LONDON (TrustLaw) - Corruption in the public sector showed no sign of retreating in 2012 despite citizen uprisings that toppled several leaders of graft-ridden governments the previous year, a leading watchdog said on Wednesday as it released its annual ranking of countries based on perceived corruption.
Transparency International, which fights corruption worldwide, said two-thirds of the 176 countries it surveyed performed poorly, falling below the 50 percent mark on its Corruption Perceptions Index. The index rates countries from zero to 100 percent in terms of corruption, with zero being the most corrupt.
Cobus de Swardt, managing director of Transparency International, called urgently to translate activism into political action against corruption.
“We do not see a general trend of an en masse, positive move of countries around the world to embrace greater public accountability," he told TrustLaw.
“In that sense, it is largely disappointing that the outcry across the world over corrupt governments and the public sector and the abuse of power has not been translated yet into political action,” de Swardt added.
Only three countries - Denmark, Finland and New Zealand - were listed as “very clean”, the same ones that won top rankings in 2011 thanks to strong access to government information and enforcement of rules governing public officials, Transparency International said.
North Korea and Somalia clung to the bottom of the index as the most corrupt countries in the world. This year they were joined by Afghanistan. The index draws on surveys measuring perceived openness of government, enforcement of laws against fraud, bribery and corruption and business views on corruption.
The overall findings were similar to the Rule of Law index released last week by World Justice Project, which ranked northern Europe as the least corrupt and Nigeria, Bolivia and Cameroon as the worst countries in terms of graft.
The United States was ranked in 19th place at 73 percent this year, while in 2011 it was in 24th place. Direct comparisons with previous years’ data, however, are difficult due to changes Transparency International has made to simplify its methodology.
It now uses one year of data instead of two years from its business survey of corruption perceptions, which will make it easier in future to measure annual trends. It has also converted the index to a percentage score from a ratings system of 1 to 10.
Still, the broad picture that emerges is one that shows barely any improvements, even in the Arab Spring countries where citizen uprisings calling for greater accountability led to the overthrow of governments in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen. Their rankings have essentially stagnated in the 21-41 percent range over the past year.
Myanmar, where a military dictatorship has given way to a more open regime, was also unchanged in its ranking amongst the most corrupt countries in the world. It scored 15 percent in 2012, and in 2011 had a rating of 1.5 out 10.
In China, where outgoing President Hu Jintao warned last month that the scourge of corruption could prove fatal and cause the state to collapse, slipped to 80th place this year with a 39 percent rating among the 176 countries surveyed, against 75th place out of 183 countries in 2011.
Brazil, in contrast, climbed to 69th place from 73rd. President Dilma Rousseff has declared a zero-tolerance policy on corruption, firing ministers suspected of graft and its Supreme Court, in a landmark trial, handed down unprecedented prison terms for former political aides, lawmakers and business associates of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva for buying votes to push through legislation. Brazil scored 43 percent in 2012 after a 3.8 rating the prior year.
Ireland and Greece, the two euro-zone economies worst hit by the sovereign debt crisis, slipped in their global rankings to 25th place at 69 percent and 94th place at 36 percent respectively. In 2011, Ireland was in 19th place and Greece 80th place.
Those scoring 70 percent or above included the most highly developed nations in western Europe, Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Japan, plus the islands of Singapore, Hong Kong, Barbados, Bahamas and St Lucia. There also were two Latin American countries - Chile and Uruguay.
Fifty-three countries scored above the half way mark in 2012, compared with 49 the previous year under the old methodology. Among African countries, Botswana, Namibia and Rwanda passed the 50 percent mark.
Huguette Labelle, chair of Transparency International, said the lack of major improvement in rankings shows that public institutions need to be more transparent and powerful officials held to account.
“Governments need to integrate anti-corruption actions into all public decision-making. Priorities include better rules on lobbying and political financing, making public spending and contracting more transparent and making public bodies more accountable to people,” Labelle said in a statement.
The index ranks 176 countries or territories based on perceived levels of public sector corruption by drawing on 13 surveys of businesspeople and experts. It offers a yearly snapshot of the relative degree of corruption, not a scientific measurement of actual levels, but it is widely used by businesses to gauge the difficulty of operating in countries.