More than a quarter of the people living in Asia had to pay a bribe while trying to access a public service in the past year, according to Transparency International report released on Tuesday that also called on governments to root out endemic graft in the region.
The report by the Berlin-based watchdog surveyed more than 20,000 people in 16 countries spanning the Asia Pacific region from Pakistan to Australia.
From the results they estimated 900 million people were forced to fork over “tea money” at least once in the previous 12 months.
The poor were found to be hit hardest by corruption, with 38 percent of low-income respondents saying they had to pay a bribe, the highest in any income category.
Yet while poorer people were more likely to be targeted in countries like Thailand, India and Pakistan, the reverse trend was found in places like Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia.
In Myanmar, 63 percent of wealthy people said they paid a bribe in the past year, whereas only 38 percent of poor people did.
This may be because wealthier people in these countries have more resources to pay bribes when asked, or because they want to get quicker or better-quality service.
Bribery rates were highest in India (69 percent) and Vietnam (65 percent), where most respondents said they had to sweeten the deal to access basic services like public education and healthcare.
In Myanmar, 40 percent of respondents said they paid a bribe in the past year, just below Thailand (41 percent) and tied with Cambodia and Pakistan.
Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Australia reported the lowest incidences of bribery.
Police were the most common demanders of kickbacks, according to the survey, with just under a third of people who had come into contact with an officer in the past year saying they had paid a bribe.
“Governments must do more to deliver on their anti-corruption commitments,” Jose Ugaz, the chair of Transparency International, said in a press release.
“Bribery is not a small crime, it takes food off the table, it prevents education, it impedes proper healthcare and ultimately it can kill.”
When it came to perceptions of corruption Malaysia and Vietnam got the worst ratings from their citizens, who felt graft was widespread and accused their governments of doing little to fight it.
In Myanmar, perceptions were relatively positive. Only 22 percent of respondents said graft had gotten worse over the past year, and 47 percent said the government is doing a good job fighting corruption.
Corruption scandals have rocked a number of governments in Asia over the past year, dominating news headlines and whipping up protests.
South Korea’s President Park Geun-hye was impeached by parliament in December over a major influence-peddling scandal that prompted millions to take to the street for months to call for her resignation.
Malaysia has also been seized by a graft scandal since 2015, with global investigators accusing Premier Najib Razak and his associates of misappropriating billions of dollars through the state-backed 1MDB fund.
A report last year by a corruption watchdog also detailed the enormous wealth accumulated by the family and friends of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.
China, meanwhile, has been on anti-corruption drive that has netted more than one million officials, while fellow communist country Vietnam has also jailed a number of former businessmen for graft in its bloated state-run sector.
Thailand’s junta government has vowed a similar anti-corruption campaign but there have been few convictions so far.