In Pictures: The World’s Most Corrupt Countries
Corruption continues to intensify in two-fifths of the world’s nations, nurtured by persistent poverty, political instability and crime.
In percentage terms, the number of countries perceived to be corrupt fell slightly, according to recent surveys by Transparency International, an international watchdog group. But that’s only because the sample size of its annual study has gotten larger with the addition of 17 countries.
Of the 180 countries looked at in its most recent rankings, 132 had index scores below 5, including Greece, India, Mexico, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and Thailand. Some 56 countries were rated below 3, a level that indicates rampant corruption, including Argentina, Pakistan and Russia.
Transparency International developed its index on a scale from 0 to 10, with the lowest number indicating the highest perception of corruption. The index is based on worldwide surveys of country specialists, business officials, human rights monitors and others.
For the most recent index, the best-scoring countries were New Zealand, Denmark and Finland, sharing an index ranking of 9.4. At the bottom of the heap, where perceptions of corruption were highest, Somalia and Myanmar are tied with an index ranking of 1.4.
Of course it’s easy to see the difference between the two ends of the spectrum. New Zealand, Denmark and Finland have wealth and stable economies and governments, and don’t stoke a lot of international controversy. Somalia and Myanmar are torn by armed conflict and political oppression.
The divide runs along economic realities. Forty percent of the countries rated below 3 are classified by the World Bank as low income. It doesn’t help if the governments are weak or engaged in a struggle for power.
“Countries torn apart by conflict pay a huge toll in their capacity to govern,” says Huguette Labelle, chairman of Transparency International. “With public institutions crippled or nonexistent, mercenary individuals help themselves to public resources, and corruption thrives.”
Myanmar, also known as Burma, probably wins the prize for worst public relations of the year. Last fall, the military-led government cracked down on protesting monks, killing a few in the riots that broke out as the government rounded up protesters. Internet access was blocked to prevent news from getting out to the outside world.
To top it off, in May the Burmese government hindered international relief efforts after the most damaging cyclone in its history, which killed an estimated 130,000. America’s first lady, Laura Bush, has led an active campaign against the military junta, calling on international bodies to pressure it to move toward democracy.
Somalia has its own problems, not least of which is persistent and growing piracy in the waters off its shores. There have been more than two dozen piracy attacks reported in the Gulf of Aden since the beginning of this year (see ” Sea Piracy’s Bloody Growth”).
The double whammy of weak government and abundant natural resources also stokes corruption, particularly where personal greed can run rampant without fear of recrimination. In Equatorial Guinea, 10th on the Transparency International list, 30% of the profits from recently discovered offshore oil fields goes straight into the state officials’ pockets.
Nearby in the Democratic Republic of Congo, tied for 10th with Guinea, government officials demand payments from mining companies. The country has abundant reserves of some of the most sought-after commodities: copper, gold, uranium and coltan.
There is hope, however. Several African countries showed marked improvement in their rankings over one year, including Seychelles (to 57 from 63), South Africa (to 43 from 51) and Swaziland (to 84 from 121). Transparency International said the jumps mean genuine reform efforts can help combat perceptions of corruption.
Outside Africa, many countries that improved over the year are in Eastern Europe: Croatia (to 64 from 69), the Czech Republic (to 41 from 46), Macedonia (to 84 from 105) and Romania (to 69 from 84). Italy went to 41 from 45.
“The concentration of gainers in Southeast and Eastern Europe testifies to the galvanizing effect of the European Union accession process on the fight against corruption,” says Transparency International.
No. 1 Myanmar (Burma) (tie)
The Burmese government drew widespread international criticism after it hindered international relief efforts following a deadly cyclone. The government, which tied for the top spot in perceived corruption, doesn’t tolerate dissent. Last year, the military regime in this Southeast Asian nation brutally suppressed protests by democracy activists and monks.
No. 1 Somalia (tie)
The East African country suffers from a weak national government riddled with crooked officials. Somalia, with its many poor people and 1,880-mile coast, is also a breeding ground for piracy. The bandits look for easy prey in the crowded shipping routes of the Red Sea.
No. 3 Iraq
With plenty of American money pouring in and the Iraqi public sector struggling to rebuild itself, corruption is rife in this Middle Eastern country. “Corruption and smuggling have diverted government revenues potentially available for rebuilding efforts,” said the U.S. Government Accountability Office in a report last year. Even more worrisome is that some of the money is being used to fund the Iraq insurgency. (See “The Energy Underworld.”)
No. 4 Haiti
Last month, a prominent Haitian banker railed against corrupt legislators after his bid for prime minister was thwarted. “At the very beginning of the process, I was confronted with the forces of corruption,” he told reporters. It’s a fair excuse in this Caribbean nation, which ranked fourth in perceived corruption. The poorest country in the Western Hemisphere hopes to make progress under the democratically elected president and parliament that came into power in 2006.
No. 5 Uzbekistan (tie)
Houston oil services company Baker Hughes pleaded guilty last year to making improper payments to get jobs in a number of countries. One was Uzbekistan. There’s a lot more going on in this former Soviet republic. The country was ranked the fifth worst at having honest officials. Sadly, it also finished at the bottom of a recent ranking of the world’s happiest countries. (See “Chasing Happiness.”)
No. 5 Tonga (tie)
This archipelago nation in the South Pacific is the only country in the area ruled by a monarchy. The government, which relies heavily on foreign aid, hopes to clean things up. It appointed its first anti-corruption commissioner this month.
No. 7 Sudan (tie)
Sudan tied for the seventh most corrupt nation in the world, and that’s not even its most pressing problem. A military conflict that erupted in Western Sudan in 2003 has tormented citizens. The CIA estimates the conflict has displaced nearly 2 million people and caused between 200,000 and 400,000 deaths.
No. 7 Chad (tie)
Although a three-decade civil war ended in 1990, unrest has been common since then. Earlier this year, rebels attempted to take the country’s capital. In one of Chad’s more egregious examples of government unscrupulousness, funds that were supposed to have been used to feed the hungry were diverted to buy arms. (See “Chad’s President Faces Opposition.”)
No. 7 Afghanistan (tie)
Despite the toppling of the Taliban and the installation of the its first democratically elected president, the country is struggling to make progress on corruption. Unfortunately, it is also one of the world’s most dangerous destinations. Terrorists frequently attack political leaders, military personnel and Westerners.
No. 10 Laos (tie)
The Southeast Asian nation of Laos has been gradually returning to private enterprise from communism since the 1980s, but there’s been some bumps. Corruption remains a costly problem. One bright spot: The picturesque country is benefiting from the ecotourism boom. (See “Top Spots For Southeast Asian Ecotourism.”)