Do We Need an “ASEAN Integrity Community”?

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) is taking a major step toward greater regional economic integration at the end of this year, with the long-awaited launch of the “ASEAN Economic Community”, a region-wide agreement designed (among other things) to promote the freer movement of goods, capital, and labor throughout the region. Yet many worry that this greater economic integration might exacerbate the region’s already serious struggles with corruption, especially cross-border corruption. Largely in response to that concern, last April Transparency International published a report calling for the creation of an “ASEAN Integrity Community” (AIC) that would, in the words of the report, “create a coherent regional anti-corruption strategy” and “provide space for civil society and the business sector to be able to have input into and shape this regional anti-corruption agenda.”

It’s an intriguing idea, and the report is worth reading. (Full disclosure: I wrote a background paper for one of the meetings TI organized last September to discuss corruption challenges in ASEAN. Indeed, substantial chunks of the background paper that I wrote appear – uncredited – in the TI Report on the AIC.) Certainly, there’s a good case to be made for greater regional cooperation on anticorruption challenges within ASEAN. That said, I found the TI report on the proposed AIC frustrating in several respects, most significantly the vagueness regarding how, exactly, the AIC would operate, and how it would add value above and beyond the existing regional forms and groupings that address corruption issues. I realize that this is an early-stage proposal, designed to generate political momentum for greater action and political buy-in (particularly in advance of the International Anti-Corruption Conference in Malaysia next week), so it may not really fair to criticize the report for being a bit light on specifics. Still, it’s worth reflecting a bit more on what we might hope to get out of something like an AIC, and whether this is the right way to go about tackling what most experts would agree is a genuine and serious set of problems and challenges. Continue reading