LONDON (TrustLaw) - Countries that are open and democratic are more likely to be free of corruption than those that are not, but elections alone do not guarantee a graft-free society, Cobus de Swardt, managing director of anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International said.
De Swardt, whose organisation has just published its annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), which ranks countries on perceived level of public sector corruption, told TrustLaw that it was democratic institutions and public accountability that held the key for countries looking to improve their CPI ranking.
“Democracy is not only about an election now and then,” de Swardt said. “Democracy is about the institutions that make up a democracy, the rule of law, public accountability - particularly on key issues such as the budget - and access to information that is there both in law and in practice,” he added.
De Swardt pointed to Egypt as an example of a country where public sector corruption is perceived to have increased over the last year, according to the CPI, even though the country held its first ever free presidential elections in June 2012.
There were high expectations over the last two years that public sector corruption would be reduced, particularly given the role that people’s anger at corruption played in the uprising there, de Swardt said, but the outcry has not been translated into action.
“Bottom-up demand from the broad population for greater accountability and transparency cannot be equated with greater public accountability and transparency,” he said.
Given the need for public accountability and transparency, de Swardt was asked why it is that Singapore always ranks so highly in the CPI. The tiny Southeast Asian nation has not dropped out of the top five places in the CPI for the last five years, although it is tainted by criticism of political restrictions.
“One needs to underline, this particular tool looks at corruption in the public sector,” de Swardt said. “That is one of its key strengths, but of course it has its limitations and in the case of Singapore you have serious problems in terms of issues of money laundering. This particular survey doesn’t tackle that,” he added.
While a country needs democratic institutions and public accountability in order to tackle corruption in the long term, it is possible to reduce public sector corruption without them, de Swardt said.
“For political control, at least in the short to the medium term, it is often possible to have a top down enforcement of anti-corruption measures,” de Swardt said.
“We would argue that those measures are unsustainable in the long run if it is not linked to greater public accountability and participation,” he said.
“Singapore, in terms of political controls, top down, is in that particular position,” he added.