Transparency International, a Berlin-based nonprofit that monitors and reports on political corruption, has recently published its most recent edition of the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), a comparative list of corruption worldwide.
Defined by the organization as “the misuse of public power for private benefit”, corruption takes many forms — such as bribery, cronyism, embezzlement, and political repression — and is the scourge of the human condition, undermining everything from economic development to social cohesion.
Unfortunately, this age-old problem remains a pervasive challenge across the globe, as the most recent results show.
The CPI ranks countries on a scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean). It is immediately clear that much of the world struggles with corruption on a vast scale — shades of red, signifying political malfeasance, dominate the map, punctuated by only a few pockets of blue, mostly concentrated in North America, Europe, and parts of East Asia and Oceania. (Although one should note the island of clean governance that stand out in certain regions, such as Chile and Uruguay in Latin America, Singapore in Southeast Asia, and the United Arab Emirates in the Middle East.)
You can see detailed assessments of each country here.
Here are the twenty countries that are least corrupt, out of a total of 175 (there were several ties).
And here are the bottom twenty countries with the most corruption.
Unsurprisingly, most of the best performing nations are robust and stable democracies, which tend to rank well in various other metrics of human development, such as education, civil liberties, healthcare, and so on. Conversely, the worst performers are failed and war-torn states with little rule of law, or totalitarian regimes whose rulers operate with impunity.
Singapore is unique in managing to maintain one of the world’s cleanest and most efficient governments despite having what is, in effect, a fairly repressive one-party state. No doubt many would also scoff at the high ranking of the U.S., whose political system is taking on an increasingly oligarchic character. How exactly is the index getting these results?
Presently, the CPI relies on thirteen different surveys obtained from twelve prominent institutions: the African Development Bank, the Bertelsmann Foundation, the Economist Intelligence Unit, Freedom House, Global Insight, International Institute for Management Development, the Political and Economic Risk Consultancy, the PRS Group, the World Economic Forum, the World Bank, and the World Justice Project. Only countries with at least three sources are ranked in the index.
So basically, the CPI relies on a pool of business and policy experts from across the world to analyze the extent and severity of corruption in a given country. This explains the careful but easy to miss wording of the index: it measures “perceptions” of corruption, rather than corruption itself, because it is difficult to get an accurate picture of absolute levels of corruption (especially since so many instances of it go officially unreported and unpunished, for obvious reasons).
Despite the subsequent criticisms of the CPI’s accuracy, at least one 2002 study found it to be fairly accurate, correlating very strongly with two other proximate measures of corruption: a large and extensive black market, an onerous and opaque regulatory regime. (So-called “legal corruption” — a prime example being well-monied lobbyists influencing legislators — would probably slip through the cracks, which is how countries in which this practice is widespread, like the U.S., end up faring well.)
The Independent highlights several big takeaways from this year’s findings.
…No countries scored a perfect 100, or “very clean”, or a “highly corrupt” zero in its most recent Corruptions Perceptions Index.
The researchers flagged Australia as a particularly concerning country. Despite being represented by a relatively healthy-looking yellow colour on the map, the country has continued its slide down the list, and fallen out of the top ten to 11.
Experts cited note-printing scandals and corruption investigations for its relatively poor performance.
Other countries with a worryingly red representation on the map include the expanding economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China, Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria and Turkey.
Jose Ugaz, the chair of Transparency International, explained in a release with the report: “Fast-growing economies whose governments refuse to be transparent and tolerate corruption, create a culture of impunity in which corruption thrives”.
The U.K., meanwhile, placed at 14: a result regarded as disappointing by researchers, who said the it should be in the top 10.
Meanwhile, the destabilising impact of bloody conflicts and violence was made clear in the low rankings of Sudan, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Iraq, which followed Somalia and North Korea.
It is also important to keep in mind that a given country’s rankings for this year say nothing about its overall trajectory: even some of the poor performers are doing relatively well by historical standards.
However Afghanistan was also among the nations praised for making great improvements, rising by five points since 2013, alongside Jordan, Mali and Swaziland rising by four.
Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, also rose by five points.
It is good to see some flickers progress in what frighteningly remains a sea of public imorality. The fact that political corruption seems to be the norm in human societies — and has conceivably always been — speaks volumes about the corruptibility of the human character, particularly in the context of sociopolitical power. Exploring the complex psychological factors at work is worthy of a separate blog post and discussion altogether.
What are your thoughts about these results?