Curbing Asian Corruption: An Impossible Dream?

The rise of Asia is regarded in most of the world as primarily an economic phenomenon. Asian economies have rebounded robustly since the 1997 financial crisis, with growth rates in many countries greatly exceeding the global average. Yet corruption remains a problem throughout the region, significantly cramping the extent and potential of Asia's "rise."

In the 2005 "Corruption Perceptions Index" produced by the watchdog group Transparency International, most of the 22 Asian nations received low rankings and scores. Indonesia, for example, is ranked 137th among 159 nations. India and China fare only somewhat better, ranking 88th and 78th respectively. (The United States, by comparison, ranks 17th in the world.) Corruption -- defined by the United Nations Development Program as the abuse of public power for private benefit through bribery, extortion, influence peddling, nepotism, fraud, or embezzlement -- not only undermines investment and economic growth; it also aggravates poverty. In India, even the

poor have to bribe officials to obtain basic services.

Graft also undermines the effectiveness of states. The World Bank, for example, has estimated that the Philippines government between 1977 and 1997 "lost" a total of $48 billion to corruption. Why is graft a serious problem in Asian countries? Can their leaders minimize it and thereby further improve and sustain economic growth -- or is this task hopeless? My research suggests that curbing corruption in most Asian nations is difficult, mainly because of a lack of political will. However, it is not an impossible dream, as the examples of Singapore and Hong Kong demonstrate.