What is the Most Corrupt Country in Asia?

Many Westerners from the US or Europe think that their country is corrupt. There’s no other way to say it – corruption is commonplace in many Asian countries, however, that doesn’t mean it’s everywhere.

Singapore is often considered the poster child for a corruption-free Asian country, as it ranks as one of the least corrupt countries worldwide every year.

The 10 Most Corrupt Countries in Asia

Let’s look through various Asian countries ranked as the most corrupt in Asia – this is based on the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2023 published by Transparency International. The CPI scores countries on a scale from 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).

In total we have 47 countries listed here. Bear in mind that there are some countries we’ve included that are technically in Asia but are geopolitically considered European, like Armenia, and some countries that are in both Europe and Asia, like Georgia.

Also, some countries like the state of Palestine and Brunei were not included in the 2023 CPI ranking, so they could not be added to the list. It’s worth mentioning that the CPI is based on perceptions of corruption rather than direct measurements, but it is a widely cited and respected index.

Syria – 13/100

Syria ranks as the most corrupt country in Asia according to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. This is of course no surprise, as the country is currently embroiled in an internal civil war that has lasted more than a decade already.

The ongoing civil war being the main component, but other factors contributing to widespread corruption include breakdown of government institutions, lack of transparency and accountability, and the growth of war profiteering and black markets.

Bribery and abuse of power are rampant, the rule of law has eroded, and oversight is minimal to nonexistent in many areas. Unfortunately, the chaos and desperation caused by the conflict create fertile ground for corruption to flourish, which is why it’s currently considered the most corrupt in Asia, and one of the most corrupt in the world.

Yemen – 16/100

Yemen’s long-running civil war and the collapse of effective governance have contributed to its ranking as the second most corrupt country in Asia.

The conflict has fractured the country, with various factions, including the internationally recognized government, Houthi rebels, and separatist groups, vying for control.

This fragmentation has weakened institutions, eroded the rule of law, and created opportunities for corruption to thrive. The war economy, characterized by profiteering, smuggling, and the diversion of aid, has exacerbated the situation.

Transparency is minimal, and there are few checks on the abuse of power by those in positions of authority. The humanitarian crisis caused by the conflict has further increased vulnerability to corruption, as desperation leaves citizens with little recourse against exploitation.

North Korea – 17/100

North Korea’s totalitarian regime and repressive political system have made it one of the most corrupt countries in Asia for decades.

Power is concentrated in the hands of the ruling Kim family and a small elite, who maintain control through a pervasive security apparatus, propaganda, and the suppression of dissent.

The lack of free press, independent judiciary, or democratic institutions enables unchecked corruption and graft. Bribery and extortion are widespread, as are patronage networks and the misappropriation of state resources for personal gain by those in power.

The opacity of the regime and isolation of the country make it difficult to fully assess the scale of corruption, but defector accounts paint a stark picture of a corrupt and repressive system.

Turkmenistan – 18/100

Turkmenistan, an authoritarian state in Central Asia, is ranked as the fourth most corrupt country in the region.

The country is characterized by a highly centralized government, with power concentrated in the hands of the president and a small circle of elites. This lack of political pluralism and the absence of democratic institutions enable widespread corruption.

The economy is largely controlled by the state, with significant revenues derived from natural gas exports. However, the lack of transparency and accountability in the management of these resources has led to the enrichment of the ruling class at the expense of the wider population.

Nepotism, bribery, and embezzlement are common, with few mechanisms in place to combat corruption. The suppression of free media and civil society further compounds the problem, as there is little oversight or means of exposing corrupt practices.

Afghanistan – 20/100

Afghanistan’s ranking as the fifth most corrupt country in Asia is largely attributed to decades of conflict, weak governance, and the influence of powerful warlords and criminal networks.

The ongoing insurgency and political instability have hindered efforts to establish strong, transparent institutions and enforce the rule of law.

Corruption is deeply entrenched in Afghan society, with bribery and abuse of power commonplace at all levels of government. This is exacerbated by the significant influx of foreign aid, which has often been misappropriated or diverted by corrupt officials.

The drug trade, which accounts for a substantial portion of the country’s economy, further fuels corruption and undermines efforts to establish stable, accountable governance.

Despite efforts by the international community and successive Afghan governments to address corruption, progress has been limited.

The complex interplay of political, social, and economic factors, combined with the fragile security situation, has made it difficult to effectively tackle the deep-rooted problem of corruption in Afghanistan.

Myanmar – 20/100

Myanmar’s position as the sixth most corrupt country in Asia is primarily due to the legacy of military rule and the ongoing political and economic challenges the nation faces.

The military, known as the Tatmadaw, has long held significant power and influence, often prioritizing its own interests over those of the population.

The lack of transparency and accountability in government processes, coupled with weak institutions and limited press freedom, has created an environment conducive to corruption.

Bribery, nepotism, and the misuse of public funds are widespread, particularly in sectors such as natural resource extraction, where the military and connected elites have significant stakes.

While Myanmar has undergone democratic reforms in recent years, the process has been fragile and uneven. The Rohingya crisis and the military’s persistent influence have further undermined efforts to combat corruption and establish a more transparent and accountable system of governance.

Addressing corruption remains a critical challenge for Myanmar as it works to build a more stable, inclusive, and prosperous future.

Tajikistan – 20/100

Tajikistan is a former Soviet republic in Central Asia, and even now it still grapples with pervasive corruption that has hindered its development, and earned it the rank of seventh most corrupt country in Asia.

The authoritarian government, led by President Emomali Rahmon since 1994, has concentrated power in the hands of a small elite, often prioritizing personal interests over the welfare of the population.

Corruption permeates various levels of society, from high-level government officials to local authorities. Nepotism and cronyism are rampant, with powerful individuals and their associates benefiting from preferential treatment and access to resources.

The lack of independent media and the suppression of political opposition further contribute to an environment of limited accountability.

Tajikistan’s economy, heavily dependent on remittances from citizens working abroad and exports of aluminum and cotton, is also affected by corruption.

The mismanagement of public funds, coupled with the lack of transparency in government processes, has hampered economic growth and contributed to widespread poverty.

Addressing corruption remains a significant challenge for Tajikistan as it works to build a more stable and prosperous future for its citizens.

Cambodia – 22/100

Cambodia, a Southeast Asian nation, has long struggled with endemic corruption that permeates various aspects of society.

Despite recent economic growth and development, corruption remains a significant obstacle to the country’s progress. The Cambodian government, led by Prime Minister Hun Sen since 1985, has faced criticism for its lack of transparency and accountability.

One of the main factors contributing to corruption in Cambodia is the weak rule of law. The judiciary is often subject to political interference, and the enforcement of anti-corruption legislation is inconsistent.

This has created an environment where officials can engage in corrupt practices with impunity, often enriching themselves at the expense of the public.

Corruption is particularly evident in the allocation of land concessions and the management of natural resources. The government has granted large tracts of land to private companies with ties to the ruling elite, often displacing local communities and contributing to environmental degradation. The lack of transparency in these deals has raised concerns about the misuse of public assets for personal gain.

Efforts to combat corruption in Cambodia have been hindered by the limited space for civil society and independent media to operate. Journalists and activists who attempt to expose corrupt practices often face harassment, intimidation, and legal action.

Strengthening democratic institutions, enhancing transparency, and protecting the rights of citizens to hold their government accountable will be crucial in addressing corruption and promoting sustainable development in Cambodia.

Iraq – 23/100

Iraq, a Middle Eastern country ravaged by decades of conflict and instability, faces significant challenges in combating corruption.

The nation’s turbulent history, including the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 and the subsequent sectarian violence, has weakened institutions and created opportunities for corrupt practices to flourish.

Corruption in Iraq is deeply entrenched, affecting various sectors of society, from the government and security forces to the oil industry and public services.

The lack of transparency and accountability in the management of the country’s vast oil wealth has been a major concern, with allegations of misappropriation and embezzlement by officials and connected individuals.

The political system in Iraq, characterized by sectarian divisions and patronage networks, has also contributed to corruption.

Political parties and factions often use public resources to reward supporters and maintain their influence, leading to a culture of nepotism and cronyism.

Efforts to combat corruption in Iraq have been undermined by the weak rule of law and the limited capacity of anti-corruption bodies.

The judiciary is often subject to political interference, and the enforcement of anti-corruption legislation is inconsistent. Additionally, the security situation and the ongoing fight against extremist groups have sometimes taken precedence over addressing corruption.

Strengthening democratic institutions, promoting transparency, and fostering a culture of accountability will be essential in tackling corruption in Iraq.

The international community, including organizations such as the United Nations and the World Bank, has supported anti-corruption initiatives in the country. However, sustained commitment from the Iraqi government and civil society will be crucial in driving long-term progress.

Azerbaijan – 23/100

Azerbaijan, a former Soviet republic located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, has been grappling with corruption that has hindered its democratic and economic development.

The country’s political system, dominated by the ruling New Azerbaijan Party and President Ilham Aliyev, who has been in power since 2003, has been criticized for its lack of transparency and accountability.

One of the main drivers of corruption in Azerbaijan is the concentration of power in the hands of a small elite, often connected to the ruling family. This has led to the misuse of public resources, with allegations of embezzlement, nepotism, and cronyism being common.

The oil and gas sector, which accounts for a significant portion of Azerbaijan’s economy, has been particularly vulnerable to corrupt practices, with a lack of transparency in the management of revenues.

The weak rule of law and the lack of independence of the judiciary have also contributed to the persistence of corruption in Azerbaijan.

The government has been accused of using the legal system to target political opponents and silence critics, further undermining efforts to promote accountability.

In recent years, Azerbaijan has taken some steps to address corruption, such as establishing an Anti-Corruption Directorate and joining international initiatives like the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative. However, progress has been limited, and corruption remains a significant challenge for the country.

Strengthening democratic institutions, promoting freedom of the press, and fostering a more vibrant civil society will be crucial in combating corruption in Azerbaijan.

The international community, including organizations like the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, has called for greater efforts to tackle corruption and promote good governance in the country.

The Full List of Asian Countries Ranked by Corruptness

  1. Syria – 13/100
  2. Yemen – 16/100
  3. North Korea – 17/100
  4. Turkmenistan – 18/100
  5. Afghanistan – 20/100
  6. Myanmar – 20/100
  7. Tajikistan – 20/100
  8. Cambodia – 22/100
  9. Iraq – 23/100
  10. Azerbaijan – 23/100
  11. Iran – 24/100
  12. Lebanon – 24/100
  13. Bangladesh – 24/100
  14. Kyrgyzstan – 26/100
  15. Laos – 28/100
  16. Pakistan – 29/100
  17. Uzbekistan – 33/100
  18. Mongolia – 33/100
  19. The Philippines – 34/100
  20. Sri Lanka – 34/100
  21. Indonesia – 34/100
  22. Turkey – 34/100
  23. Nepal – 35/100
  24. Thailand – 35/100
  25. Maldives – 39/100
  26. India – 39/100
  27. Kazakhstan – 39/100
  28. Vietnam – 41/100
  29. China – 42/100
  30. Bahrain – 42/100
  31. Timor-Leste – 43/100
  32. Kuwait – 46/100
  33. Jordan – 46/100
  34. Armenia – 47/100
  35. Malaysia – 50/100
  36. Saudi Arabia – 52/100
  37. Georgia – 53/100
  38. Cyprus – 53/100
  39. Qatar – 58/100
  40. Israel – 62/100
  41. South Korea – 63/100
  42. Taiwan – 67/100
  43. Bhutan – 68/100
  44. United Arab Emirates – 68/100
  45. Japan – 73/100
  46. Hong Kong – 75/100
  47. Singapore – 83/100

Like Africa, the difference between the countries in Asia is far greater than in the West, and countries with dramatically different cultures live next door to each other. Singapore is far from an anomaly these days, and many other Asian countries are becoming fairer and more democratic.

Why Singapore is the 5th least corrupt globally (behind only Denmark, Finland, New Zealand and Norway)

Singapore’s status as one of the least corrupt countries in the world can be attributed to a combination of strong political leadership, effective laws and enforcement, a well-designed public service system, and a societal culture that values integrity.

From the early days of Singapore’s independence, its founding leaders, particularly Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, placed great emphasis on creating a clean and efficient government. They recognized that corruption could severely undermine the young nation’s development and stability. This political will and leadership set the tone for a culture of integrity in public service that has been maintained by subsequent generations of leaders.

Singapore has a robust legal framework to combat corruption, centered around the Prevention of Corruption Act. This law provides for heavy penalties for corrupt practices, including fines and imprisonment. Importantly, the law is rigorously enforced by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB), an independent agency that operates with a high degree of autonomy to investigate and prosecute corruption cases. The CPIB’s work, combined with the strong anti-corruption laws, sends a clear signal that corruption will not be tolerated in Singapore.

One of the key strategies in Singapore’s anti-corruption approach is the payment of competitive salaries to public servants. These salaries are benchmarked to the private sector, which helps to reduce the temptation for public officials to engage in corrupt practices to supplement their income. The high salaries also help to attract talented and motivated individuals to join the public service.

Singapore’s public service is built on a foundation of meritocracy. Recruitment, promotions, and appointments are based on an individual’s performance and ability, rather than personal connections or willingness to pay bribes. This system helps to ensure that the most capable and integrity individuals rise to positions of responsibility.

Transparency and accountability are cornerstones of Singapore’s governance model. There are clear rules and procedures for various government processes, which reduces the opportunities for discretionary decision-making that could be influenced by corruption. Ministers and senior officials are required to regularly declare their assets and any potential conflicts of interest. The government also proactively shares information about its policies and decisions with the public.

Singapore society has developed a strong collective intolerance for corruption. The public expects and demands high standards of integrity from public officials and supports the government’s anti-corruption efforts. This societal attitude serves as an important check against corrupt practices.

Finally, the importance of integrity and incorruptibility is consistently emphasized in Singapore’s education system and public messaging. From a young age, students are taught about the dangers of corruption and the importance of honesty and integrity. This helps to foster a culture that rejects corruption and values clean government.

Despite its success in combating corruption, Singapore remains vigilant. Its leaders recognize that maintaining a corruption-free environment is an ongoing effort that requires constant attention and proactive measures.

As long as these various elements – strong laws, effective enforcement, good governance, and public support – remain in place, Singapore is well-positioned to continue its status as one of the world’s least corrupt nations.

Conclusion

The truth is that the last century has seen dramatic change across Asia, with ruthless dictatorships and civil war being all too common in some countries.

However, that’s not been the case for every Asian country, with China and India making much progress in lifting their citizens out of poverty, whilst Singapore, South Korea and Japan have advanced significantly from a technological point of view.

And, though there is still huge corruption across the continent, there is light at the end of the tunnel for many countries in Asia.

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