The NGO Transparency International just released its annual Corruption Perception Index, rating 178 countries for their degree of the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. From shady public school officials to the wholesale purchase political candidates, corruption is a major problem around the world. Two-thirds of the countries surveyed scored below a five (on a ten-point scale, with 10 being least corrupt); the index is based on a combination of surveys and country analyses detailed in their report. The United States fell out of the top 20 least corrupt nations this year, tying with Belgium for 22nd place with a score of 7.1. Denmark, New Zealand and Singapore tied for first place with a score of 9.3, closely followed by Finland and Sweden at 9.2.
Corruption thrives in the soil of poverty. The most politically unstable countries also had the poorest scores on the corruption scale. The five lowest-rated countries were: Uzbekistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Myanmar and the failed state of Somalia. These and others of the poorest performing nations share the problems of weak economy, struggling human development and restricted media freedom. TI identifies corruption as a major obstacle to achieving progress on poverty and other global issues such as climate change and unstable financial markets.
There are drawbacks to the index, and some are wasting no time in pointing this out. The index is based on “perception” of corruption because by definition, corruption is clandestine and therefore impossible to quantify. Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S. Husain Haqqani tweeted today: “How is Perception of Corruption Index a measure of real levels of corruption? Can’t the corrupt ‘buy’ positive perceptions?” (Pakistan rated a 2.3 on the 2010 index, tied for 143rd place out of 178 countries surveyed.) The short answer is that there is no perfect system, but one has to start somewhere, and the Index is taken seriously by governments and business. Governments see the Index as a check on their performance; the business community uses it to gauge the investment environment.
Ultimately, fighting corruption comes down to the individual, to having the courage and ability to say No. This video, produced by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, wordlessly, but effectively, demonstrates the different faces of corruption around the world, and may resonate with those of us who will be voting in one week:
In case you want to carry a reminder of corruption with you through your day, soon there will be an iPhone app for the Corruption Perception Index on the Transparency International site.
Image: Visualization of global corruption..darker color indicates higher degree of public corruption. via Transparency International website, transparency.org