Religious leaders in India do not enjoy immunity from the corruption tag with a survey on Tuesday showing that 71 per cent people see 'some or all of them' as corrupt, though police tops the chart at 85 per cent.
In the survey conducted by anti-graft group Transparency International, only 14 per cent Indians said none of the religious leaders were involved in corruption, while another 15 per cent did not know about their corrupt practices.
Across the Asia Pacific region, religious leaders fared much better with less than one in five saying that they were "highly corrupt".
Police was followed by the government officials (84 per cent), business executives (79 per cent), local councillors (78 per cent) and MPs (76 per cent) as the five most corrupt categories, while tax officials came at sixth place (74 per cent) and religious leaders at the seventh.
Judges and magistrates fared relatively better (66 per cent), followed by the top government offices at 59 per cent on whether 'some of them, most of them or all of them' were involved in corruption over the past one year.
In terms of people finding "none of them" being involved in corruption, the worst score was for the government officials (6 per cent) followed by police (7 per cent), while local councillors and business executives scored 9 per cent each.
The top government offices scored the best at 26 per cent, while judges and magistrates saw 19 per cent saying "none of them" were corrupt. This score for MPs was 12 per cent.
Across the Asia-Pacific region, the survey of more than 20,000 people in 16 countries found religious leaders to be the least corrupt, while police emerged as the most corrupt.
It found the bribery rate to be the highest in India with nearly seven in 10 people who had accessed public services had paid a bribe. Japan was found to have lowest bribery rate.
The question about corruption in the highest government office and among religious leaders was not asked in China.
Regarding religious leaders in India, 37 per cent said "some of them" were corrupt, 23 per cent said "most of them" indulged in corruption while 11 per cent found "all of them" to be corrupt -- taking the total to 71 per cent.
Transparency International said many people in the Asia Pacific region also perceived political decision-makers at both the national and local level to be highly corrupt.
"Over a third said that their legislative representatives (such as members of parliament or senators), government officials and local government councillors were highly corrupt (from 35 to 37 per cent)," it said.
"By contrast religious leaders were seen as far cleaner, with less than one in five saying they were highly corrupt (18 per cent)," the report said.
Citing the example of India, the anti-graft group said that "corruption is increasingly cited as a key cause and traffickers rarely face justice. Corruption both facilitates trafficking and feeds the flow of people by destabilising democracies, weakening a country’s rule of law and stalling development".
People in India, Indonesia and Thailand were most positive about their governments' efforts, with over a half saying they were doing well.
At the same time, India also had the highest bribery rate of all the countries surveyed for public schools (58 per cent) and healthcare (59 per cent), suggesting serious corruption risks when people try to access these basic services, Transparency International said.
Among the services people pay bribes for, the survey showed India having fared badly in terms of public school, public hospital, ID cards and permits, utilities and police, though the score was relatively better for courts.
The findings noted that lawmakers across the region need to do much more to support whistle-blowers and that governments must keep promises to combat corruption.
"As a diverse and rapidly developing region, it is essential that the countries in the Asia Pacific region achieve sustainable and equitable development. Corruption undermines this, as it distorts democratic processes and promotes private over public interests," the survey said.
Governments should integrate anti-corruption targets into all Sustainable Development Goals including hunger, poverty, education, health, gender equality and climate action, and develop mechanisms to reduce corruption risks.
Besides, legislatures should adopt and enforce comprehensive legislation to protect whistle-blowers, based on prevailing international standards.
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