The new Corruption Perceptions Index for 2017 was released last week and it shows that the world is making little overall progress in combating corruption.
Every year since 1995, Transparency International has published the index, which draws on various data sources to provide a sense of how business people and experts perceive public sector corruption. The index scores countries on a scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean), and more than two-thirds of countries scored below 50 this year. “It’s the lack of change that’s so disappointing,” said Robin Hodess, Transparency International’s Interim Internal Managing Director, when I asked if she saw significant change from last year’s index.
Based on the scores, the index ranks countries from the cleanest to the most corrupt. Fifteen of the top 20 cleanest countries in the index are Western European or North American, with exceptions including New Zealand, which was ranked first, and Singapore, which was ranked sixth. Overall, Western Europe came out as the cleanest region in the index — the only region where most countries scored above 50.
The Asia-Pacific region produced a wide range, from the world’s cleanest country, New Zealand, to one of the worst, Afghanistan. Japan ranked 20th
globally, China 77th
and India 81st
. In the Middle East and North Africa, only the UAE, Qatar and Israel scored better than 50; however, Transparency International’s report noted some positive steps in the region, highlighting efforts by Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia.
Eastern Europe and Central Asia did poorly, with only Georgia scoring above 50. Transparency International’s analysis suggests that a recent rise in authoritarianism is partly to blame for worsening corruption in the region. Russia came in at a lowly 135th
Sub-Saharan Africa and Central and South America also struggle with corruption, with most countries scoring below 50. In Africa, economic powerhouses South Africa and Nigeria ranked 71st
, respectively. Somalia was the worst of all countries in the index, ranked 180th
. However, Transparency International noted some positive signs in Africa, including some countries showing improvement, such as Rwanda, and the African Union’s decision to focus on fighting corruption in 2018. In the Americas, overall perceptions of corruption have not improved, despite some high-profile anti-corruption cases.
Top-down efforts by committed governments and bottom-up endeavors by media, businesses and NGOs are required to ensure countries make significant progress in the fight against corruption.
Kerry Boyd Anderson
Corruption — and the extent to which people perceive it as a problem — matters for many reasons. One is that corruption often undermines economic development and growth. More broadly, corruption damages people’s well-being; every time someone has to pay a bribe, or a judge makes an unfair ruling due to corruption, or when public resources are diverted from the vulnerable to the well-connected, individuals and society suffer.
Regular interaction with corrupt officials and institutions also fosters humiliation, frustration and deep anger that can break out into violence and extremism. Many experts have pointed to anger over corruption as a key driver of the 2010/11 large-scale Arab protests, but the ability of anti-corruption movements to drive social and political change extends far beyond the Arab world or modern history. For example, Sarah Chayes, author of Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security, has noted that opposition to corruption was a key factor behind Europe’s Protestant Reformation in the 16th
century. “One of the biggest revolutions in Western history was all about corruption,” she said in a 2015 TED Talk, adding that “it was really bloody.”
Many governments are aware of the damage that corruption can do and are trying to reduce its role in their countries. However, Hodess says “there’s too much of a gap between anti-corruption rhetoric and the long-term commitment of governments” to do the hard work necessary to really combat corruption. This includes building strong institutions that fairly carry out tasks such as tax collection and the provision of services. Other measures governments should take include strengthening judicial systems and incentivizing businesses to improve transparency.
Transparency International’s new report also highlights the importance of a free press and strong civil society organizations in combatting corruption, and it shows a correlation between corruption and the repression of civil society and the media. Together, a free press and an open civil society play a key role in highlighting cases of corruption and ensuring that institutions and businesses are held accountable.
Combating corruption requires top-down efforts by committed governments and bottom-up endeavors by media, businesses and organizations. When the public and private sectors work together, countries can make significant progress.
The outlook for anti-corruption efforts has some bright spots. Brazil and Israel are examples of countries where the justice systems have proved willing to investigate and bring corruption charges against very senior leaders. Argentina holds the G20 presidency this year and is highlighting corruption as part of its overall focus on fairness.
At the same time, the entire international system faces growing risk if leaders such as the United States, China and Russia turn their backs on a global approach to solving problems. If such leaders “can’t find a way to think globally about the problems we all share… then we’re not going to solve international problems like corruption,” said Hodess. In an age of global economic integration and transnational flows of money, corruption is not only a problem for specific countries but also an international concern requiring cooperative solutions.
• Kerry Boyd Anderson is a writer and political risk consultant with more than 14 years’ experience as a professional analyst of international security issues and Middle East political and business risks. Her previous positions include deputy director for advisory with Oxford Analytica and managing editor of Arms Control Today.