My Take
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 December, 2012, 3:14am

There's no perfect cure for corruption

BIO

Alex Lo is a senior writer at the South China Morning Post. He writes editorials and the daily “My Take” column on page 2. He also edits the weekly science and technology page in Sunday Morning Post.
 

I must go to Finland sometime - to tour and learn. As a society, it seems to get many things right.

Its students rank top in the latest Global Index of Cognitive Skills and Educational Attainment, compiled by the Economist Intelligence Unit. South Korea is second and Hong Kong third. But their education system is much more relaxed; so maybe students can achieve the same skills without the grill and drill every day of their young lives, as they do here and in Korea. Japan and Singapore - two other all-study-no-joy countries - come after us.

Finland also ties with Denmark and New Zealand as the world's most corruption-free places, based on findings in the annual Corruption Perceptions Index by Transparency International.

Granted, corruption is an elastic concept, but Transparency's annual study is the closest to a commonly accepted global reference. And its rankings come with some surprises. Or rather, they are only surprises to our bash-China-first brigade who out of ignorance or prejudice, just assume the mainland is the most corrupt and brutal country in the world. Actually, the Chinese are not even close, and well ahead of some democracies in Asia.

China ranks 80th, cleaner than Thailand (88) and India (94). The Philippines, Vietnam and Indonesia are not even in the top 100. All except Vietnam are Asian democracies. Non-democratic Hong Kong is 14th, ahead of Japan (17), the United States (19), France (22), Spain (30), Taiwan (37) and South Korea (45). I am not denying the mainland has a serious corruption problem but let's have some perspective.

This doesn't stop Elizabeth Economy, of the Council on Foreign Relations, taking another shot at China: "180,000 mass demonstrations annually by most recent count; and an outflow of money through corruption, crime, and tax evasion as high as US$3.72 trillion over the past decade ... Is Xi Jinping up to the [anti-corruption] task?" India has tens of thousands of mass protests each year too, many of which are far deadlier; and the scale of its pervasive corruption relative to the size of its economy is, according to Transparency's index, worse than China.

Without good institutions and well-regulated markets, democracy is no panacea.

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