More Than 6 Billion People Live in Countries with a Serious Corruption Problem
This nine-year-old girl is one of them.
She lives in Dhaka, Bangladesh – one of 114 countries that scores below 50 out of 100 in our 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index, indicating serious levels of public sector corruption.
Instead of going to school, she spends her days sorting bottles at a recycling factory. Officially child labour is illegal in Bangladesh. Unofficially a bribe paid to the right official can mean exceptions are made.
Like all exploitation, child labour remains a sad reality in environments where citizens are trapped in poverty and corrupt officials can be paid off.
It’s just one example of the devastation fuelled by corruption. Others include human trafficking, child mortality, poor education standards, environmental destruction and terrorism.
Put simply – public sector corruption is about so much more than missing money. It’s about people’s lives, and it’s a global problem.
Based on expert opinion, the Corruption Perceptions Index measures the perceived levels of public sector corruption worldwide.
The scale of the issue is huge. Sixty-eight per cent of countries worldwide have a serious corruption problem. Half of the G20 are among them.
Not one single country, anywhere in the world, is corruption-free.
Which Countries Improved? Which Got Worse?
2015 showed that people working together can succeed in fighting corruption. Although corruption is still rife globally, more countries improved their scores in 2015 than declined.
Some countries have improved in recent years – Greece, Senegal and the UK are among those that have seen a significant increase in scores since 2012.
Others, including Australia, Brazil, Libya, Spain and Turkey, have deteriorated.
Dealing with many entrenched corruption issues, Brazil has been rocked by the Petrobras scandal, in which politicians are reported to have taken kickbacks in exchange for awarding public contracts. As the economy crunches, tens of thousands of ordinary Brazilians have lost their jobs already. They didn’t make the decisions that led to the scandal. But they’re the ones living with the consequences.
Lowest Scorers Characterised By Bloody And Entrenched Conflict
Six of the 10 most corrupt countries also rank among the 10 least peaceful places in the world.
In Afghanistan, millions of dollars that should have gone on reconstruction have been reportedly wasted or stolen, seriously undermining efforts to sustain peace.
Even where there’s not open conflict, the levels of inequality and poverty in these countries are devastating.
In Angola, 70 per cent of the population live on US$2 a day or less. One in six children die before the age of five – making it the deadliest place in the world to be a child. More than 150,000 children die each year.
Many "Clean" Countries Have Dodgy Records Overseas
Northern Europe emerges well in the index – it’s home to four of the top five countries.
But just because a country has a clean public sector at home, doesn’t mean it isn’t linked to corruption elsewhere.
Take Sweden for instance. It comes fourth in the index, yet the Swedish-Finnish firm TeliaSonera – 37 per cent owned by the Swedish state – is facing allegations that it paid millions of dollars in bribes to secure business in Uzbekistan, which comes in at 153rd in the index.
The company is now pulling out of business in Central Asia, but Sweden isn’t the only “clean” country to be linked to dodgy behaviour overseas. As our research shows, half of all OECD countries are violating their international obligations to crack down on bribery by their companies abroad.
Corruption Breakdown By Region
By looking at the regions, certain trends emerge:
“We’ve witnessed two remarkable trends in the Americas in 2015: the uncovering of grand corruption networks and the mass mobilisation of citizens against corruption,” says Alejandro Salas, Transparency International Director for the Americas. “The Petrobras and La Línea scandals are testament to these trends in the two biggest regional decliners: Brazil and Guatemala. The challenge now is to tackle the underlying causes and reduce impunity for corruption.”
“Between Australia’s slipping scores and North Korea’s predictably disastrous performance, this year’s index shows no significant improvement,” notes Srirak Plipat, Director for Asia Pacific. “Has Asia Pacific stalled in its efforts to fight corruption? This year’s poor results demand that leaders revisit the genuineness of their efforts and propel the region forward with actionable measures.”
“While a handful of countries in Europe and Central Asia have improved, the general picture across this vast region is one of stagnation,” warns Anne Koch, Director for Europe and Central Asia. “Also very worrying is the marked deterioration in countries like Hungary, FYR of Macedonia, Spain and Turkey where we’re seeing corruption grow, while civil society space and democracy shrink. Corruption won’t be tackled until laws and regulations are put into action and civil society and the media are genuinely free.”
“Once again, 3 of the bottom 10 countries are from the Middle East and North Africaregion – Iraq, Libya and Sudan. The ongoing devastating conflicts in these and other countries inevitably mean that any efforts to strengthen institutions and the state have taken a back seat. Yet security will only succeed long-term if governments make a genuine break with cronyism and build trust with citizens,” says Ghada Zughayar, Director for Middle East and North Africa.
“From Ebola to terrorism, we’ve seen corruption exacerbate crises during 2015 in Sub-Saharan Africa,” says Chantal Uwimana, Director for Sub-Saharan Africa. “Forty out of the region’s 46 countries show a serious corruption problem and there’s no improvement for continent powerhouses Nigeria and South Africa. If corruption and impunity are to 'be a thing of the past' as the African Union stated, governments need to take bold steps to ensure rule of law is the reality for everyone.”
The human cost of corruption is huge, yet all too often leaders with notoriously corrupt records continue to enjoy lives of luxury at the expense of people living in grinding poverty. It’s time they faced the consequence of their actions.
“Corruption will stop only when we collectively fight against it,” says photographer AM Ahad of his sad portrait of the nine-year-old child worker in Bangladesh. “It is crucial that we change the common mentality of accepting corruption and treat the crime as the terrible thing that it is.”