Cambodia, North Korea the most corrupt Asia Pacific states
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Cambodia, North Korea the most corrupt Asia Pacific states

HERMIT dictatorship North Korea is the most corrupt country in Asia according to a newly released index, followed closely by an increasingly authoritarian Cambodia.

The Corruption Perceptions Index 2017 was released by Berlin-based anti-corruption non-profit Transparency International on Wednesday, which found that “the majority of countries are making little or no progress in ending corruption”.

Out of a possible score of 0 to 100 – 0 being “highly corrupt” and 100 being “very clean” – North Korea scored just 17. According to US thinktank the Heritage Foundation, “bribery is pervasive and corruption is endemic at every level of the state and economy” in the repressive, one-party state.

SEE ALSO: How do Cambodians feel about Hun Sen’s war on democracy?

Cambodia wasn’t much better with a score of only 21 on the CPI – ranked 161 out of 180 nations and territories surveyed. GAN Integrity says that while Cambodian anti-corruption law is of international standard, it is “poorly enforced and public officials continue to engage in corrupt practices with impunity.”

Prime Minister Hun Sen and his family have been described by UK NGO Global Witness as having a “stranglehold” on the economy of the small Southeast Asian nation.

In contrast, New Zealand and Singapore were the best performers in the region on the CPI, despite both experiencing “their share of scandals in the last year”. NZ was in fact the highest-ranking country in the world, while neighbouring Australia’s index score has declined since 2012.

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Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen arrives to attend the ceremony to mark the 39th anniversary of the toppling of Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, January 7, 2018. Source: Reuters/Samrang Pring

Other countries in the region fared poorly with Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines being ranked 96, 107 and 111, respectively.

Malaysia – whose Prime Minister Najib Razak has been accused by the US Department of Justice of siphoning almost $700 million from state development fund 1Malaysia Development Berhad – was ranked 62 behind its tiny oil-rich neighbour Brunei Darussalam at 32.

“There are clearly significant issues which remain unaddressed, to the detriment of the country’s international standing and the ability of Malaysian companies to operate successfully in the global economy,” said Dr Mark Lovatt of the Kuala Lumpur-based Business Integrity Alliance in a statement.

SEE ALSO: US calls Malaysia’s 1MDB corruption scandal ‘kleptocracy at its worst’

One positive case study was Indonesia, which while scoring just 37 “has a long way to go in the fight against corruption” has also seen a modest improvement in reducing public sector corruption in the past five years.

This “could” stem from the work of Indonesia’s anti-corruption agency taking action against corrupt officials despite “strong opposition” from parliament, Transparency International said.

The watchdog noted that while corruption was still strong in many countries in the Asia Pacific, journalists, activists or other whistle-blowers were increasingly being threatened for speaking out, including in some cases being killed.

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Maldivian Police officers push back opposition supporters near the main opposition Maldives Democratic Party (MDP) headquarters during a protest in Male, Maldives February 9, 2018. Source: Reuters

“CPI results correlate not only with the attacks on press freedom and the reduction of space for civil society organisations,” said Delia Ferreira Rubio, the Chair of Transparency International. “In fact, what is at stake is the very essence of democracy and freedom.”

The Philippines, India and the Maldives were the worst off in terms of intimidation and violence against those who report or lobby against corruption. In highly corrupt countries, a journalist is killed every week, said its analysis.

SEE ALSO: Philippines remains one of the most dangerous places on earth for journalists

“No activist or reporter should have to fear for their lives when speaking out against corruption,” Transparency International’s Managing Director Patricia Moreira said. “Given current crackdowns on both civil society and the media worldwide, we need to do more to protect those who speak up.”

The NGO recommended that governments impement tougher legal frameworks to prevent corruption, to reduce impunity, increase space for civil society to hold power to account, and for education systems and the corporate sector to promote greater integrity and ethics.

“Rather than focus solely on scores, rankings and methods, countries across the region should decide where to make substantial changes that will bring about real improvements in their countries,” it said.