Corruption and Good Governance: An Analysis of ASEAN's E-Governance Experience.

AuthorRubasundram, Geetha A.

Since its formation in 1967, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has progressed to become an economic powerhouse. From a loosely formed grouping in the J 960s, its members have since undergone massive integration. A key motive of the Association is to transfer government and public services onto a technology platform, termed e-government. An important concern is whether e-governance can reduce corruption and stimulate sustainable development. Using traditional governance measures and e-governance indices, this paper analyses the state of governance and corruption in ASEAN. While the deepening of e-governance--via government and public participation--has raised the potential for improving good governance practices, that in itself can be counterproductive as socioeconomic agents could broaden corrupt practices by appropriating its public-good-like characteristics. Hence, ASEAN governments have to implement changes in their communications strategies and feedback mechanisms, remove barriers blocking the spread and use of information technology, and promote a collaborative environment with civil society organizations, while considering the use of the "carrot and stick" approach to improve good governance.

Keywords: corruption, good governance, e-governance, e-participation, ASEAN.

  1. Introduction

    Since its origin in 1967, member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have made tremendous progress in many aspects. From its initial focus on containing the communist threat posed by Indo-China, ASEAN gradually evolved into a grouping aimed at stimulating economic synergies. Economic integration invariably involves aligning a range of policies, including those related to corruption and the institutions governing them.

    On 31 December 2015, ASEAN countries achieved a new milestone by forming the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), which, among other things, endorsed its first ASEAN ICT Masterplan 2010-15 containing six strategic thrusts, namely: economic transformation; people empowerment and engagement; innovation; infrastructure development; human capital development; and bridging the digital divide (ATM 2015). Its ultimate aim is to create an integrated digital economy where all sectors will use information and communications technology (ICT) to foster sustainable growth and innovation. The subsequent 2020 ICT Masterplan (AIM 2020) covers 2016 to 2020 and aims to: propel ASEAN towards a digitally enabled economy that is secure, sustainable and transformative; and motivate an innovative, inclusive and integrated ASEAN Community. ASEAN's 2020 ICT masterplan added two additional thrusts to its 2015 masterplan: New Media and Content; and Information Security and Assurance.

    It is important to note that sustainability is the keyword in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), as well as in Integrated Reporting (IR)--the latter being perceived as the future of corporate reporting by many countries. Regardless, advocates of sustainability agree mat sustainability related strategies should not be limited to an individual firm or country, but developed as a holistic concept with global impact and measured from different angles, including good governance. Governance plays a crucial role in ensuring mat sustainable performance is achieved in a transparent and accountable manner. Both the 2030 SDG Agenda and AIM 2020 acknowledge the use of ICT as a tool for: integrating man and machine to accelerate human progress; bridging the digital divide across the world; and further developing knowledge societies. Development affects movement and migration for jobs and opportunities. UNDESA (2016) reflects that by 2050, 66.4 per cent of the world population is expected to live in cities. If not managed appropriately, the staggering statistic could unfavourably affect various sustainability goals. With the availability of enhanced technology-based platforms to coordinate the cooperation of the public and private sectors and members of the public, governance mechanisms and indicators should also reform to reflect this transformation.

    This paper attempts to examine the state of corruption among ASEAN members using e-governance on two fronts: transparency and accountability. It builds on the assumptions that corruption is an elusive conduct that is difficult to capture, and that the proliferation of e-governance instruments will help improve its surveillance. The rest of the paper is organized as follows. The extant literature on corruption and e-governance is reviewed in the next section. The subsequent section describes the methodology and data. The fourth section analyses and discusses the results. The final section concludes.

  2. Literature Review

    2.1 Corruption

    The persistence and negative impact of corruption has attracted strong attention from scholars for a long time. However, academic focus did not bring a unitary view on corruption. As Gong (1994) puts it, "numerous efforts have been made, but little consensus exists on what is corruption". According to Manion (1997), "since the time of Aristotle, scholars exploring the question of corruption have adopted a variety of different definitions, associated with different sorts of research questions and normative concern". Some scholars try to isolate particular corruption behaviour, others seek out cultural aspects of corruption, while some imagine scenarios related to corrupt behaviour. Moreover, the existing "definitions of corruption are problematic ... definitions of corruption run the gamut from being too broad as to be rendered relatively useless to being too narrow, and thus, be applicable to only limited, rare, well-defined cases" (Perry 1997; Waite and Allen 2003).

    Mainstream economists tend to classify rent as bad as it denies the achievement of allocative efficiency (see, for example, Krueger 1974; Buchanan, Tullock and Tollison 1980). However, if one narrows corruption to exclude rents targeted at offering economic agents the incentives to innovate, then, one can support such rents in the Schumpeterian sense for allocating scarce resources to economically more productive activities over less productive ones. Similarly, the provision of subsithes, tariffs and quotas are considered developmental rents if they successfully translate into productive change (Johnson 1982; Khan 1989; Amsden 1989; Wade 1990; Chang 1994; Evans 1995; Rasiah 1995, 1996; Khan and Jomo 2000).' It is for these reasons that governments all over the world offer grants to support R&D activities or impose price controls to ensure that public utilities reach a broader spectrum of their citizenry.

    Corruption is linked directly to unproductive rent-seeking activities when resources are wasted, thereby contributing to economic inefficiency. Also, resources and conduct that create opportunities for officials to exploit unproductive rents can have a negative spillover effect on other segments of society (Mocan 2004). The theory of unproductive rent-seeking argues that the state incurs losses when resources are unproductively diverted in order to capture unproductive rents, which then gives rise to clientelism (Khan 1989). Clientelism refers to a form of social organization where the rich and powerful dominate the state machinery to achieve their own ends. Here, the state acts as the instrument of the lumpen capitalist class (Fanon 1965; Miliband 1969). As a result, relationships involving strong collusive transfers between officials and other parties tend to be highly parasitic and unproductive (Khan 1989).

    This paper excludes the discussion on productive rent so that the focus remains only on unproductive corruption. The attack on unproductive corruption is arguably advocated best by the World Bank (1994), which calls for good governance to be associated with predictable, open and enlightened policymaking; a bureaucracy imbued with a professional ethos; an executive arm of government accountable for its actions; a strong civil society participating in public affairs; and all behaving under the rule of law. Almough there is no guarantee that the participation of civil society can ensure good governance since unproductive and collusive conduct permeates both markets and civil societies, this is the definition used in the rest of the paper. However, given that it is not cognizant of developmental rents targeted at technological, social and other changes, issues that may not effectively capture good governance are flagged. Global organizations, such as the World Bank, United Nations, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and ASEAN play a major role in motivating member countries to adopt good governance. One initiative to be mentioned is ASEAN's partnership with the United States on Good Governance, Equitable and Sustainable Development and Security, a five-year project (2013-18) aimed at improving ASEAN's good governance and political stability overall, and targeting people to people connectivity. The motivation from these global institutions can be reflected from the typical "carrot and stick" method used through rule-based compliance methods such as the OECD multilateral surveillance using peer reviews to contain the conduct of members (Rubasundram 2017).

    Logically, the knowledge of the impact of corruption on development and sustainability is well known, as well as the need for accountability and transparency. The ASEAN-UN cooperation acknowledges that the SDGs are part of ASEAN's goals. In fact, the 2030 SDG agenda specifically acknowledges that democracy, good governance, the rule of law as well as an enabling environment at the national and international levels are essential for sustainable development. While this knowledge is also being passed down to the grassroots, corruption still remains a serious problem in political and business dealings globally.

    Almough one can question the efficacy of the methodology used, Transparency...

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