reddit life improves” in VN Express International (18 March 2016) brought my mind to neighboring countries in Southeast Asia. " title="Linkedin"> Print

Everyone has a role in fighting corruption

March 27, 2016 | 04:54 pm PT
Reading Luong Hoai Nam’s “My haunted mind on greed and corruption, even when life improves” in VN Express International (18 March 2016) brought my mind to neighboring countries in Southeast Asia. 

After the monetary crisis in 1998, countries in Southeast Asia underwent significant economic growth. Visiting major cities across the region you can see similar scenes of towering new buildings, luxurious private vehicles causing massive traffic jams, and the ostentatious demonstration of personal wealth.

Nam’s concern was that improvements in quality of life are not followed by the elimination of peoples’ greed. This reality demonstrates that poverty alone cannot be viewed as the only reason why people commit crimes like robbery and theft.

I do not intend to debate Nam’s view. However, talking about corruption and finding ways to decrease or even eliminate such a practice is very important.

It is a fact that Vietnam and other neighboring countries, with the notable exception of Singapore, are plagued by corruption. The Corruption Perceptions Index released annually by Transparency International shows this. Of the 168 countries examined, only Singapore is viewed as a ‘clean’ country, and five countries - Vietnam, Timor Leste, Laos, Myanmar, and Cambodia - are ranked below 100.

Ironically, Southeast Asian countries are inhabited by many religious people. Indonesia has the biggest Moslem population in the world. Similarly, the Mekong countries (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam) are home to the biggest Buddhist population in the world. The majority of people in the Philippines and Timor Leste embrace Catholicism. In short, religion is the most prominent phenomenon in the region, which is inhabited by about six hundred million people.

It cannot be ignored that most religious people are mindful of good and bad actions, of the impact of bad moral conduct. All religions teach their followers to simultaneously practice all kinds of benevolence and avoid sins or criminal activities. In relation to greed, we can also underline that no religion preaches the merits of greed to its followers.

So, should we separate the greedy nature of people in the region from the religions they practice? Or, conversely, should we separate the religion, as well as the inclination for greed, from the corruption issue?

I prefer to the second option. I do not think that people living in the ‘clean’ countries are more religious, as well as less greedy, than those living in the corrupt countries are. All human beings, whatever their race, national background, or religion, have potential to do good or bad things.

People engage in corruption because they can take advantage of a system that makes it easy for them to do so, regardless of their religious conviction or their propensity for greed. Conversely, a strong system will not provide any opportunity for individuals to be corrupt.

The strong systems in most ‘clean’ countries are not merely a matter of implementing laws that make people afraid of punishment. Rather, it is a matter of preventing any possibility of corruption. It requires good governance being implemented in both accountability and the transparency of all public bodies.

Simultaneously, all citizens as taxpayers have both the right and responsibility to monitor how such public bodies, including the officers of such bodies, use and manage their money. However, this part cannot work properly without protecting the people who report corruption. It is the state’s responsibility to create a legal environment to protect these witnesses.

Vietnam and other neighboring countries are currently facing a similar challenge in reducing or eradicating corruption. The establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community requires good governance. It is time for each country in Southeast Asia to work to free the region of corruption.

*The writer is Indonesian working as an NGO activist in Bangkok, Thailand.


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