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Myanmar inches slightly ahead of Laos in latest graft index

Myanmar has inched up a few positions to rank 130th in the latest annual index of countries deemed the least corrupt, from 136th in 2016.

The country attained a score of 28 in graft watchdog Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index for 2017. This was an incremental improvement compared to its score in 2016 (28) and 2015 (22).

In terms of ranking, the country has moved up from 2016 (136th) and 2015 (147th) to share the 130th spot with Gambia, Iran, Sierra Leone and Ukraine.

The graft watchdog said the majority of countries are making little or no progress in ending corruption, while further analysis shows journalists and activists in corrupt countries risking their lives every day in an effort to speak out.

“No activist or reporter should have to fear for their lives when speaking out against corruption. Given current crackdowns on both civil society and the media worldwide, we need to do more to protect those who speak up,” Patricia Moreira, TI managing director, commented.

In its index, TI measures 180 countries and territories by their perceived levels of public sector corruption based on expert assessments and views of business people. Countries are then scored on a scale of 0 to 100, where 0 is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean.

This year, the index found that more than two-thirds of countries score below 50, with an average score of 43. TI commented that “Unfortunately, compared to recent years, this poor performance is nothing new.”

Further analysis of the results shows that territories with the least protection for press and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) also tend to have the worst rates of corruption.

Every week at least one journalist is killed in a country that is highly corrupt, according to the watchdog.

The analysis, which incorporates data from the Committee to Protect Journalists, reveals that in the last six years, more than 9 out of 10 journalists were killed in countries which score 45 or less on the index.

Regional context

This year, New Zealand and Denmark rank highest with scores of 89 and 88 respectively. Syria, South Sudan and Somalia rank lowest with scores of 14, 12 and 9 respectively. The best performing region is Western Europe while the worst performing ones are Sub-Saharan Africa as well as Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

In ASEAN, Myanmar has edged ahead of Laos and remained higher ranked than Cambodia. But the country is still worse off than most ASEAN countries. Rankings of the ASEAN member states:

  • 6 Singapore
  • 32 Brunei
  • 62 Malaysia
  • 96 Thailand, Indonesia
  • 107 Vietnam
  • 111 Philippines
  • 130 Myanmar
  • 135 Laos
  • 161 Cambodia

Beyond ASEAN, Myanmar stands way below its neighbours (China and India ranked 77 and 81 respectively), with the exception of Bangladesh (143).

Little progress in Asia Pacific

TI’s analysis indicates little progress across the Asia Pacific region and that, on average, the region is failing in combating corruption.

“In the last six years, only a few countries experienced small, incremental changes indicating signs of improvement,” the watchdog noted.

For example, while Afghanistan rates very low on the index, its score increased by seven points in the last six years, moving from 8 in 2012 to 15 in 2016 and 2017. This may be because of initial efforts to improve core policies, including better regulation of national procurement activities.

Likewise, Indonesia has climbed up the index, moving from 32 to 37 in the last five years. This slight improvement could stem from the achievement of Indonesia’s leading anti-corruption agency in taking action against corrupt individuals, despite strong opposition from the establishment.

Other countries, like South Korea, remain fairly stable in their scores over the last six years. Seoul experienced recent high-profile corruption scandals, which led to massive public protests and the swift impeachment and prosecution of the president.

Unfortunately, the results from the latest index also illustrate that corruption in many countries is still strong.

“Often, when individuals dare to challenge the status quo, they suffer the consequences. In some countries across the region, journalists, activists, opposition leaders and even staff of law enforcement or watchdog agencies are threatened, and in the worst cases, even murdered,” the organisation explained.

The Philippines, India and the Maldives are “among the worst regional offenders” in this regard. These three countries score high for corruption and have fewer press freedoms and higher numbers of journalist deaths. In the last six years, 15 journalists working on corruption stories in these countries were murdered, as reported by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

“Just last year, Yameen Rasheed, an outspoken critic of the Maldives government was murdered for his efforts to uncover the truth about the disappearance of journalist Ahmed Rilwan,” TI said. As freedom of expression is under fire across much of the region, civic space is also shrinking severely.

Civil society organisations in countries such as Cambodia, Papua New Guinea and China are “permanently under threat” from authorities. Phnom Penh recently cracked down on civil society with the introduction of a restrictive law against NGOs, while Cambodia is one of the worst-ranked countries in the region according to the index.

Recommendations

The graft watchdog listed four recommendations for countries to include in their anti-corruption strategy.

1. Putting in place laws and institutions that will prevent corruption from happening in the first place. Legal frameworks and access to information are essential components of a healthy political system where citizens can play a part in demanding accountability and preventing corruption. Whistleblower protection mechanisms and autonomous, well-resourced anti-corruption agencies are also a must in the region.

2. Reducing impunity for the corrupt. Professional and independent justice systems are imperative where police and prosecutors can respond to technical criteria and not political power plays.

3. Improving space for civil society to speak out. Governments should ensure that activists can speak freely throughout the region without fear of retaliation.

4. Improving integrity and values. Schools, universities and education institutions should educate youth about ethics and values. Corporations and businesses should promote professional integrity in the private sector and make these ideals more mainstream.

Source: Myanmar Times

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