Debate Magazine

Corruption in Southeast Asia: Where is ASEAN?

Posted on the 21 July 2011 by Belapertiwi

Corruption has almost been an incurable disease in Southeast Asian countries. Recently Indonesian viewers have been shocked by the news on two politicians fleeing abroad in an allege of corruption. Muhammad Nazarudin, the former treasurer of Democratic Party and member of national parliament, was allegedly involved in graft case linked to SEA Games and fled to Singapore where he was said to have moved to other country. Another politician, Nunun Nurbaeti, was wanted by the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) for her alleged role in the Bank Indonesia traveler’s check bribery scandal. Her presence is unknown after she was reported to be in Cambodia. These two politicians certainly are not the only corruption suspects who fled abroad. The national newspaper Kompas recently reported the 45 suspects who fled from Indonesia for various scandals related to corruption. It is important to notice that ASEAN countries and its main partner are the common destination for these graft fugitives. Aside from Singapore which become the most often visited country; China, US and Australia seems to be the other options for the criminals.

Indonesia is not alone. In other countries, it has been widely known that corruption has forced the previous prime minister of Thailand Thaksin Sinawatra to be removed from his position. This has been the begining of political crisis until present while the suspected prime minister is still abroad. Philippinnes is not less worse. Last January, Lt.Col George Rabusa opened pandora box of corruption linking to three former military chief of staff and might also be other forefront politicians. For a broader description, Transparency International has put 6 of 10 ASEAN countries in the low rank of corruption perception index (those lower than 100 from 192 countries) include Indonesia (110), Vietnam (116), Philippinnes (134), Cambodia (154), Laos (176), and Myanmar which only one level up from the most corrupt state – Somalia. To say that corruption has been deeply rooted in Southeast Asia, it is worth looking the institution’s global corruption report 2004 on top ten corrupt world leaders. They are Suharto (Indonesia in the first rank), Ferdinand Marcos (Philippinnes in the second rank) and his predecessor Joseph Estrada.

For all that mentioned, corruption in Southeast Asia is an important issue to be tackled. There are at least two main reasons why corruption should be a crucial agenda in ASEAN. First, the corruption cases in each ASEAN countries have been deteriorating that it will undermine the political stability and economic growth in the respective countries which then affecting ASEAN condition as a whole. Second, the graft fugitives often fled to other ASEAN countries that the cases are no longer domestic issues but belong to transnational crime which must be the concern of ASEAN. If the organization aims to be a community in 2015, then the solution for the regional issues should also be regional. It is baffling when the two Indonesian graft fugitives fled to Singapore and Cambodia, the government seemed trying hard to find them. Let alone arrested them, the government even troubled by the non-existence of extradition treaty between Indonesia and Singapore. Many prominent figures thought it would be easier for Indonesia as the leader of ASEAN to cooperate with other countries to deal with this issue but the country barely made it.

So where is ASEAN in this issue?

ASEAN definitely has a platform to deal with corruption. In the blueprint of ASEAN Political and Security Community, Indonesia proposed to put corruption as one of the important issue on the document. It has been stated that in order to prevent and combat corruption, ASEAN countries should strengthen links and cooperation between relevant agencies. In this case, the document refers to the MoU on Cooperation for Preventing and Combating Corruption which signed on 15 December 2004 by anti corruption agencies of respective ASEAN countries. The signatories of this MoU has increased to 8 ASEAN countries except Laos and Myanmar. Aside from this, the ASEAN countries who are signatories of the UN Convention against Corruption are encouraged to ratify the mentioned document. Despite not mentioned in the corruption session, the cooperation on transnational crime imply the countries to enhance cooperation on the issue of extradition. In case there is no extradition treaty between states, ASEAN provides a mechanism namely treaty on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters (MLAT).

Is the platform sufficient?

Basically the instruments provided above are sufficient as the basic platform in cooperation to eradicate corruption. Yet, ASEAN as in other cases often works only in the level of setting norms and regulation. Reading through the joint communique in ASEAN website, we barely able to find those related to the progress in corruption eradication. Therefore, recalling the above discussion on corruption in southeast asia, ASEAN should give this issue a priority in its political and security community. Indonesian chairmanship in the organization would be a momentum because the country is the one who initiate the ASEAN political and security community (APSC), the one who propose to include corruption in the agenda of APSC, and one of countries affected heavily by corruption. Therefore Indonesia should take into light cooperation in eradicating corruption together with other agenda such as ASEAN Defence Ministerial Meeting (ADMM), ASEAN Foreign Minister Meeting (AMM) and Southeast Asian Nuclear Free Zone Committee (SEANFZC) which is occuring right now and has been so developed in ASEAN framework.

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