Anti-corruption group Transparency International on Nov. 24 published its 2020 “Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) – Asia,” an annual report based on a survey of 20,000 citizens in 17 countries across the continent and provides a comprehensive look at bribery and corruption risk trends in the area.

In the report, citizens were asked about their perceptions and firsthand experiences of bribery in public services and to assess the scale of corruption across the continent. Additionally, for the first time this year, the GCB Asia report shed light on election-related fraud, sexual extortion risk, and the use of personal connections in accessing public services such as healthcare or education.

One out of 5 people who used public services—such as healthcare or education—in the previous 12 months said they paid a bribe, the equivalent of 836 million people in the region.

Overall, the results were mixed regarding actual corruption levels. Thirty-eight percent of citizens across the continent said corruption increased over the past year, while 32 percent said it decreased. Twenty-eight percent felt corruption levels remained the same.

Corruption is most prevalent in Nepal and Thailand, where 58 percent and 55 percent of citizens, respectively, said levels had increased. In Nepal, for example, “corruption is an issue in government procurement, mainly involving politicians and bureaucrats, as well as public service delivery, with citizens facing problems even in critical sectors like health and education,” the report stated.

Conversely, most citizens in China (64 percent), the Philippines (64 percent), and Cambodia (55 percent) said corruption risk declined.

Government corruption is a notable problem across Asia, as indicated by 74 percent of respondents overall. It’s perceived to be especially bad in Indonesia and Taiwan.

Parliamentary and senate members pose the highest corruption risk in Asia, cited by 32 percent of all respondents. Other groups that are said to pose a high corruption risk include local government councilors (30 percent); government officials (26 percent); police (26 percent); president/prime minister’s office (26 percent); and business executives (24 percent).

Further supporting these findings, 1 out of 5 people who used public services—such as healthcare or education—in the previous 12 months said they paid a bribe, the equivalent of 836 million people in the region. India (39 percent), Cambodia (37 percent), and Indonesia (30 percent) had the highest bribery rates. Conversely, the Maldives and Japan maintained the lowest bribery rates, followed by South Korea and Nepal.

For the first time this year, the report looked at the connection between bribery and personal relationships. Overall, 22 percent said they used personal connections to receive a service. India had the highest rate of citizens (46 percent) who used personal connections to access public services, with 32 percent of this group saying they wouldn’t have received the service otherwise. Aside from India, many citizens in Indonesia and China also said they used personal connections to access public services, at 36 percent and 32 percent, respectively.

Other corruption types

The report also found high rates of sexual extortion—or sextortion—in several countries, especially in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Malaysia. In Indonesia, for example, sextortion is not addressed in the country’s criminal law nor considered a legal form of corruption. “A strong culture of silence, combined with the difficulty of proving sexual bribery in court, makes this a challenging issue in the fight against corruption,” the report stated.

Regarding election abuse, 1 in 7 citizens reported being offered a bribe in exchange for votes. The bribery rate of election abuse was especially high in Thailand (28 percent), the Philippines (28 percent), and Indonesia (26 percent). Moreover, nearly 55 percent think their government is run by private interests, particularly so in Mongolia and the Maldives.

The report offers a list of recommendations for countries in reducing their corruption risk, including empowering citizens and ensuring the right to information; providing citizens with safe and confidential reporting mechanisms; recognizing sexual extortion as a form of corruption; and strengthening the independence of anti-corruption agencies.