BANGKOK • More than a quarter of people living in Asia had to pay a bribe while trying to access a public service in the past year, a watchdog said yesterday, calling on governments to root out endemic graft in the region.
The report by Berlin-based Transparency International surveyed more than 21,861 people in 16 countries spanning the Asia-Pacific from Pakistan to Australia. Singapore was not included in the survey of 16 countries and territories.
From the results, it estimated that 900 million people were forced to fork over "tea money" at least once in the previous 12 months.
Bribery rates were highest in India and Vietnam, where nearly two thirds of respondents said they had to sweeten the deal to access basic services like public education and healthcare.
Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Australia reported the lowest incidences of bribery.
The report noted: "We found that more than one in four people in the 16 places surveyed had paid a bribe in the last 12 months when they used a public service (28 per cent).
"Based on the bribery rates for each country/territory and its adult population size, this is equivalent to over 900 million people across the 16 places surveyed."
Police were the most common demanders of kickbacks, according to the survey, with just under a third of people who had come into contact with an officer in the past year saying they had paid a bribe.
The poor are hit hardest by corruption, with 38 per cent of respondents saying they had to pay a bribe, the highest in any income category.
Yet, while poorer people were more likely to be targeted in countries like Thailand, India and Pakistan, the reverse trend was found in places like Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia.
The report, People And Corruption: Asia Pacific, said bribery was highest in India, where nearly seven in 10 people who had accessed public services had to pay a bribe (69 per cent).
This was followed closely by Vietnam, where around two thirds had paid a bribe when accessing services (65 per cent).
"Governments must do more to deliver on their anti-corruption commitments," Mr Jose Ugaz, chairman of Transparency International, said in a press release.
"Bribery is not a small crime. It takes food off the table, it prevents education, it impedes proper healthcare and ultimately it can kill."
When it came to perceptions of corruption, Malaysia and Vietnam got the worst ratings from their citizens, who felt graft was widespread and accused their governments of doing little to fight it.
Corruption scandals have rocked a number of governments in Asia over the past year, dominating news headlines and whipping up protests.
South Korea's President Park Geun Hye was impeached by Parliament in December over a major influence-peddling scandal that prompted millions to take to the street for months to call for her resignation.
Malaysia has also been seized by a graft scandal since 2015, with global investigators accusing Prime Minister Najib Razak and his associates of misappropriating billions of dollars through the state-backed 1MDB fund.
A report last year by a corruption watchdog also detailed the enormous wealth accumulated by the family and friends of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.
China, meanwhile, has been on an anti-corruption drive that has netted more than one million officials. Fellow communist country Vietnam has also jailed a number of former businessmen for graft in its bloated state-run sector.
Thailand's junta government has vowed a similar anti-corruption campaign but there have been few convictions so far.