The National Corruption Barometer Report (NCBR) 2023 reveals that executives, the primary implementers of public policies and programmes are perceived to be the most corrupt. The study identified three predominant forms of corruption: trading of influence (23 percent), failure to declare conflicts of interest (12 percent), and abuse of function (11 percent).

We have heard this over and over again. Bhutan scored 68 points consecutively for the fifth year in a row and has been ranked 25 for the second consecutive year in Transparency International’s (TI) Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2022 released earlier this year.

We are among 124 countries out of 180 that have stagnant scores and has been consecutively placed in sixth position in the Asia and Pacific Region for the past 10 years. But every now and then, we are reminded that we are not doing enough as corruption cases surface and study reports confirm the presence of bigger problems.

It would be wrong to generalise that all executives are corrupt. But it is an open secret that some officials misuse their official positions for personal gains and yet could see successful career advancement over the years. Such people could be professionally very sound but very low on integrity, which potentially could have grave consequences.

Trading of influence is the misuse of influence over the decision-making process for a third party in return for loyalty, money, or any other material or immaterial undue advantage. This perception is the number one form of corruption across all service providers in Bhutan, the report reveals. Do our people have little guilt over their wrongdoings? Are the bosses aware of such wrongdoings, or are they also busy doing their bit?

However, in some cases, the subordinates and staff also victimise honest and good bosses. The accuracy of perceptions would also largely depend on the quality and the study’s sample size.

For a small nation like ours, the confidence and trust of the public in the system governing or serving them in various forms is of utmost importance. People talk about political parties in power grooming candidates for the next elections by appointing or promoting them to higher positions of influence by disrespecting norms and merit systems. Sometimes even before an interview for a vacancy is conducted, people talk about whose candidate would be selected or are “sure enough” to be selected.

Such practices would not only demoralise others competing through fair means but also erode the trust of the public and spread disharmony in the system.

One thing that Bhutanese cannot get away with is the push and pull behind the scene whenever opportunities arise. Family networks and ‘scratching each other’s back’ is strongly embedded in our system, which has the potential to discourage those who work hard and professionally.

The guidance and inspiration are crystal clear. His Majesty The King always emphasises how corruption is a societal evil, no matter how big or small. Ignoring corruption or not holding them to account, His Majesty had said, is an even greater threat.

We have the annual report. The diagnosis is clear. What, when and how we make people accountable is the next thing a lot of people expect to hear. It will also determine if we’ll read the same findings next year, as we did for a considerable time now.