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The Changing Face of Corruption in the Asia Pacific

By: , Posted on: May 16, 2017

Corruption is not new. Historians of the Roman Empire argue that corruption became by the fourth and fifth centuries, not merely an abuse of the system of government but an alternative government system itself. This decline powerfully contributed to the dismemberment of the Western Empire. A millennium later Machiavelli could observe in his Discourses on Livy that “[f]or the degree of corruption to which the kings had sunk was such that, if it had continued for two or three successive reigns, and had extended from the head to the members of the body so that these were also corrupt, it would have been impossible to have reformed the state.”

Yet corruption seems to be peculiarly a phenomenon of our time. Economic globalisation has changed the context and incentives for corruption so that it seems no exaggeration to speak of a globalisation of corruption. If we think of corruption primarily in terms of the corruption of public office, this is itself something of a paradox since globalisation’s effect is to undermine the state’s monopoly of legitimate power over its territory and to enlarge that of business enterprises, especially those of a global character. Globalisation’s compact—free capital flows and free trade and investment regimes—integrates upon the economic axis but fragments upon the political.

Globally operating enterprises are not regulated globally; no global sovereign exercises authority over business and no international tribunal adjudicates grievances of irresponsible business conduct including corruption. Domestic regulation by host states depends on regulatory capacity and disposition. Especially for those host states with weak governance traditions and institutions, regulatory disposition is undermined both by the competitive environment for foreign investment and the temptation for elites to subordinate the public good for private gain.

Protective counter-movements have emerged over the past 40 years to re-embed markets into society. That process with respect to corruption is told in these pages. Civil society organisations such as Transparency International have been powerful advocates of change. The Carter Administration’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, enacted in the United States in 1977, prohibiting the bribery of foreign officials was a major step forward. To level the business playing field, the OECD exported these prohibitions to other member states through the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention, and later the United Nations Convention against Corruption came into force in 2005. Significantly for business, in view of the importance of London for global financial markets, the UK Bribery Act 2010 went further to proscribe bribery in both public and private sectors and requires firms carrying on any business there to have procedures to prevent bribery.

Of course, not all corruption is business-related and not all business-related corruption has a global connection although few domestic enterprises are now disconnected from the global economy in view of the lengthy value chains of international production systems.

Corruption is a particular blight in emerging economies without developed rule of law traditions and supporting institutions but developed democratic states are no less susceptible to its corroding effect. The forms of corruption are many and reflect the particular social and political circumstances, and institutional vulnerabilities, of the individual state. A common feature is their impact upon the enjoyment of human rights. Corrupt governance has a negative impact on all human rights whether civil and political rights or economic, social and cultural rights. As the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has noted, the corrupt management of public resources compromises the state’s ability to deliver health, education and welfare services; the economically and politically disadvantaged suffer disproportionately since they are particularly dependent on public goods.

Anti-corruption and the international human rights mechanisms have historically followed parallel tracks; closer integration offers scope for achievement of shared goals. Legal measures and anti-corruption commissions are ineffective without strong and engaged civil society. Equally, anti-corruption civil activism flourishes under a strong legal framework, an open political system and the human rights system’s articulation and assertion of the entitlements of human dignity. In each of these respects anti-corruption initiatives can benefit from international human rights principles and mechanisms, and the experience of its civil society actors. The tracks of separate development might merge to mutual advantage.

The chapters contained in this book respond to the difficulty of the challenge presented by corruption in the Asia Pacific region. The tripartite approach adopted is a particular strength. The integration of theoretical perspectives with country case studies and practitioner reflections upon future challenges from their professional experience brings together a body of thought and experience that sheds a strong light on the problem. The geographic focus upon corruption in the Asia-Pacific region enables close attention to country and cultural differences within a region that nonetheless confronts shared challenges of economic as well as social development. The theoretical discussion addresses fundamental questions such as the understanding of the scope of corruption and its reach beyond bribery of public officials; the myriad forms it takes are explored in the sensitive country case studies. Similarly, the theoretical discussion of issues going to foreign direct investment and corruption and the building of resilient anti-corruption institutions sets a sound platform for the country case studies. The distinct practitioner perspectives in the third part from law, business and economic development add significantly to the development of a nuanced understanding not only of future challenges but of potential ways forward in addressing problems identified for countries in this important region. The editors are to be commended for the intellectual architecture they have created and the individual authors for the construction of the individual elements of the structure.

The Foreword by Professor Paul Redmond AM, Sir Gerard Brennan Professorship, Faculty of Law University of Technology Sydney.

The Changing Face of Corruption in the Asia Pacific by Chris Rowley and Marie dela Rama is a contemporary analysis of corruption in the Asia-Pacific region. Bringing academicians and practitioners together, contributors to this book discuss the current perspectives of corruption’s challenges in both theory and practice, and what the future challenges will be in addressing corruption’s proliferation in the region.

If you would like to purchase a print or e-copy of the book, visit the Elsevier Store. Apply discount code STC317 at checkout and receive up to 30% off the list price and free global shipping

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