By Diana Torres, Project Manager, 'Promoting a Fair Business Environment in ASEAN'
The Asia-Pacific region continues to be the most dynamic of the global economy with sustained economic growth, investment and trade. This represents a tremendous opportunity to improve the lives of billions of people and the creation of jobs and opportunities for young people.
However, poor governance and corruption are still perceived by millennials (74%) as the main obstacle holding their countries back and depriving their generation of social, political and economic opportunities (73%).
Bribery and ‘facilitation’ payments are a common practice in most of the Asia-Pacific countries. In a survey, 1 out of 4 people in the region acknowledged having paid a bribe in the previous 12 months to access to key public services. In some countries (India, Viet Nam, Pakistan, Thailand) the reported incidence of bribery is dramatically high with rates above 40%.
Corruption also hinders entrepreneurship and innovation in society. The higher cost of doing business and reputational, legal and operational risks discourage entrepreneurs and keep investors at bay. In the ASEAN region, 79% of business leaders recognized corruption as a major challenge for their business operations.
What does this mean for economic growth and development?
We have learned that stand-alone solutions do not work. We need to effectively address the multi-faceted nature of corruption, through systemic solutions that involve multiple actors. I was thrilled to see this reality endorsed at our recent Regional Community of Practice on transparency, accountability and anti-corruption, where a group of 100 practitioners representing 22 countries, discussed progress, current challenges and opportunities to accelerate progress on the SDG targets related to anti-corruption, transparency and accountability.
These are my four takeaways from those discussions:
1. Transparency and access to information can disrupt the status quo
Just look at public procurement; South Asia and South East Asia are one of the worst performers when in comes to publishing relevant public procurement documents (procurement plans, tender documents and award notice) on government websites. Freedom of Information Laws (FOI) and its instruments are not in place in most countries to allow citizens to access to public data and information. Making progress here is not technically difficult but it does require political will from the national governments.
2. Tech solutions need to transition out from the experimental phase
Civic Tech innovations are putting citizens back at the center of service delivery and policy making. Governments are resorting to crowdsourcing solutions, open initiatives, and digital apps to encourage active citizen participation in the improvement of public services and the prevention of corruption. Similarly, citizens are demanding more open and transparent data and policy making to effectively demand accountability of local and national authorities and to report corruption. However, the opportunities to leverage these instruments are limited in a region where civic space is shrinking, and restrictions are put in place to limit freedom of the press, freedom of association and citizen’s participation and the state surveillance and crowd control increased with the use of new tech and big data.
3. Fast-track digitalization and e-governance solutions to eliminate red tape and optimize service delivery.
We know that the adoption of e-government strategies provides an opportunity to simplify rules and procedures, and re-engineer processes and systems. The use of ICT and online transactions eliminate gate keepers, depersonalize and standardize the delivery of services and thus, reduce abuse of discretion and other opportunities for corruption. However, according to the E-government Development Index the Asia region has a mixed level of development with countries like Singapore and Republic of Korea ranking on the top while countries like Afghanistan, Myanmar, Timor-Leste and Pakistan trailing among the bottom 30 countries globally.
4. Promote the engagement of the private sector as a critical driver of change. Traditionally governments and the development community left out the private sector in the conversation about anti-corruption reforms. The private sector was perceived as part of the problem and not as part of the solution. With the adoption of the SDGs, it is now clear that the business community play a catalytic role in fostering a culture of transparency and integrity. Not only should they adopt measures to prevent corruption, but they can also leverage their bargaining power to demand government reforms aimed at improving the business environment in a fair, transparent and efficient manner.
About the Author
Diana Torres has over 10 years of experience in the field of governance and development, providing policy support to national and local authorities in Latin America, the Middle East and Asia and the Pacific. Diana is currently managing a regional initiative that aims at nurturing a culture of integrity and transparency in the public and private sector spanning six ASEAN Countries.