Report: Bhutan’s position in the global corruption ranking has remained unchanged at 27 from last year.

According to the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2016 released on January 25 by the Transparency International (TI), the anti-corruption watchdog, Bhutan scored 65 points out of 100. For the last three years, Bhutan’s scores in the annual index have remained unchanged.

Theoretically, countries securing a score of less than 50 points are considered clean. Bhutan is the 27th cleanest country among 176 countries included in the report.

The global average score is 43, indicating endemic corruption in those country’s public sector. Top-scoring countries are far outnumbered by low-scoring countries where, according to TI, citizens face the tangible impact of corruption on a daily basis, the report states.

Within the region, Bhutan is the cleanest country, followed by India (79), Sri Lanka (95), the Maldives (95), Pakistan (116) Nepal (131), Bangladesh (145) and Afghanistan (169).

According to the report, higher-ranked countries tend to have higher degrees of press freedom, access to information about public expenditure, stronger standards of integrity for public officials, and independent judicial systems. “But high-scoring countries can’t afford to be complacent, either.”

The report adds that while the most obvious forms of corruption may not scar the citizens’ daily lives in all these places, the higher-ranked countries are not immune to closed-door deals, conflicts of interest, illicit financing, and patchy law enforcement that can distort public policy and exacerbate corruption at home and abroad.

Since 2006, when the country was included in the CPI ranking, Bhutan’s score has improved over the years from the 49th position in 2009 to 30th in 2014.

ACC’s analysis 

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) yesterday provided its own analysis of the ranking, in which the ACC stated that Bhutan’s position and score has remained the same. Since the inception of the ACC in 2006, Bhutan featured in the TI CPI for eleven successive years.

The ACC stated that over the years, Bhutan saw remarkable improvement in the rank and score.

Besides perceptions of business people and country experts, the 2016 survey used five data sources to come up with an aggregated data for the CPI 2016. They are the World Bank Country Policy and Institutional Assessment (CPIA), World Economic Forum Executive Opinion Survey (EOS), Global Insight Country Risk Rating, Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Transformation Index and Democracy Projects.

In Asia and the Pacific region, Bhutan has been consecutively ranked in the 6th position for the last five years. The region has countries that are in the top twenties of CPI like New Zealand, Singapore, Australia and Hong Kong.

These countries/territories are far advanced with robust governance systems that ensure socio-economic and political stability through enhanced press freedom, access to information, integrity standards and legal framework on the independence of democratic institutions.

Also, in comparison to CPI scores of various regional countries/territories in Americas, Europe and Central Asia, Middle East and North Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia Pacific, Bhutan’s score of 65 and 27th position is considered relatively satisfactory given that Bhutan’s Gross National Income (GNI) of USD 2,380.00 is far below the average GNI of those countries/territories ranked above Bhutan in CPI.

This can be attributed to strong political will demonstrated in bringing radical anti-corruption reforms in the country. Bhutan’s standing in CPI shows that developing countries can also be equally efficient in controlling corruption if given the necessary political will and cooperation of stakeholders.

Over the years, drawing inspirations from Their Majesties’ constant reminder to build clean and safe societies, the ACC has relentlessly worked towards preventing and combating corruption,” the ACC analysis stated.

According to the ACC, introduction of preventive tools such as declaration and management of assets, gifts and conflict of interest, which is also being recognized in the region and abroad gives an edge over the sustained CPI ranking as it is towards mainstreaming of anti-corruption initiatives for long term sustenance. Besides a 90 percent conviction rate by persons charge sheeted and 95 percent prosecution rate by cases registered with the court further adds to the perception on the effectiveness in control of corruption in Bhutan.

“The Constitution clearly sets out separation of powers between the executive, legislative and judiciary endorsing independent functioning of the democratic institutions in upholding rule of law in the country,” the ACC stated.

The recent report titled “Judicial Integrity Scan 2016” further echoes the judiciary’s openness to external assessment to strengthen the services and invest in advancing the skills and knowledge of judicial personnel towards enhancing access to justice.

The initiatives are being spearheaded by the Supreme Court and Bhutan National Legal Institute with technical support from the ACC. The commitment and perseverance of the Constitutional Bodies – Royal Audit Authority (RAA), Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC), Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) and Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) – in promoting systems of integrity with greater professionalism can also be a contributing factor.

Annual audit recoveries made by the RAA, mainstreaming of ethics and integrity management in the civil service system by the RCSC and the ACC, as well as the strong efforts of ACC to deter corrupt acts has immense impact on enhancing transparency, accountability, integrity and professionalism.

In addition, the ACC states that Bhutan’s smooth transition into democratic constitutional monarchy with successful second national democratic election in 2013 further reinforced the policy of greater decentralisation and sustainable development with empowered citizenry.

Ratification of United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) in 2016 is yet another achievement on the anti-corruption front. Further, with 11th Five Year Plan’s focus in diversifying private sector development in the country, Parliament amended the Companies Act 2016 to promote level playing field for the private sector with accountability mechanism like Business Code of Conduct, Conflict of Interests among other initiatives.

Nevertheless, the ACC stated that with Bhutan graduating from the Least Developed Country (LDC) to the Lower Middle Income Country and increasing budget outlay for successive five year plans, the risk of corruption will also increase.

Further, with burgeoning accountability institutions like media and civil society organizations acting as a watch-dog, complementing the ACC, more corruption issues will be exposed, the ACC states. “Therefore, ACC cannot be complacent with the current international standing on the level of corruption perception.”

The ACC added: “This only reiterates the need for the ACC to be more strong, credible, effective, efficient and vigilant of such emerging issues. Thus, all national stakeholders will equally have to make concerted efforts in fighting against corruption and building systems of integrity.”

MB Subba