissions and anti-corruption agencies need to work in lockstep to counter vote-buying, which weakens trust in government,” she added.
In a positive development, around 76 percent of the respondents said they were familiar with the anti-corruption agency of their country and out of these, 63 percent said these were doing a good job.
Similarly, more than three out of five participants believed that ordinary people could make a difference in the fight against corruption.