More than one in three south Asians say they were forced to bribe officials in the last year, mainly for services they were legally entitled to, an international anti-graft watchdog said on Thursday. A survey released by Berlin-based Transparency International in the Nepalese capital Kathmandu showed bribery has become so endemic that the region is second only to sub-Saharan Africa as the corruption hotspot of the world.
The watchdog surveyed 7,800 people in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives, finding 40 percent had paid backhanders over the last 12 months to public servants, with police being the largest recipients.
Two thirds of Indians, Bangladeshis and Pakistanis who had dealt with the police said they had paid bribes to corrupt officers in the last 12 months.
“With bribery such a big part of life for south Asians, you can see why so many people are angry at their governments for not tackling corruption,” said Rukshana Nanayakkara, senior programme coordinator for the watchdog’s south Asia region.
“People are sick of paying bribes to get on with their daily lives, and they are sick of the sleaze and undue influence of public servants.”
The survey, entitled “Daily Lives and Corruption: Public Opinion in South Asia” found 62 percent of south Asians believed corruption had got worse over the past three years, with Indians and Pakistanis the most pessimistic.
More than 80 percent, however, said they were willing to take action to end corruption.
“Governments beware. People think corruption is on the rise and are willing to take action against it,” said Nanayakkara.
“In 2011, popular protests have sent a strong message to governments. They must respect the voice of their people and encourage citizen engagement.”
Some of the largest demonstrations were in India, where millions took to the streets of cities across the country in August in support of an anti-corruption campaign by veteran activist Anna Hazare.
The six countries lag between 86th and 154th in Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index of 186 nations, in which the least corrupt countries are ranked highest.
According to the survey, the country most plagued by bribery is Bangladesh, where 66 percent report paying bribes to public institutions, mostly just to gain access to services to which they are already entitled.
In India, where the figure was 54 percent, a majority thought their government wasn’t doing enough to fight corruption that permeates all levels of society — requiring bribes for anything from getting a birth certificate to tenders for infrastructure projects.
“People realise that there is a complete lack of political will to check corruption in India… there is corruption at every level,” said Anupama Jha, executive director of Transparency International in India.
“This report clearly affirms what the people of the country feel (about) politicians, the police and the legislature — that the people in India have completely lost faith, which is a cultural concern.
“Yet I feel that if people join hands, the way it is happening in India, things can change,” Jha said.
In Nepal, Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka, bribes were mostly paid to speed up unwieldy bureaucracy, highlighting how corruption can be a barrier to business expansion, TI said.
In Sri Lanka, significantly more people paid bribes to tax authorities than other services while in Nepal and the Maldives, customs officers reportedly received the most bribes.
The Asian Development Bank said in May corruption and a lack of government accountability were the greatest barriers to Asia becoming the world’s wealthiest region by 2050.
Asia’s proportion of global GDP, rising from 27 percent last year, would match its share of global population and a per capita income of $38,600 would leave the region as well off as Europe is today if corruption could be stamped out, it said.