BANGKOK (TrustLaw) – A year of unprecedented reforms has had no impact on Myanmar’s standings in Transparency International’s latest index on corruption in the public sector, and the watchdog told TrustLaw a continuation of reforms and consistent political will are needed to improve its score in 2013.
The annual ranking of countries based on perceived corruption covers 176 countries this year, scoring them from zero to 100 percent in terms of corruption, with zero being the most corrupt. The readings are taken over a two-year period.
Impoverished Myanmar, emerging from five decades of military rule, scored 15 percent, ahead of only Somalia, North Korea, Afghanistan and Sudan
In 2011, it had a rating of 1.5 out of 10, beating only Somalia and North Korea, though direct comparisons are difficult as TI has changed its methodology.
Its ranking remains low because the data used to calculate the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) are taken over a two-year period and it is too early to expect good results, said Samantha Grant, TI’s Programme Coordinator for Southeast Asia.
“It takes time for people’s behaviour to change and even more for perceptions to then change as well, especially in a place like Myanmar where these reforms are still very new,” she told AlertNet via an e-mail interview.
This means business professionals’ perception of the level of corruption in Myanmar has to change before there is a change in score or rank.
“To improve its score in 2013, Myanmar will need to continue with genuine reforms and we will need to see consistent political will from the top,” she added. “These processes do take time and Myanmar will need all the support it can get.” TI hopes to work with people in Myanmar to support these efforts, Grant said.
WORDS NOT ENOUGH
Myanmar’s reformist government, which took power in March 2011, surprised observers by freeing hundreds of dissidents, loosening restrictions on the political opposition and abolishing pre-publication censorship – reforms which led to an easing of Western sanctions.
It also expressed its intention to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative to regulate an industry that has so far been opaque.
Other efforts to become more transparent and accountable include drafting an anti-corruption law, a presidential call on state officials to repay embezzled funds and the Ministry of Home Affairs asking citizens to report instances of bribery and corruption.
Words alone are not enough, said Grant. High-quality legislation that closes opportunities for impunity needs to introduced and implemented effectively. “Despite signing the UNCAC (United Nations Convention against Corruption), it is the only country in ASEAN which has not yet ratified it,” she said.
“If the adoption of anti-corruption laws and creation of anti-corruption authorities are seen by countries as a simple tick-the-box exercise, real change will not be realised and perceptions will reflect that.”
Grant said Myanmar should learn from the successes and failures of anti-corruption commissions in countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand and set up an independent, authoritative and fully resourced commission.
“The country still has a long way to go as it remains at the very bottom of the CPI,” she said.
MAJOR PROBLEM IN ASIA
Overall, public sector corruption around the world showed no sign of retreating in 2012 despite citizen uprisings that toppled the leaders of several graft-ridden governments the previous year.
Two-thirds of the countries surveyed scored below the 50 percent mark this year and only three - Denmark, Finland and New Zealand - were listed as “very clean”, the same ones that won top rankings in 2011.
Sixty-eight percent of countries in the Asia Pacific region scored below 50 percent.
“Corruption in Asia is a major problem that needs to be urgently addressed,” Grant said, adding governments have not done enough to strengthen institutions and laws.
Many countries lack effective or effectively implemented anti-corruption legislation, including whistleblower protection and right to information laws, she said.
“Also key in the region is the lack of the needed independence, financial sustainability and well-trained staff at most anti-corruption commissions to make them effective,” she added.
Sixty percent of the world’s population lives in the region, and Grant said increased participation by citizens in anti-corruption efforts is “crucial” if Asia is to see results.