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Let’s talk about corruption

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​4 June 2014

Let’s talk about corruption

Moving beyond the conversation: the World Economic Forum on East Asia revealed that great strides are being made to tackle corruption through business-government collaboration and even social media.

Let’s talk about corruption

​​“Where’s there’s no corruption, there will be no poverty”, the words of the Filipino President Benigo Aquino may seem idealistic but his message resonated with delegates at May’s World Economic Forum (WEF) East Asia meeting in Manila.

Corruption presents a huge obstacle to economic growth in ASEAN and, as a result, it was high on the Forum’s agenda.

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“It’s the first time we’ve heard people talk openly about corruption,” said Jane Niven, JLL’s Regional General Counsel in Asia Pacific, who attended this year’s forum. “At virtually every session, there was talk about it; the impact, how dangerous it is if you become complacent and the fact that we need to deal with it as a region.”

Banishing bribery through partnerships

Although corruption is often viewed as an issue to be dealt with by government, the potential role that corporates can play is attracting interest from anti-corruption action groups, especially in Asia where business is booming but corruption is rife.

The Partnering Against Corruption Initiative (PACI – ‘patchee’) exists to bring together business leaders and heads of state in a bid to banish bribery.

“JLL partnered with PACI earlier this year and it’s definitely encouraging to see more business interest because there is hope that, in leading by example, corporates that refuse to pay bribes will become the norm.”

The newly appointed Malaysian Minister for Integrity and Governance is a prime example of one of the high level anti-corruption measures in the region. The role is appointed, rather than elected, and the minister hails from a business background having worked with the UN and Transparency International. His mission is to roll out programmes to discourage bribery and one example is Malaysia’s Integrity Pact.

“Any organisation that wants to do business in Malaysia must sign to say they will not pay bribes or be bribed. This was heralded as best practice for other governments and there was lots of interest in this during the Forum discussion.”

For real estate, corruption is a very present concern and the WEF was an opportunity to share the industry’s issues: “People didn’t really understand why real estate has the potential to be problematic but when you start talking about things like money laundering and intertwined shareholdings and using real estate to hide funds and identities, it opens people’s eyes and they were quite surprised.”

Naming and shaming

Referencing India’s recent anti-corruption success with Ipaidabribe.com – a website that allows people to report bribes and holds perpetrators to account – Jane says social media is becoming a significant factor in the fight against corruption: “The political environment is key, politicians are now standing on a clean platform saying, ‘I am clean, I will not take bribes’, and they get a lot of support.”

“One Sri Lankan I spoke with at the WEF said it [social media] is having an impact there because people are being publicly shamed.”

To date, more than 26,000 bribes have been reported across 674 cities in India, and Jane expects the social naming and shaming phenomena to sweep Asia soon.

But, at its root, corruption is a cultural problem and Asia’s burgeoning middle classes are beginning to play their own part in combatting it: “There was a lot of discussion around the impact of the middle classes who have access to education, social media and more money, which means they’re looking at how things are done and have decided that corruption is no longer acceptable.”

While the WEF conversations undoubtedly highlighted huge promise there’s a long way to go and it would be naïve to think corruption will disappear entirely, says Jane: “You’ll always get corruption it’s just a question of how far up the ladder it goes.”

And, to support JLL clients with anti-corruption measures, Jane is embarking on a new role, which will offer clients more support around regulatory and compliance issues. It’s clear that corruption is on everyone’s agenda, not just the politicians’: “From conducting due diligence on tenants to adhering to local laws, there’s a huge value to be added to our clients by helping them ensure they are not in breach of ever-changing issues surrounding their real estate.”