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Asean countries must commit to leading by example in combating bribery and corruption. REUTERS PIC

PRIME Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad led the Malaysian delegation for three days at the 34th Asean Summit from June 20 in Bangkok.

Corruption was on the agenda to ensure future growth and prosperity in this region.

Transparency International (TI) released its 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) and the report stated that eight out of 10 Asean member countries fared miserably, indicating serious endemic corruption in the public sector.

The most significant decline in the region was shown by Cambodia, while Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia each scored lower than 50 out of 100.

Corruption jeopardises economic development in terms of economic efficiency, distorts markets and also creates income inequality.

Yeah Kim Leng, a professor at Sunway University’s Business School, said it is important to note how the perception of corruption may have an impact on new investors.

Their perception of the country might be affected by Malaysia’s drop in the ranking. They may compare our country with other nations which are ranked higher.

In the Asean region, Singapore is ranked 1st (3rd in the world with a score of 85), Brunei ranked second (31st in the world with a score of 63), while Malaysia was ranked third (61st in the world, scoring 47).

However, TI hailed Malaysia as one of the countries to watch this year, most obviously following its landmark election results in 2018. It said that Malaysia had made significant strides since last year’s election, including key arrests of corrupt officials.

The 2018 CPI revealed that the continued failure of most countries to significantly control the level of corruption is contributing to a crisis of democracy around the world.

There are also some weak democracies and autocracies that perform well in the CPI, such as Singapore and Hong Kong, which are micro-states with strong anti-corruption institutions.

What is important is that the ripple effect of government corruption can be far-reaching. As such, corruption problems and challenges that face one nation often have a rippling impact throughout the Asean region, which has more than 601 million people.

The consequences of unchecked corruption are significant. For decades, some Asean countries have experienced severe poverty, with millions of citizens fleeing the nations to pursue the hope of a better tomorrow in other countries.

Unless collective action against corruption is taken by Asean, the massive infrastructure development and increased trade central to achieving the region’s economic potential will be left vulnerable.

It will impede cross-border investment, trade and facilitate money laundering and human trafficking.

At present certain Asean members are doing their best to cope with transparency and corruption issues.

However, greater efforts should be called for by Asean leaders to put transparency and anti-corruption activities in their inter-regional ministerial agenda and the Asean Community Vision 2025.

This is to enable the promotion of greater transparency and the fight against corruption could help Asean attain smoother and more sustainable levels of political, economic, and socio-cultural integration.

The World Bank estimates that corruption may cost a country as much as five per cent of its gross domestic product.

Corruption adds up to 10 per cent to the total cost of doing business globally, and up to 25 per cent to the cost of procurement contracts in developing countries.

Malaysia’s gross domestic product is estimated at RM1 trillion. If the estimates by the World Bank are correct, the cost of corruption in Malaysia would be a staggering RM54 billion.

The loss may well be more in other Asean member countries. To reduce such losses, all countries need strong political will, effectiveness of anti-corruption agencies across the region and the establishment of an Asean-level anti-corruption network. These exclude the shadow economy and illicit outflow of money.

Asean should take the necessary steps to address flaws in the global financial system that allow the corrupt to siphon off funds from the public purse and hide the proceeds of their crimes.

All anti-corruption agencies in this region can exchange ideas and information and learn from each other’s best practices and experience in fighting corruption.

This effort can improve the region’s capability and with more effective international cooperation, to find and punish criminals.

As corruption is a true enemy of economic development in this region, it is imperative that anti-corruption measures form the paramount part of Asean’s agenda to ensure future growth and prosperity.

In short, combating corruption must remain a priority for sustained Asean growth. Asean countries must commit to leading by example in combating bribery and corruption.

Singapore, being third least corrupt country in the world, is strongly urged to grab this golden opportunity to put the anti-corruption agenda at the forefront of its initiatives and play a leading role in helping to promote and share its best practices to improve CPI score and reduce corruption in this region as well as internally.

Together, much more can be done.

The writer holds a Professorial Chair for Crime and Criminology at the Institute of Crime & Criminology, HELP University, and is the former president of Transparency International Malaysia and President of the Malaysia Association of Certified Fraud Examiners

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