Populism enables ‘endemic corruption’, report warns

By on 26/01/2017 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Mayor Virginia Raggi, Rome, Italy – a member of anti-establishment party Five Star Movement – is currently under investigation for abuse of office

Transparency International has warned of “endemic corruption” in public sectors all over the world, after its analysis revealed that two-thirds of the 176 countries examined score less than half marks on the NGO’s anti-corruption scale.

The global average score for the Corruption Perceptions Index 2016, published on 25 January, is just 43 out of a maximum 100.

Denmark and New Zealand top the ranking, both with scores of 90, while Somalia once again comes in last with just 10. Overall, more countries have declined than improved over the year since TI produced its 2015 index.

With the index coming out five days after US president Donald Trump’s inauguration, its authors highlighted the strong correlation between corruption and inequality, and the rise of populist leaders who promise to tackle graft and depose ‘elites’.

Finn Heinrich, research director at Transparency International, explains that social inclusion is a much stronger indicator of corruption levels than GDP – suggesting that corruption has its roots not in poverty, but in social and economic divisions. These divisions can work in favour of populist leaders who criticise the “corrupt elite” and the “marginalisation of working people”, he says.

However, he adds: “The track record of populist leaders in tackling this problem is dismal; they use the corruption-inequality message to drum up support but have no intention of tackling the problem seriously.”

Heinrich points to the anti-corruption party Aam Aadmi party, which won in Delhi in 2015 but has not made significant progress due to infighting; and to the disconnect between Trump’s “drain the swamp” rhetoric, and his failure to mitigate his conflicts of interest before taking office.

The US is in 18th place on the index, with a score of 74. Italy, where Rome mayor Virginia Raggi – a member of anti-establishment party Five Star Movement – is currently under investigation for abuse of office, is in 60th place – just below Cuba and Romania – with a score of 47. The UK is joint 10th; though TI’s UK director, Robert Barrington, told Global Government Forum last year that Britain suffers from under-reporting and a “peculiarly British form of corruption” in which the establishment colludes in the “legalisation of things that look dodgy.”

Despite relatively good scores in most European countries, Transparency International describes it as “stagnating” – despite some improvement in Ukraine, following its launch of an e-declaration system that makes public the assets of politicians and senior civil servants.

“In many countries of the region, insufficient accountability has generated a perception of quasi-impunity of political elites, and the current wave of populism over Europe seems to enable legalisation of corruption and clientelism,” says the report.

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See also:

Robert Barrington, executive director of Transparency International UK: exclusive interview

Global public sector corruption ranking to be launched this week

Nordic countries perform best in global corruption ranking

Anti-corruption campaigner: “establishment corruption” threatens UK’s image overseas

India moves to protect retired officials from corruption probes

New transparency rules to help tackle corruption

OECD releases new anti-corruption toolkit

Patricia Scotland calls for Commonwealth-wide anti-corruption unit

Tanzanian officials suspended over corruption investigation

About Tamsin Rutter

Tamsin Rutter is a journalist based in Brussels, Belgium. She writes on a variety of topics, including public services, cities, local and central government and education. She was formerly the deputy editor of the Guardian's Public Leaders Network and Housing Network.

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