The concept of good governance has many aspects. I will focus on two here: corruption and the rule of law. All Asians aspire to live in a society in which they do not have to offer a bribe to anyone in order to obtain what they are entitled to under the law. They want to live in a society in which the policeman, prosecutor and judge are not corrupt. They want to live in a society in which licences and contracts are granted and policies are made in a transparent manner and based on merit and nothing else. Corruption is a cancer eating at the heart of Asia. It is one of the most shameful of Asia’s failings.
I read with dismay, each year, the Corruption Perceptions Index published by Transparency International. According to the 2011 Index, only one Asian country, Singapore (4) is ranked among the top 10 most non-corrupt countries and territories in the world. Hong Kong, China is ranked 12, Japan 14, Taipei,China 32, Bhutan 38, Republic of Korea 43, Brunei Darussalam 44, Malaysia 60, People’s republic of China 75, Thailand 80, Sri Lanka 86, India 96, Indonesia 100, Viet Nam 112, Bangladesh 120, Mongolia 120, Philippines 129, Pakistan 134, Lao People’s Democratic Republic 154, Cambodia 164 and Myanmar 180. I am struck by the fact that there is no apparent correlation between democracy and non‑corruption. A country can be both democratic and corrupt.
The rule of law is as important to the lives of ordinary citizens as the absence of corruption. Asians aspire to live in societies which protect their safety, rights and property. They want to live in societies in which everyone is subject to the law and no one is above the law. They want to live in societies in which the judiciary is independent and justice is not for sale. They do not wish to live in societies in which there is one law for the rich and powerful and another law for the poor and the weak. They do not wish to live in a society in which there is a culture of impunity and where the rich and powerful can literally get away with murder. They want to live in societies with a strong rule of law culture.
I will not embarrass Asia by showing Asia’s scores in the World Bank’s 2010 index for the rule of law. The maximum score is 100. Only Singapore, Hong Kong, China and Japan had scores in the 90s. Brunei Darussalam, Republic of Korea and Taipei, China had scores in the 80s. India’s score was in the 50s and the People’s Republic of China’s was in the 40s. I would simply say that there is much room for improvement for the others.
This post was derived from a speech “Asia In The 21st Century: The Challenges of Equality, Good Governance and Sustainability” delivered by Professor Koh at the Asian Development Bank on 28 February 2012.