Seminar: Striving for a culture of integrity in governments and societies, anti-corruption agencies from 23 Asian and Pacific countries met in Thimphu to discuss ensuring development with value as a social fence against corruption.

Representatives from 93 countries are attending the 14th regional seminar of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and Asian Development Bank (ADB) Anti-Corruption initiative for Asia and Pacific themed “Development with Values: Social Fence against Corruption”.

Members said that degeneration in moral values is the main cause of corruption. As communities, societies, and nations evolve, values continuously shape future humanity at large. Corruption has become the root problems in the societies, representatives said.

Corruption in the Asia-Pacific region continues to erode public trusts, and undermine rule of law and divert valuable development funds. It continues to make headlines, especially in this region, representatives said.

ADB’s head of anti-corruption and integrity office, Clare Wee said: “This has prompted the question if the region has stalled its efforts to fight corruption.” She added that Sustainable Development Goals include new targets to substantially reduce corruption and bribery in all their forms. “The goals are new and stronger call to action,”

Global partnerships have gained momentum in fighting corruption since 2011.

A problem with the region is that tax evasion has become a global concern and the Panama Papers have revealed such  issues.

“More efforts are needed to implement reforms on tax integrity and transparency in the region,” Clare Wee said.

Lack of tax integrity and a culture of tax secrecy and evasion increase the risk of corruption, she added. Governments need far more tax-generated resources and domestic mobilisation is important for all the countries in this region including Bhutan.

OECD’s secretary general Angel Gurria said that corruption is the biggest systemic threat facing the economies and societies in Asia and Pacific countries.

“Corruption exacerbates inequalities, erodes trusts, distorts markets, and raises the cost of doing business,” he said.

In contrast, he said, a culture of integrity brings great benefits making economies more productive, public sector more efficient, societies and economies more intensive, and the institutions more trustworthy.

He said that integrity, therefore, is a major component of Gross National Happiness.

Enhancing the effectiveness and independence of anti-corruption agencies and other criminal enforcement agencies is another critical challenge being faced today.

Lyonhoen Tshering Tobgay delivered the key note address. He said despite all check and balance measures Bhutan  still has to be careful.

Anti-Corruption Commission’s chairperson, Kinley Yangzom, said that Bhutan has earned good reputation both within and outside the country for efforts against corruption.

Bhutan today ranks 27th out of 168 countries in the Transparency International Corruption Perception index 2015.

“Our goal is to improve the ranking to 20th by 2020 which appears to be a daunting task,” said Kinley Yangzom.

However, she said that there exists political will at the highest level and the inspiration from the anti-corruption champion His Majesty The King.

She said the theme was appropriate for Bhutan given its development policy of Gross National Happiness.

The governments in Asia-Pacific in 1999 resolved to cooperate in the fight against corruption by launching the Anti-Corruption Initiative for Asia-Pacific under the joint leadership of the ADB and the OECD.

Bhutan became a member of the initiative in September 2007 as its 28th member. As of today, there are 31 member countries.

Tshering Palden