Asia beset by petty corruption: UN

* UNDP report says small-scale corruption limits poor’s access to education and basic health services
* Says natural resources being destroyed by illegal activity

JAKARTA: A few hundred baht here, a few thousand rupees there – a major United Nations report released on Thursday said “petty corruption” is a massive drain on Asian economic growth and hits the poor hardest.

The sort of bribes many Asians pay as a matter of course are worsening child mortality rates and perpetuating poverty across the region, the report said.

“Petty corruption is a misnomer,” said Anuradha Rajivan, who led the team that compiled the UN Development Programme (UNDP) report, titled “Tackling Corruption, Transforming Lives”.

“Dollar amounts may be relatively small but the demands are incessant, the number of people affected is enormous and the share of poor people’s income diverted to corruption is high,” she said, adding that too much attention focused on the “big fish” in anti-corruption drives and not on the low-level vice that affects countless Asians daily.

“Hauling the rich and powerful before the courts may grab headlines but the poor will benefit more from efforts to eliminate the corruption that plagues their everyday lives,” she said.

UNDP Assistant Secretary General Olav Kjorven, launching the report in Jakarta alongside Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, said it was the poor who paid the price for corruption.

Yudhoyono called for greater multilateral co-operation and an end to “corruption havens” around the region – a veiled jab at countries such as Singapore and China where high-profile Indonesian corruption suspects are living in exile.

“I have time and time again said there needs to be bilateral and multilateral co-operation. There should be no safe haven for corruptors that take away state assets and live peacefully in another country,” he said.

Kjorven said the need to free poor Asians from corruption was even more pressing in the face of the global food crisis, with the price of rice rising as much as 70 percent in the past year.

“The reason for this global food crisis is manifold but one thing is clear, corrupt practices in how agricultural lands, the environment and natural resources are managed are making the situation worse,” he said.

Limiting access: A summary of the report said small-scale corruption limited poor Asians’ access to education and basic health services, contributing to high infant mortality rates and locking people into cycles of poverty.

Across the Asia-Pacific region, it said politicians were seen as the most venal element in society, followed by the police and judiciary.

Nearly 20 percent of people claimed to have paid a bribe to police in the past year in the Asia-Pacific region, it said.

In South Asia, many people had to pay bribes to gain admission into hospital and even for mothers to see their newborn babies. Up to a third of drugs sold in certain countries were expired or counterfeit.

“Ghost teachers” and even “ghost schools” — where government funds are lost on non-existent services — were examples of corruption in the education sector which meant fewer children in school and higher illiteracy rates.s.

Natural resources: Meanwhile, natural resources that should provide a foundation for economic and social development were being destroyed by illegal activity. afp

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Filed under Asia, corruption, Development, governance, Poverty

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