Transparency International is out with its annual global corruption index and the news is not good. Around the world, according to the group’s sophisticated scoring system, democratic institutions are embattled by a rising tide of corruption.
TI’s “Corruption Perceptions Index” is the gold standard in assessing corruption worldwide. The index is drawn from comprehensive data sets of more than a dozen international organizations, including the World Bank, the World Economic Forum, Freedom House, and the Economist’s Country Risk Service. Descriptions of sources, statistics and methodology can be found here, below “Resources and Downloads.”
Because corruption operates in the shadows, hard data is elusive. TI’s index measures expert and in-country perceptions, focusing on public corruption, bribery, diversion of public funds, malfeasance and crime by public officials, transparency and accountability.
The failure to curb corruption is “contributing to a worldwide crisis of democracy,” TI says. The 2018 research shows “a disturbing link between corruption and the health of democracies, where countries with higher rates of corruption also have weaker democratic institutions and political rights.”
According to the new data, “on a scale of zero (a highly corrupt public sector) to 100 (a very clean public sector), two-thirds out of the 180 countries surveyed have scored below 50 in 2018’s CPI—meaning that the majority pass as corrupt.”
Since 2006, democratic practices have declined in 113 countries. “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,” says TI Managing Director Patricia Moreira.
The most corrupt country? Somalia, scoring a meager 10 out of 100 on the index.
The other top ten most corrupt countries, from the bottom up, are Syria, South Sudan, Yemen, North Korea, Sudan, Guinea Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Afghanistan, and Libya.
Sub-Saharan Africa is the lowest scoring region, the report notes. It struggles with “stark political and socio-economic contrasts” and rampant, longstanding corruption.
In the Middle East, another low scoring region, the situation “remains grim.” Civil liberties “continue to be under repressive state control” and “corruption remains stubbornly high.”
The least corrupt country is (drumroll please….) Denmark, with a score of 88.
Coming in one point below Denmark is New Zealand, at 87.
The rest of the top ten least corrupt countries, from the top down, are Finland, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, Netherlands, Canada, and Luxembourg.
But no one is perfect, not even Denmark. “While the CPI shows the Danish sector to be one of the cleanest in the world,” the report says, “corruption still exists, as seen with the recent scandals involving Danske Bank.”
Russia is a mess. With a “highly corrupt” rating of 28 out of 100, Russia suffers from cronyism, a compromised judicial system, an embattled media, weak political and civil rights, and ineffective checks and balances, TI notes.
China scores a 39 out of 100. As with so many things Chinese, the nation goes its own way when it comes to crime. “Corruption has particular characteristics in China,” TI notes. It is widespread and Chinese leaders consider it “a threat to the political system,” mounting tough anti-corruption campaigns. Yet Chinese anti-corruption drives are in service of the communist regime and do nothing to strengthen democratic institutions.
How does the United States rate? With a score of 71, the U.S. is squarely in the camp of healthy democracies. But TI is sounding a warning bell, noting that for the first time since 2011, the country has fallen outside the top twenty least corrupt countries in the index. The U.S. is now at position 22. TI calls that a red flag.
The U.S. fell four points on the index from last year. This appears solely related to opinions of President Donald Trump. It’s here that “perceptions” meet bias.
Transparency International does not like President Trump, an opinion shared by much of the international elite. TI supports “protecting” the probe by Special Counsel Robert Mueller—never mind that the president has not taken any steps to suppress the investigation. And it worries about “threats to [the U.S.] system of checks and balances,” despite the fact that the party opposing the president just took control of the House of Representatives, and that court rulings against Mr. Trump have proceeded without obstruction since the first days of his presidency.
What’s distressing to the global elite is that the American president is utterly unlike any former president. He’s a disruptor, perhaps even an avatar of creative destruction. But two years into his presidency, the American system is functioning just fine—robust, responsive and contentious. That’s a data point worth considering when assessing the health of American democracy.
Read the full Transparency International report here.
Micah Morrison is chief investigative reporter for Judicial Watch. Follow him on Twitter @micah_morrison. Tips: firstname.lastname@example.org
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