A survey of more than 20,000 people in 16 Asian countries has found corruption among public officials continues to be rife. An estimated 900 million people were forced to pay a bribe in the previous 12 months.
The Berlin-based Transparency International carried out the survey, which showed that the poor are the hardest hit by corruption with some 38 percent of respondents saying they had to pay so-called "tea money."
It showed the highest bribery rates were in India and Vietnam, where nearly two-thirds of respondents reported sweetening the deal to access basic services like public education and healthcare.
The survey suggests that police were the most common demanders of kickbacks. Just under a third of people who had come into contact with an officer in the past year saying they had paid a bribe.
Thailand's police have a reputation for corruption, and often the poor and tourists are seen as easy targets
Wealthier countries like Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Australia reported the lowest incidences of bribery in the survey.
Transparency International estimated from its data that 900 million people had been forced to pay a bribe in the previous 12 months in its survey, carried out between July 2015 and January 2017.
The anti-graft group said the levels of bribery were hindering poverty alleviation and hurting public health in Asia by channeling resources away from those who needed them. It called on governments to do more to root out corruption.
"Bribery is not a small crime, it takes food off the table, it prevents education, it impedes proper healthcare and ultimately it can kill," said Jose Ugaz, the chair of Transparency International.
As well as boosting legislation, it called on governments to encourage citizens to refuse to pay bribes and to report corruption.
Transparency International also surveyed public perception of corruption, with Malaysia and Vietnam scoring the lowest. Citizens in both countries felt governments were doing little to fight widespread graft.
Only one in five of those surveyed across 16 Asia countries or territories said they believed corruption had declined, while about 40 percent believed it was increasing.
Nearly three-quarters of all Chinese said they believed corruption had grown worse recently, despite regular anti-graft campaigns by the ruling Communist Party.
There are tough penalties for corruption in Hong Kong, so even the territory's ex-leader Donald Tsang can't escape jail
Several Asian leaders have been implicated in corruption scandals over the past two years, including Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, who was accused of funneling billions of dollars through a state-backed investment fund.
South Korea's President Park Geun-hye was impeached by parliament in December over a major influence-peddling scandal that prompted millions to take to the street for months to call for her resignation.
Even in Hong Kong, which has a reputation for clean governance, its former leader Donald Tsang was sentenced recently to 20 months in prison for misconduct.
mm/hg (AFP, AP)