South Asia remains corrupt

On the face of it, India has improved its ranking in Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perception Index (CPI). It has climbed up from the 85th rung in 2014 to the 76th in 2015. Although it has moved up nine slots, it does not mark an improvement in real terms. For one, in 2014, 174 countries were ranked as against 168 the following year. Thus, much of its climb up was facilitated by a reduction in the number of countries ranked. Additionally, while its ranking changed, its score remained the same. It has scored 38 out of 100 – lower scores indicating higher corruption – for two years in a row. Thus, perceptions of public sector corruption in India can be said to have improved just a shade at best between 2014 and 2015.

Public awareness and activism on corruption grew in India in the wake of the 2011 campaign initiated by Anna Hazare and other social activists. Anti-corruption was a key campaign plank of the Bharatiya Janata Party in the 2014 general election and the Aam Aadmi Party in the Delhi Assembly elections last year. Their high-decibel rhetoric on fighting corruption is yet to translate into concrete action it seems. There has been little change in corruption on the ground. While the Narendra Modi administration has had far fewer graft scandals than its predecessor so far and has sought to introduce measures to improve transparency, it hasn’t been able to change the way the world sees India. Of course, fighting corruption is not easy given how deeply entrenched it is in our system. It is through painstaking reform of political institutions that corruption can be eradicated. Still, as the TI report points out with regard to India, “leaders are falling short of their bold promises” to tackle corruption.

The poor ranking of South Asian countries in the global graft index is deeply worrying. Afghanistan, for instance, is the world’s 3rd most corrupt country and Myanmar, Bangladesh and Pakistan have severe levels of graft. Scarce resources in South Asian countries are being siphoned off by vested interests and corruption is preventing socio-economic programmes from addressing problems like poverty, hunger and malnutrition. In
South Asia, graft is not just a phenomenon that enables the elite to build fortunes but one that deeply impacts the lives of millions of its poorest people on a daily basis. It is time the region’s leaders acted to eradicate the malaise of corruption. People should not have to pay bribes for resources and services that are theirs by right.

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