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Graft may grow with trade: TI

People transport goods across the Thai border
People transport goods across the Thai border last year. According to Transparency International, with increasing cross-border trade, opportunities for corruption will increase. Hong Menea

Graft may grow with trade: TI

A new report issued today by Transparency International calls for the establishment of an ASEAN Integrity Community (AIC) to combat corruption, warning that economic integration could otherwise deepen the graft that taints the region.

“If economic integration is not built on a strong foundation of transparency, accountability and integrity then the ASEAN community’s vision will be jeopardized,” the report says.

In an interview yesterday, TI’s regional director for Asia Pacific, Dr Srirak Plipat, said that while economic integration promises a financial boon for the region, it also carries a threat unless graft is stamped out.

“Corruption is the shadow of this economic activity that will also grow as this activity grows,” Plipat said.

According to the report – which is being released in conjunction with a meeting of ASEAN in Kuala Lumpur – massive infrastructure projects underway or planned across the region provide opportunities for funds to be siphoned off, while integrated financial systems could allow stolen cash to be more easily hidden. Such an outcome, it says, could undermine public backing for the project.

“If persistent corruption and cronyism cause the benefits of regional economic integration to flow to well-connected elites, leading to greater income inequality, political support for regional economic integration may wither,” it states.

The report also highlights the increased opportunities such integration offers to criminal groups involved in the likes of timber theft and human trafficking, as illicit cargoes are more easily concealed among the increasing numbers of goods and people moving through the region.

It also warns that, while cross-border bribery has traditionally seen firms from outside the region paying off dirty officials, “as intra-ASEAN trade and investment expands, we are likely to see an increasing number of intra-ASEAN transnational bribery cases”.

Plipat said that although there are already regional bodies focused on battling graft, they are mainly intended to provide technical support. The AIC, he said, could nurture the political will to combat corruption currently lacking in many countries.

“The corruption problem in Southeast Asia is no longer about the technical support, it’s about leadership,” said Plipat.

It’s a message echoed by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, which said it backed TI’s proposal.

“In the current situation, corruption is a constraint to development and economic prosperity,” said CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann. “We support any initiatives, any ideas that lead to fighting corruption.”

The head of Cambodia’s Anti-corruption Unit, Om Yentieng, yesterday declined to comment.

Cambodia is one of ASEAN’s most corrupt nations, according to the 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index published by TI in December. Scoring just 21 out of 100, both Cambodia and Myanmar were ranked 154 out of 174 nations globally.

Yet Plipat is keen to highlight the moves being made in both countries to support the work of TI; backing he hoped would extend to this new proposal.

“If the Cambodian government can take a leading role in supporting this, we look forward to continuing to support the Cambodian government,” he said.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHHAY CHANNYDA

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