Asia Pacific Meeting

Julie Haggie

Julie Haggie
Chief Executive Officer
Transparency International New Zealand

I attended the Asia-Pacific regional meeting of Transparency International in Kuala Lumpur at the end of June. This event provided chapters of the Transparency International Asia Pacific Region with a rare opportunity to meet face to face to talk and plan.

Each of the Asia Pacific chapters faces challenges unique to their country, and each runs projects to improve integrity and fight corruption. Despite the differences, the common sense of purpose is amazing.

The highest value for me from the group sessions was learning from our colleagues, not only their stories, but their deep thinking and debate about how to tackle really tough issues.

1MDB Scandal

A highlight was the presentation from veteran journalist, P Gunasegaram, who penned ‘1MDB, the Scandal that brought down a government’. 1MDB started out as a government plan to fund infrastructure projects in Malaysia but turned into a swindle estimated at more than $US4.5 billion.

This scandal involves political leaders at the highest levels of government including Malaysia’s former prime minister Najib Razak. One of the prime suspects, Jho Lo, is still on the run. Goldman Sachs is facing criminal charges with its lead banker on the deals having already pleaded guilty in a US court to participating in the bribery and money laundering schemes.

Weakening democracy in Asia

Other chapters in the Asia Pacific region face weakening of democratic institutions and political rights. Since 2017, several countries in the region declined by two or three points in the Corruption Perceptions Index, including Bangladesh, Maldives and Vietnam. Each of these countries have Transparency International chapters.

Vietnam has taken a strong approach towards prosecution and punishment of corrupt individuals over the last few years. However, this is not enough to fight corruption effectively.

There are promising political developments within the region, particularly in Malaysia, Pakistan and India that will be important to watch moving forward.

Pacific nation challenges

Pacific nations have major work to do to address corruption. This is reflected in the amazing work by marvellous activists in Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

The Solomon Islands successfully passed a comprehensive anti-corruption law, including provisions for a new anti-corruption commission. TI Solomon Islands, played an important role in advocating for the bill’s passage and is now advocating for a sister bill on whistleblower protection.

TI – Papua New Guinea runs some amazing youth programmes.

Despite many challenges, including resourcing and a reducing civil society space, the Transparency International chapters in Asia and Pacific are in good heart. They remain active in speaking the truth, to shine light on wrongdoing on behalf of their fellow citizens.


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