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Asia-Pacific sees 900 million pay bribes

BANGKOK (SE): Bribery takes place at all levels of society and is an insidious reality, as it takes food off the table, but on another level puts food on the table.

For lowly paid public servants and service providers, withholding their services until the palm is greased can be the difference between having food or not, but for the hapless searcher of a necessary service, the table can be bare.

Pretty much every migrant domestic worker in Hong Kong has paid a bribe. They would not be here otherwise, as without submitting themselves to the excess charges of recruitment agencies and public servants, it would be impossible to find an employer, get government documentation or a visa.

The extra cost removes the food, but if things work out well, it may put it back again. However, the cost of the bribe often means debt and is also the cause of terrible catastrophes, as an unexpected misfortune can turn unwanted debt into a fatal millstone around the neck.

A survey done by Transparency International of more than 20,000 people in 16 Asia-Pacific countries and territories has revealed that about 900 million people have paid a bribe at least once in 2016.

The study shows the magnitude of a problem that sees ordinary people paying kickbacks to get a public official to provide the service they are employed to do.

Bribery rates were highest in India and Vietnam, where nearly two thirds of respondents said they had to grease the palm to get access to basic services like public education and healthcare.

Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Australia reported the lowest incidences of bribery.

The poor are hit hardest by corruption with 38 per cent of respondents saying they had to pay a bribe, the highest in any income category.

Yet whilst poorer people were more likely to be targeted in countries like Thailand, India and Pakistan, the reverse trend was found in places like Vietnam, the Union of Myanmar and Cambodia.

“Bribery is not a small crime, it takes food off the table, it prevents education, it impedes proper healthcare and ultimately it can kill,” the chairperson of Transparency International, Jose Ugaz, said in a press release on March 7.

The survey also asked people for their perceptions about corruption, which saw Malaysia and Vietnam getting the worst ratings from their own citizens, who perceive that graft is widespread and accused their governments of doing little to fight it.

While petty corruption can be more a nuisance than a killer, high level corruption at government and international business level are straight theft from the poor.

Corruption scandals have rocked a number of governments in the region, ironically including South Korea, a country that is listed as having a low rate of corruption.

However, the president, Park Geun-hye, has been impeached.

In Malaysia, the prime minister, Najib Razak, is involved in an ongoing scandal; and in China,  scores of top officials have been arrested and convicted as part of a campaign against graft instigated by the president, Xi Jinping.

But in the Asia-Pacific region bribery and corruption is how business and politics are done.

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