Corruption causing “a global crisis of democracy”

By on 04/02/2019 | Updated on 24/09/2020
New Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has pledged a crackdown on corruption (Image courtesy: Gustavo Lima / Câmara dos Deputados).

Anti-corruption efforts are stalled in most countries, with only 20 significantly improving their score since 2012, while 16 have seen big declines, according to an annual analysis.

The research, by campaign group Transparency International, scored more then two-thirds of countries below 50 out of 100 on the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), with an average score of 43.

The rankings draw on 13 surveys and expert assessments of corruption in the public sector worldwide, including those by the Economist Intelligence Unit and Freedom House.

Denmark and New Zealand, who have consistently topped the index for the past four years, this year scored 88 and 87 points respectively. Somalia, South Sudan, and Syria are at the bottom of the index, with 10, 13 and 13 points.

The highest scoring region is western Europe and the EU, with an average score of 66, while the lowest scoring regions are sub-Saharan Africa (average score 32) and eastern Europe and central Asia (average score 35).

The research established a link between corruption and the health of democracies. Full democracies scored an average of 75 on the CPI, compared with flawed democracies, which scored an average of 49. Hybrid regimes – which show elements of autocratic tendencies – score 35, while autocratic regimes perform worst, with an average score of 30 on the CPI.

The CPI score for Hungary decreased by eight points over the past five years, while simultaneously registering its lowest score for political rights since the fall of communism in 1989. Turkey’s score fell by nine points over the same timeframe, while being downgraded from “partly free” to “not free”. The ratings reflect the deterioration of rule of law and democratic institutions, as well as a rapidly shrinking space for civil society and independent media, Transparency International said.

The organisation highlighted two nations as “countries to watch”. The US, which has fallen out of the top 20 performing countries for the first time since 2011, and Brazil, which earned its lowest score in seven years. Corruption is much more likely to flourish where democratic foundations are weak and where undemocratic and populist politicians can use it to their advantage, it said.

Since 2012, only 20 countries have significantly improved their scores, including Estonia and Côte D’Ivoire, and 16 have significantly declined, including Australia, Chile and Malta. The continued failure of most countries to significantly control corruption is contributing to “a crisis of democracy” around the world, the campaign group said.

“With many democratic institutions under threat across the globe – often by leaders with authoritarian or populist tendencies – we need to do more to strengthen checks and balances and protect citizens’ rights,” said Patricia Moreira, managing director of Transparency International.

“Corruption chips away at democracy to produce a vicious cycle, where corruption undermines democratic institutions and, in turn, weak institutions are less able to control corruption,” she added.

The organisation warned that even the consistently top performing seven countries – Denmark, Finland, Sweden, Norway, New Zealand, Singapore and Switzerland – were not corruption free, despite all scoring between 84 and 88 this year.

The CPI does not measure money laundering, exporting corruption and foreign bribery, and financial secrecy. The analysis points to several such cases in even the best performers, for example, a recent money-laundering scandal involving Denmark’s biggest lender Danske Bank.   Transparency International urged all governments to strengthen institutions responsible for maintaining checks and balances over political power, and ensure their ability to operate without intimidation; close the implementation gap between anti-corruption legislation, practice and enforcement; support civil society organisations which enhance political engagement and public oversight over government spending; and support a free and independent media.

About Catherine Early

Catherine is a journalist and editor specialising in government policy and regulation. She writes predominantly about environmental issues and has held permanent roles at the Environmentalist (now known as Transform), the ENDS Report, Planning magazine and Windpower Monthly, and has also written for the Guardian, the Ecologist and China Dialogue. She was a finalist in the Guardian’s International Development Journalism competition 2009, and was part of the team that won PPA Business Magazine of the Year 2011 for Windpower Monthly. She also won an outstanding content award at Haymarket Media Group’s employee awards for data-led stories in Planning magazine. She holds a 2:1 honours degree in English language and literature from Birmingham University.

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