By Jason Ng
Despite Malaysia’s high-profile anticorruption crusade, half of the corporate executives surveyed by a global corruption watchdog believe that competitors have obtained business through bribery, underscoring the hard task ahead for Prime Minister Najib Razak‘s government in weeding out graft.
Transparency International said Malaysia scored worst in the 2012 Bribe Payers Survey. It asked about 3,000 executives from 30 countries whether they had lost a contract in the past year because competitors paid a bribe—and in Malaysia, 50% said yes. Second on the dubious honor roll was Mexico, at 48%.
Japan ranked as the world’s least-corrupt place to do business, with just 2% of respondents saying they had lost out due to bribery; Malaysia’s neighbor Singapore was second-cleanest, at 9%. Even Indonesia, with a long-standing reputation for corruption, fared better than more-developed Malaysia: Southeast Asia’s largest economy came in at 47%. By comparison, 27% of respondents in China said they thought bribes had cost them business.
“It shows the attitude of private companies in Malaysia, indicating that bribery in the public sector could be systemic and in a sense institutionalized,” said Paul Low, president of the Malaysian chapter of Transparency International.
Since taking office in 2009, Mr. Najib has pledged to eradicate corruption and regain public confidence. Hundreds of cases have been investigated. The government has established special courts to hear corruption cases and is working to introduce harsher punishment, said Ravindran Devagunam, director of corruption prevention at government think-tank Pemandu. The body reports to the prime minister’s department.
And yet Malaysia’s overall scores in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index have deteriorated for three consecutive years. In 2011, the country scored 4.3—just slightly lower than the previous year’s 4.4, but significantly lower than the government’s benchmark of 4.9.
A revamped scoring system makes comparison with the 2012 number difficult, though the Transparency International said Malaysia’s position in the broader index continues to be in the mid-range average. It ranked 54th—together with the Czech Republic, Latvia, and Turkey.
“Foreign companies looking to supply to the government have to be aware that they’re likely to be asked for a bribe,” Mr. Low said.