TOPICS: Corruption worst hurdle in Asia-Pacific

Corruption is a major hurdle that stands in the way of governments in the Asia-Pacific region, trying to lift millions of people out of poverty and hunger, says UN Undersecretary General Kim Hak-Su. Willingness to combat corruption is seen by the fact that many countries in the region have signed the UN Convention against Corruption, which will come into effect on Dec. 14 this year, but far more will need to be done, going by reports from well-known watchdog groups like Transparency International (TI). Asia-Pacific countries, starting with Bangladesh, Indonesia and the Philippines, have figured among the top ten in the Germany-based TI’s annually released barometer of the world’s most corrupt countries.

Kim said the pressure was now on governments to fight corruption and push for greater decentralisation of power in order to achieve the UN prescribed Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for halving the incidence of poverty by 2015, as agreed to by governments at a 2000 summit. Kim’s comments follow the UN summit in New York earlier this month where the world’s leaders met to review the progress made towards achieving the eight MDGs. The goals cover poverty reduction, achieving universal primary education, promoting gender equality, reducing child and maternal mortality, reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS and other diseases like malaria, ensuring environmental stability, and increasing funds for development.

China and India, the region’s giants offer the typical story of contradictions that have come to define the Asian continent’s struggle to meet the MDGs. While both countries have recorded impressive economic growth rates over the past decade and have helped lift millions out of poverty, large numbers still remain below the extreme poverty line. According to the Asian Development Bank, there are some 621 million people, or nearly 20 per cent of the region’s population, surviving on less than one dollar a day. Of that, 327 million live in India, 173 million live in China and another 77 million live in the rest of South Asia.

And the likelihood of Asia’s booming economies coming to the rescue of the region’s poor in the months ahead appear dim, in the wake of a new report dealing with ‘’jobless growth’’ released this week by the International Labour Organisation. There is a growing

‘’employment gap’’ in the Asian region, the 74-page report stated, since ‘’the creation of new jobs has failed to keep pace with region’s impressive economic growth’’. Between 2003 and 2004, for instance, employment in the Asia-Pacific region increased by a ‘’disappointing’’ 1.6 percent, or by 25 million jobs, compared to the ‘’strong economic growth rate of over seven percent,’’ added the report. The current global drumbeat towards greater privatisation of the health systems in the developing world will also not favour poor families who experience the pain of child mortality. Kim indicated that a change of heart was needed within the region so that nations on course to meet MDGs may help least developed countries. — IPS