Malaysia advanced for the first time into a top 10 ranking of nations the World Bank deems friendliest to businesses, as Singapore led the annual competitiveness scorecard for an eighth straight year.
Malaysia vaulted to sixth from 12th a year ago after easing procedures for registering a company, applying for a construction permit and getting electricity, the World Bank said in its 2014 Doing Business report. Rounding out the top five after Singapore were Hong Kong, New Zealand, the US and Denmark, unchanged from a year ago. Australia was No. 11. China slid five spots to 96th, while Britain dropped to 10th from seventh.
Bureaucracy has improved under Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak's transformation programs, even as the country grapples with crime and corruption. While the country moved to 54th from 60th place among 176 countries in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index last year, it was ranked worst for bribery among 30 countries surveyed.
The World Bank's study, in its 11th year, covered 189 economies, assessing them on measures such as the costliness of commercial regulations and the strength of public institutions. Nations are ranked based on indicators such as the time required to start a business, file tax returns and export or import goods.
World Bank president Jim Yong Kim pledged in June to improve the report, which he called "an important catalyst in driving reforms around the world". Non-profit groups such as Oxfam have criticised it and India, which slid two spots to 134th, has questioned its methodology.
"Governments play a crucial role in supporting a dynamic ecosystem for firms," the World Bank said. "Without good rules that are evenly enforced, entrepreneurs have a harder time starting and growing the small and medium-size firms that are the engines of growth and job creation for most economies around the world."
Ukraine, rising to 112th from 137th a year ago, made the greatest progress with reforms, having simplified measures in areas such as customs, bankruptcy and a value-added tax. Greece, whose insolvency helped trigger the European debt crisis, rose in the ranking to 72nd from 78th, while Spain, beset with a 26 per cent unemployment rate, slipped to 52nd from 44th.