With corruption causing harm in so many ways, from weakening democracy to stifling development to driving conflict, no one should get away with abuses of power. Countries across the globe should be acting for the common good, avoiding further conflict and looking to sustain peace.
But the 2022 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) reveals a world still waiting for action against corruption. There have been countries that have made progress in recent years, with 25 out of 180 reducing corruption in their public sectors since 2012. Conversely, even more countries have declined, with 31 significantly dropping down the CPI in the same period.
This shows the need to remain vigilant, spotting signs of decline and mobilising all parts of society to push back against growing corruption. Only when activists, journalists and any other members of society can raise their voices – and governments really listen – will we be able to move toward a more transparent, conflict-free and just society.
Transparency International has identified nine countries where it’ll be especially important to keep a very close eye on developments on 2023.
What is a “country to watch” on the CPI?
In this annual watch-list published alongside the CPI, we flag countries that need closer monitoring and attention in the coming year.
This may be due to concerns about the direction a country is taking. For example, in light of a period of neglected anti-corruption efforts, political turbulence and rule of law challenges, we selected Austria as a country to watch last year. In 2022, Austria became a significant decliner on the index by continuing a downward trend since 2021 with a loss of three points.
We also highlight countries at turning points in their anti-corruption stories. Following a change in government and a seven-point increase on the CPI, we chose Angola as a country to watch in 2019. While it still has a long way to go, the country has continued to make progress, including through stronger laws and efforts to bring grand corruption offenders to justice.
1. United Kingdom
With a five-point decline since 2021, the UK (CPI score: 73) stands as a warning that countries in the top tier of the index are still vulnerable to the perception of corruption and undue influence. Public trust in government is worryingly low after a string of political “sleaze” and public spending scandals, which showcased how easily political access could be bought by private interests and exposed loopholes that let public officials regulate their own conduct.
CPI 2022: 73/100Explore the score changes 2012-2022
Individuals with political connections were appointed to senior public-sector roles during the COVID-19 pandemic. More worryingly, a fifth of UK COVID-19 contracts raised red flags, warranting further investigation. There was systematic bias in the awarding of PPE contracts to those with political connections, via the government’s “VIP lane”. This cross-over of vested interests and political power puts public money at risk and impairs the government’s response to the economic crisis.
Democratic institutions have also come under attack and opportunities for parliamentary scrutiny have been reduced. All of this has raised serious questions about transparency in Westminster. In recent years, lobbying scandals in Parliament and revelations about the extent of potential ministerial misconduct have further highlighted the woeful inadequacy of the systems that are supposed to protect integrity and standards in public life.
A new code of conduct for parliamentarians and the appointment of a new ethics advisor – even if after some delay – are steps in the right direction. If the government is truly committed to restoring trust in politics, it needs to overhaul how the standards and conduct of elected representatives are regulated to stop the slide.
2. Sri Lanka
While anti-government protests were not uncommon in Sri Lanka (36) before 2022, they gathered significant momentum last year because of the country’s ever-worsening economic situation.
For decades, Sri Lanka took out massive international loans to finance its economic growth, including infrastructure development projects. This worked at first, but mismanagement and rampant corruption, combined with a sharp decline in tourism due to the COVID-19 pandemic, finally sent the country’s economy into a complete meltdown.
CPI 2022: 36/100Explore the score changes 2012-2022
With inflation skyrocketing, the island nation has been unable to import sufficient food, fuel or medicine for its 22 million citizens, plunging them into the worst crisis the country has seen in decades. Recognising the link between their situation and the pervasive corruption among the country’s leadership, protesters demanded reforms and refused to leave the streets despite brutal police crackdowns.
The country remains in crisis with no resolution of 2022’s widespread unrest. The government must urgently deliver better legislative frameworks, governance standards, transparency and accountability for the people of Sri Lanka, with the full involvement of civil society and activists.
Although Georgia leads Eastern Europe and Central Asia with 56 points, this is due to previous gains in eliminating low-level bribery; the country has stagnated on the CPI since 2012. Disappointingly, in a country once held up as an anti-corruption champion in the region, the current government is effectively killing any momentum to fight this problem. The governing Georgian Dream party – which is widely believed to be controlled by Georgia’s richest man and former prime minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili – has captured key state institutions, the judiciary and law enforcement, meaning abuses of power at the highest levels go largely unpunished.
CPI 2022: 56/100Explore the score changes 2012-2022
In recent years, Transparency International Georgia’s monitoring identified dozens of cases of alleged high-level corruption that have not been investigated. The nature, scope and increasing number of these cases point to an alarming conclusion that high-level corruption in Georgia is taking the form of kleptocracy, where officials systematically use political power to appropriate the country’s wealth and undermine all critical voices, including political opposition, media and civil society. Government representatives have even resorted to aggressive rhetoric against civil society that exposes corruption – we are deeply concerned about government attacks on our Georgian chapter following the publication of CPI 2022. Recent defamation campaigns against activists have raised fears that parliament might be pushing for a foreign agent law – similar to what’s in place in Russia – to attack non-profits.
The EU listed inaction over high-level corruption as a key concern in its June 2022 decision not to grant Georgia candidate status. This followed an assessment process that many believe the government itself sabotaged to appease Russia. The EU did, however, offer the country a European perspective, dependent on the fulfilment of 12 priorities – including the creation of an anti-corruption agency to help “deoligarchise” the country. The government has set up such an agency, but it’s currently not up to standard, as it does not have investigative powers and sufficient independence.
Gustavo Petro's victory in the 2022 presidential elections has generated expectations of change in Colombia (39), which has not improved its score in this year’s CPI. Massive protests across the country between 2019 and 2021 were sparked by high levels of corruption and social inequality. Likewise, illicit financial flows derived from corruption and organised crime, such as illegal deforestation, are barriers to achieving the country's social, economic and environmental agenda.
CPI 2022: 39/100Explore the score changes 2012-2022
The country needs greater transparency in its political system, greater control over discretionary public procurement mechanisms, more independence in oversight agencies and the judicial system, and protections for whistleblowers.
The new government must maintain an effective separation of powers and guarantee conditions for civil society, the media and other non-state actors to exercise control over power, especially at the local level in the context of the 2016 peace agreements. The local elections to be held in October 2023 will once again test the transparency and efficiency of the electoral system, as well as the country's ability to open spaces for new political actors.
After stagnating for five years, Jordan (47) is showing worrying signs with a drop of two points on this year’s CPI amidst the government’s increased restrictions on civic space and the public’s growing mistrust of the government. Using the state of emergency declared in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the state has stepped up action against civil society and journalists who criticise it. Such tight restrictions, hinderance of public oversight and violations of the investigative process have caused Civicus to downgrade the country from “obstructed” to “repressed”.
CPI 2022: 47/100Explore the score changes 2012-2022
All of this has fuelled instability in Jordan, which has repercussions beyond its borders. The country has long served as a mediator in the region, reducing tensions between various groups. Now that its scores on the CPI and other indicators are deteriorating, regional and international actors are less likely to trust the country in this role, threatening future attempts to establish and maintain stability.
6. South Africa
While South Africa (43) scores above the regional average of 32, public sector corruption is a serious problem in the continent’s southernmost country, too. Most recently, this has been underscored by a series of corruption scandals involving the former and incumbent presidents.
In June 2022, a judicial commission led by Chief Justice Raymond Zondo delivered the final findings of a three-year inquiry into deep-rooted corruption in South Africa. The roughly 5,000-page report implicated the country’s former president Jacob Zuma, but also found fault with the way the current president Cyril Ramaphosa handled allegations of misconduct. In October, the president issued a response to the recommendations and findings, in which he announced that the government will put forward and consult the public on a “comprehensive proposal on an effective and integrated anti-corruption institutional framework”.
Yet, Ramaphosa is currently dealing with his own corruption scandal, known as Farmgate. He is accused of covering up a 2020 theft in which between US$500,000 and millions were stolen from his farm, allegedly to avoid scrutiny over the large sums of cash. The president, who won election on an anti-corruption platform in 2018, has denied any wrongdoing. Despite initial indications that he might resign, Ramaphosa dodged the impeachment vote in parliament and was even re-elected as the African National Congress party leader in December 2022. He remains under investigation.
In Bulgaria (43), one of the lowest CPI performers in Western Europe and the EU for more than a decade, vested corporate interests have established strong oligarchic influence. In 2020, public protests fragmented the political party scene, which has led to caretaker governments and an ongoing political crisis. Political corruption has prevented free and fair parliamentary elections, while the latest round of legislative amendments pushed through at the end of 2022 further increase the likelihood of electoral manipulation. Considering the likelihood of Bulgaria seeing yet another general election in 2023, changing the electoral code without wide consensus and in this timeframe goes against best practices.
Bulgaria has significant problems with the rule of law and the Council of Europe has highlighted weaknesses in the judiciary, even putting the country under special supervision.
Restrictions to civic space are another concern. While it has not gained traction in the legislature, the recently proposed ‘foreign agent’ registration law has renewed fears of civil society oppression. Last year, the parliament rejected whistleblower protection bills despite the European Commission’s infringement proceedings. The legislature finally adopted the law last month, so now the responsible public agencies need to put in place these measures to protect whistleblowers without any further delay.
To make much-needed progress, it is critically important that a new government prioritises implementation of the 2021-2027 anti-corruption strategy. As a matter of urgency, to safeguard public funds, the government should put in place a robust system for evaluating and managing governance and corruption risks when awarding companies with public funds through contracts, concessions or state support.
Also a country to watch last year, we are ringing the alarm about Russia (28) again as corruption and authoritarianism not only get worse, but their effects become more catastrophic with the invasion of Ukraine.
Corruption is endemic in Russia, and public institutions are almost completely captured by the executive government, meaning they’re unable to act as a check on power. Under Putin, Russia has become the very embodiment of a kleptocracy, as corrupt high-level officials and politically connected individuals embezzle and misappropriate public funds on a massive scale.
CPI 2022: 28/100Explore the score changes 2012-2022
Over the past two decades, these political elites have successfully abused the loopholes in the global financial system and enlisted professional enablers abroad to help offshore their illicit gains for safe-keeping in foreign luxury real estate, bank accounts and investments. This has ensured that Putin has the power to pursue his destructive agenda in Ukraine unchecked.
In the aftermath of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, Western governments have unleashed targeted sanctions against the country’s political and business elites. Assets worth billions of dollars have been frozen; in some cases, investigations have also begun – offering hope for accountability.
In the country itself, following protests against its invasion of Ukraine, the regime has been brutally cracking down on dissenting voices, intensify a long-term trend of violating freedoms of expression and assembly. Many have left the country in self-exile. The government has also stepped up use of its so-called foreign agent law, designating critics across the spectrum – including the executive director of Transparency International Russia, Ilya Shumanov – as “foreign agents”.
Russia is in crisis. The government has attempted to lower petty corruption risks by digitalising public services, but the overall situation is only likely to worsen as the military gains further power and officials use the war of aggression to create additional opportunities for corruption.
Although it still scores low, war-torn Ukraine (33) is one of few significant improvers on the CPI, having gained eight points since 2013. The country has long struggled with systemic abuse of power, but has taken important steps to improve oversight and accountability.
CPI 2022: 33/100Explore the score changes 2012-2022
Even while fighting back the invasion, in June 2022 the parliament adopted a National Anti-Corruption Strategy and appointed a new head of the office that brings corruption cases before the courts. The strengthening of state institutions and functions vulnerable to corruption has been another vital factor in the country’s progress: research shows that interference in the judiciary by oligarchs and other vested interests was one of the key corruption risks before the war.
This is just the most recent in a long line of innovative reforms sparked by the Maidan Revolution of 2014. By embracing the idea of “everyone sees everything", the state has aimed to give its citizens maximum access to information on how public funds are spent and provided them with the opportunity to raise questions about suspicious activities. Also, a system of new anti-corruption bodies was implemented alongside reforms in various sectors.
However, Russia’s war of aggression has disrupted some of the reform processes and exacerbated corruption risks. Reconstruction and recovery efforts can be drastically undermined by wrongdoers pocketing funds, both during the war and after. Such a case was discovered in mid-January when investigations exposed war profiteering by the defence and the communities and territories development ministries. The scandal clearly underscores the need for reforms to prevent such violations in the future, from both domestic and global actors. As foreign aid will play a vital role in rebuilding Ukraine, the international community must support the Ukrainian government in strengthening its national anti-corruption agencies and civil society. Only independent oversight can ensure the effective and accountable distribution of the development and reconstruction aid the country so desperately needs.
What are other global highlights?
The CPI 2022 shows that most countries are not stopping corruption, with 155 making no significant progress in over a decade. More than two-thirds of countries score below 50, while 26 countries have fallen to their lowest scores yet.
With few countries at the top of the index improving their scores, advanced economies are still not pulling their weight in the fight against cross-border corruption. This is one of many forms of corruption that fundamentally threaten peace and security.