Fight­ing cor­rup­tion in Asia and the Pa­cific

Business Bhutan - - Editorial - DASHO NETEN ZANGMO

Cor­rup­tion is eat­ing away at vi­tal pub­lic ser­vices in Asia and the Pa­cific and it is the poor who are dis­pro­por­tion­ately pay­ing the price. A ma­jor­ity of coun­tries from the re­gion sit firmly in the bot­tom half of cor­rup­tion mea­sure­ment in­dices. De­spite high eco­nomic growth, 700 mil­lion peo­ple in the re­gion live with­out elec­tric­ity. In a sur­vey of 16 Asian coun­tries, more than one in four say they have paid a bribe in the past year. That’s more than 900 mil­lion peo­ple pay­ing bribes to ac­cess ba­sic pub­lic ser­vices such as med­i­cal care, ed­u­ca­tion, elec­tric­ity and wa­ter (TI Global Cor­rup­tion Barom­e­ter, 2017). Cor­rup­tion dis­pro­por­tion­ally af­fects women be­cause they make up 70 per­cent of the world’s poor and are the pri­mary users of ba­sic pub­lic ser­vices such as health, ed­u­ca­tion, wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion. Bribe pay­ments tend to make up a larger per­cent­age of poor women’s lim­ited in­come, leav­ing lit­tle left to pay for ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties (UNDP, Cor­rup­tion, Ac­count­abil­ity and Gen­der: Un­der­stand­ing the Con­nec­tions). This sit­u­a­tion needs to change. No coun­try should see its peo­ple’s ac­cess to ser­vices and life op­por­tu­ni­ties cur­tailed by a rich and pow­er­ful few who steal from the pub­lic, of­ten with im­punity. We must de­mand change, and our gov­ern­ments must rise up and heed our calls. Very of­ten re­search points to how women are more heav­ily im­pacted by cor­rup­tion than men, along with other marginalised com­mu­ni­ties. How­ever, lit­tle has been said about how women can be pow­er­ful agents of change in the fight against cor­rup­tion—whether they are in lead­er­ship po­si­tions or as mere cit­i­zens and mem­bers of their lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties. In Bhutan, un­til 2015, I was the chief of a young anti-cor­rup­tion com­mis­sion that my team and I helped to es­tab­lish. We faced many chal­lenges in es­tab­lish­ing the Com­mis­sion. Bhutan is a small coun­try of not even one mil­lion peo­ple, where so­cial net­works fu­elled cor­rupt prac­tices that most peo­ple did not even ac­knowl­edge as cor­rupt. There was very lit­tle stigma at­tached to those be­hav­iours. The anti-cor­rup­tion cadre had to work hard and skill­fully to change this. In 10 years, how­ever, we changed many things. How did we do this? The most sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor has been our Kings, who have been the big­gest anti-cor­rup­tion cham­pi­ons. They have con­stantly high­lighted not only the risk of cor­rup­tion but also the greater risk of ig­nor­ing it. The in­de­pen­dence of the Com­mis­sion was well pro­tected from any in­ter­fer­ence or in­flu­ence. To­day, Bhutan is per­ceived as one of the least cor­rupt coun­tries in the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion ac­cord­ing to TI’s Cor­rup­tion Per­cep­tion In­dex. I am also a strong be­liever that the fight against cor­rup­tion must be driven by so­ci­ety to change peo­ple’s be­hav­iour and at­ti­tude. As the anti-cor­rup­tion chief and the head of a civil so­ci­ety or­gan­i­sa­tion-led project, I had the priv­i­lege to work with grass­roots women who were tak­ing the lead in mon­i­tor­ing the de­liv­ery of pub­lic ser­vices and pro­mot­ing a cul­ture of in­tegrity in their lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties. Women can be pow­er­ful agents of change at the grass­roots when they are part of a so­cially-or­gan­ised com­mu­nity be­cause they are gen­er­ally not afraid to re­port cor­rupt prac­tices. This is also ev­i­denced by re­search which high­lights that 79 per­cent of the women sur­veyed be­lieve that women af­fil­i­ated to a com­mu­nity group are bet­ter able to stand up against cor­rup­tion (UNDP, Grass­roots women’s per­spec­tives on cor­rup­tion and anti-cor­rup­tion). Women’s po­ten­tial to act as pow­er­ful agents against cor­rup­tion was high­lighted dur­ing a re­cent UNDP/UNODC sym­po­sium held in Thai­land on “Cel­e­brat­ing women fight­ing cor­rup­tion in South and South­east Asia” that I also par­tic­i­pated in. It was in­spir­ing to hear the ex­pe­ri­ences of the women in the re­gion mak­ing a dif­fer­ence against cor­rup­tion in their var­i­ous ca­pac­i­ties, as whis­tle-blowers, po­lice­women, ad­vo­cates and jour­nal­ists. Un­for­tu­nately, we are not hear­ing enough of these re­mark­able sto­ries! I also be­lieve that we need more women in pol­i­tics. Fe­male lead­ers are not in­her­ently more hon­est or less cor­rupt than men. The prob­lem lies in the over­whelm­ing dis­pro­por­tion of women in pol­i­tics in Asia. This gen­der im­bal­ance means that there are fewer women lead­ers—who un­der­stand the im­pact of cor­rup­tion on women and bring di­verse view­points and skills—in po­si­tions to cre­ate poli­cies to curb cor­rup­tion. Women of­fer dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives to the chal­lenges of gov­er­nance and lead­er­ship, en­sur­ing that de­ci­sions are more ro­bust, de­bated, more ef­fec­tive and more in­clu­sive. In Asia, our grow­ing mid­dle classes and a more in­formed cit­i­zenry are de­mand­ing change—and that change must start with their lead­ers. This is why I de­cided to en­ter po­lit­i­cal life and ac­cepted to be­come the pres­i­dent of Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party (BKP). My party will con­test the par­lia­men­tary elec­tion in 2018. The per­va­sive pub­lic per­cep­tion of pol­i­tics be­ing dirty and politi­cians dis­trust­ful and de­spised by those they are meant to serve has to change. Women and men in pol­i­tics have to con­sciously com­mit to the high­est stan­dard of in­tegrity and serve all mem­bers of so­ci­ety, es­pe­cially the most dis­en­fran­chised and marginalised in our so­ci­eties. Cor­rup­tion is not just a prob­lem of a few coun­tries or of a spe­cific global re­gion. Fight­ing cor­rup­tion has to be a col­lec­tive ef­fort be­tween the gov­ern­ment, pri­vate sec­tor, civil so­ci­ety and in­ter­na­tional or­gan­i­sa­tions.

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