A few hundred baht here, a few thousand rupees there... a major UN report released on Thursday said “petty corruption” is a massive drain on Asian economic growth and hits the poor hardest.
Known by euphemisms such as “tea money” and “cigarette money”, the sort of bribes many Asians pay as a matter of course is worsening child mortality rates and perpetuating poverty across the region, the report said.
“Petty corruption is a misnomer,” said Anuradha Rajivan, who led the team that compiled the UN Development Programme’s report, titled “Tackling Corruption, Transforming Lives”.
“Dollar amounts may be relatively small but the demands are incessant, the number of people affected is enormous and the share of poor people’s income diverted to corruption is high.”
She said too much attention focused on the “big fish” in anti-corruption drives and not on the low-level vice that affects billions of Asians daily.
“Hauling the rich and powerful before the courts may grab headlines but the poor will benefit more from efforts to eliminate the corruption that plagues their everyday lives,” she said in a statement accompanying the report.
UNDP assistant secretary-general Olav Kjorven, launching the report in Jakarta alongside Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, said it was the poor who paid the price for corruption.
“Development is ultimately about expanding the choices that people have to lead the lives that they value,” he said in a speech.
“Corruption strangles these choices especially and disproportionately for the poor and vulnerable, meaning that fighting it needs to be a priority.”
Yudhoyono said that despite a string of corruption arrests and convictions since his election in 2004, much more needed to be done.
“This country will be destroyed if we do not stop the growth of corruption. There needs to be some shock therapy so that the people know that this government is serious,” he said.
Indonesia is one of the world’s most corrupt countries and ranks 143rd on Transparency International’s global corruption perceptions index, level with Russia, Togo and Gambia.