Thailand ranked 110th with a score of 35 out of 100 in the 2021 survey, a six-rank drop from 104th a year ago, when it also scored one more point.

While countries in Asia Pacific have made great strides in controlling bribery for public services, an average score of 45 out of 100 on the 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) shows much more needs to be done to solve the region’s corruption problems.

As such, Thailand is 10 point below the average Asian country polled by the Corruption Perceptions Index.

Singapore was the top performer in Southeast Asia and fourth least corrupt in the world with a score of 85. Malaysia was also ahead of Thailand, at 62nd with 48.

Some higher-scoring countries are even experiencing a decline as governments fail to address grand corruption, uphold rights and consult citizens.

The top performers in Asia Pacific are New Zealand (CPI score: 88), Singapore (85) and Hong Kong (76). However, most countries sit firmly below the global average of 43. This includes three countries with some of the lowest scores in the world: Cambodia (23), Afghanistan (16) and North Korea (16).

The inertia on the index continues along the Mekong River

Furthermore, the lowest scorers in the region, Afghanistan (16) and North Korea (16), have dropped even further (from 19 and 18, respectively) since last year. These two fragile states do not have the basic institutional infrastructure – such as mechanisms for administration and rule of law – to form an integrity system. They also repress citizens who speak out against corruption.

Erosion of rights in Asia

Asia has witnessed 10 years of mass movements calling for action against corruption, but sadly little has changed. Public outrage has instead been co-opted by strongmen – in the form of populist leaders in democratic countries and authoritarians elsewhere.

From India to the Philippines (33) to China, such leaders have been able to portray themselves as more effective than state institutions and win mandates to gain and stay in power. However, only a few of these countries have managed to make progress in controlling corruption and these gains remain fragile. Furthermore, in most countries, corruption is spreading through severe restrictions on the very civil liberties – like freedom of association and speech – which allowed people to take to the streets and call for action.

COVID-19 opening a door to corruption and repression

Alongside a massive public health mobilisation, Asian governments responded to the pandemic by rolling out some of the world’s biggest economic recovery plans. But such large-scale responses, conducted without adequate checks and balances, inevitably lead to corruption.

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