A version of this article first appeared on The Huffington Post on December 3, 2014.
A new global survey of corruption published by Transparency International (TI) shows an all-too-familiar picture of deep and far-reaching abuse of government positions by politicians and officials for their personal gain. More than two-thirds of the 175 countries covered by the survey show very high levels of corruption.
TI, founded in 1993, is the oldest and largest global, not-for-profit, anticorruption organization and ever since 1995 it has published an annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). It is a powerful tool to remind the world that bad governance directed by self-serving politicians and civil servants is a major cause of world poverty, human and national insecurity, human rights abuse and the undermining of efforts to build democracy.
The new CPI's blunt findings should serve as a wake-up call on December 10 when top officials and so-called anticorruption experts (consultants, academics and a smattering of civil society activists) meet in two separate meetings - one at the United Nations in New York and the other at the World Bank in Washington DC - to discuss global corruption.
The leading multilateral institutions like to hold meetings on this topic and pontificate and yet their record of helping to reduce corruption in many of the world's poorest countries is lamentable. They continue to enjoy overly cozy relations with thoroughly corrupt governments.
The 2014 CPI finds that 120 out of the 175 countries for which there is solid data available score below 50, on a scale from 0 (perceived to be highly corrupt) to 100 (perceived to be very clean). The least corrupt countries - the cleanest governments at least in terms of bribery and extortion and theft of public funds are listed in the table below:
Rank Country Score out of 100 1. Denmark 92 2. New Zealand 91 3. Finland 89 4. Sweden 87 5. Norway & Switzerland 86 7. Singapore 84 8. Netherlands 83 9. Luxembourg 82 10. Canada 81
It could well be that companies headquartered in these so-called "clean" countries pay bribes abroad and/or the banks in these countries get up to some foreign corrupt practices, but the CPI confines itself to perceptions of official corruption.
Perceived Most Corrupt Countries
The deeply concerning news is that in many countries the level of perceived corruption is so great that it is, in fact, a virulent disease that effects every aspect of life, from bribe-taking by police and hospital clinic workers and school teachers, to major thefts by top officials, powerful politicians and their cronies. The countries that performed worst in the new CPI are highlighted below:
Rank Country Score out of 100 166. Eritrea & Libya 18 & Uzbekistan 169. Turkmenistan 17 170. Iraq 16 171. South Sudan 15 172. Afghanistan 12 173. Sudan 11 174. Korea (North) & Somalia 8
Afghanistan and Iraq have received tens of billions of dollars of foreign aid over the last decade. Much of the cash has not been fully accounted for. Much of it has been stolen and actually enhanced the propensity of top officials in these countries and politicians to steal. The prospects for peace in both of these war-riven countries will remain bleak so long as current levels of corruption prevail.
What the World Bank and the United Nations have failed to adequately appreciate is that their continual approaches of cooperation with rabidly corrupt regimes serve largely to encourage those regimes to believe they can continue on their criminal paths. The multilateral official institutions need to be bold and clear: they need to declare that they will no longer provide foreign aid through governments that refuse to have their public accounts efficiently and independently monitored, that refuse to permit full transparency in government budgets, that refuse to end systems of impunity that allow government leaders to evade justice.
At the same time, the United Nations and World Bank need to understand that sustainable anticorruption reform can only be secured by country nationals working every day in their countries to promote reforms and to monitor governmental activities at municipal and national levels. Only civil society groups can do this well and there are today many highly experienced groups of this kind across the world. They urgently need far greater public support from the leading official multilateral institutions and cash to support their work.