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By Victor V. Saulon

Corruption worsens, says watchdog

Posted on January 28, 2016

AFTER SHOWING steady gains in improving transparency in the past three years, the Philippines was perceived to have become more corrupt last year, the latest report from global watchdog Transparency International shows.

A controversy over the Aquino administration’s stimulus package that reached the Supreme Court partly hurt the country’s score in the annual Corruption Perceptions Index, according to the National Competitivess Council. -- Philippine Star File photo
The country’s score worsened to 35 from 38 in a scale where 0 is labeled “highly corrupt” and 100, “very clean.” Relative to other countries, the Philippines ranked 95th out of 168 countries and territories, and tied with three others -- Armenia, Mali and Mexico. Its latest standing was way lower than last year’s 85 out of 174 countries or territories.

While released annually, the report comes just months before Filipinos head for voting precincts to choose a new successor to President Benigno S.C. Aquino III, a leader who became popular with his anti-corruption campaign.

The Philippines had seen its score climb in the past surveys so that the results reflect a change in the way the Aquino government is being perceived.

Still, the survey was made against a political landscape tainted by corruption scandals not entirely linked to the administration, said Guillermo M. Luz, co-chairman of the National Competitiveness Council.

He identified the Senate investigation on the involvement of Vice President Jejomar C. Binay in the alleged overpricing of the Makati City Hall and the court hearings on the constitutionality of Mr. Aquino’s stimulus package or the Disbursement Acceleration Program as among the events that could have dented the Philippine score.

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“If you’ll look at the investigations and scandal, they would have had an impact on the ratings. It [result] forms new perception, that’s why we take these scores seriously,” Mr. Luz told BusinessWorld in a phone interview.

“It’s the first drop we’ve had in five years. We’re not happy with the drop.”

Transparency International said the index measures the perceived levels of public sector corruption worldwide, and that it was based on expert opinion.

The report showed Denmark emerging as the least corrupt with a score of 91, while Somalia and North Korea tied as the most corrupt with a score of 8. Denmark took the top spot for the second year running, the report said.

Srirak Plipat, Transparency International’s Asia-Pacific regional director, said that if there’s “one common challenge” to unite the region, it would be corruption.

“From campaign pledges to media coverage to civil society forums, corruption dominates discussion. Yet despite all this talk, there’s little sign of action,” he said in the report.

“Between Australia’s slipping scores and North Korea’s predictably disastrous performance, the 2015 index shows no significant improvement. Has Asia Pacific stalled in its efforts to fight corruption?”

The onus of reversing corruption remains with government leaders, the report said, so that the latest results -- which the watchdog described as “poor” -- should compel policymakers to “revisit the genuineness of their efforts and propel the region beyond stagnation.”

In Southeast Asia, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar ranked among the 30 most corrupt countries in the world, while Singapore is among the 10 least corrupt.

Indonesia ranked 88th with a score of 36; Thailand is 76th with an unchanged score of 38; and Malaysia is 54th with a score of 50.

“Top performers share key characteristics: high levels of press freedom; access to budget information so the public knows where money comes from and how it is spent; high levels of integrity among people in power; and judiciaries that don’t differentiate between rich and poor, and that are truly independent from other parts of government,” the agency said.

It said lowest ranked countries were characterized by conflict and war, poor governance, weak public institutions like police and the judiciary, and a lack of independence in the media.