Corruption continues to have a devastating impact on societies and individuals around the world, with more than two-thirds of countries surveyed scoring less than 50 out of 100 in the latest Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI).
The index, the leading global indicator of public sector corruption, scores countries on a scale from 0 (perceived to be highly corrupt) to 100 (perceived to be very clean). The results of the 2013 index serve as a warning that more must be done to enable people to live their lives free from the damaging effects of corruption.
Despite 2013 being a year in which governments around the world passed new laws and forged fresh commitments to end corruption, people are not seeing the results of these promises.
Anti-corruption is an increasingly attractive platform for politicians, with many incorporating anti-corruption pledges into their election campaigns. It reflects waning public tolerance towards corruption. The danger, however, is that these anti-corruption promises fail to materialise.
Government guarantees of greater accountability do not always bring about tangible results at the local level. Protests in Brazil this summer showed public exasperation at the continuation of political scandals in spite of governmental assurances of a zero-tolerance policy on corruption.
Words must be backed by action
Some countries, such as Estonia, have seen improved CPI scores go hand in hand with efforts to combat corruption, such as the development of a new anti-corruption strategy.
Other countries, however, prove that words are not enough in the fight against corruption. After a summer blighted by political scandals indicating a lack of accountability and fading public trust, Spain tried to remedy its corruption troubles with a new Transparency Law.
It is certainly a step in the right direction, but the provisions do not go far enough. This missed opportunity to bring about significant legislative changes is particularly worrying given Spain’s six-point drop in this year’s index.
While countries such as Myanmar have seen significant improvements in the perceived success of their anti-corruption efforts; on average, perceived levels of corruption have failed to improve globally since 2012.
EU and Western European countries continue to perform best with an average score of 66, while Sub-Saharan African countries once again show the highest perceived levels of public sector corruption, averaging a score of 33.
But scores vary widely within each region and with a global average of just 43, all regions have a long way to go in curbing corruption.
Corruption persists in being a pervasive force in the public sector, hurting citizens in their daily lives and in times of dire need.
The impact of corrupt practices on humanitarian aid efforts following Typhoon Haiyan served as a tragic reminder of the devastating toll corruption can take, illustrating the need to ensure money designated to public sector services and infrastructure is not siphoned away into private pockets.
The dangers of corruption are not limited to times of emergency, as the growing social unrest in Kenya shows. And the costs of public sector corruption are often unacceptably high.
Corruption and conflict
Many of the lowest scoring countries face the troubles of corruption alongside political instability and conflict. As in 2012, last place is shared by Afghanistan, North Korea and Somalia. With a score of only eight, corruption perceptions in these countries indicate a near-total absence of an honest and functioning public sector. Libya and Syria have also seen decreases in their scores, falling even further down the rankings over the past year.
But previously high-scoring countries haven’t been safe from the risks of corruption either. Spain’s six-point decline was not only the most dramatic drop of all EU countries, but one of the largest globally. Australia is yet further proof that no country can afford to be complacent. Despite having one of the world’s highest GDPs, the country fell by four points this year.
This warning against complacency, whilst important for all countries, is perhaps particularly pressing for the BRICS bloc of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Indian multinationals set the best example for transparency in corporate reporting in our recent research on emerging markets, but the country only just makes it inside the top 100 countries in the Corruption Perceptions Index.
The growing importance of emerging markets means their impact is felt broadly around the world. With increased global presence and rapidly growing economies, emerging market countries have the opportunity to set an example in the fight against public sector corruption.
Agents of change
Ultimately, however, it is citizens who pay the price for corruption. From drought-stricken villagers in Brazil to university students in Romania, public sector corruption costs people their education, their rights and even their lives.
Citizens can also be the key agents in exposing corruption and helping bring about a more transparent and accountable public sector. In a time of growing citizen engagement and the unifying power of social media, individuals can expose those who abuse their power. It is often challenging, but citizens in Brazil have shown the effectiveness of ordinary people standing up against corruption.
In Piauí, one of the country’s driest and poorest states, Arimatéia Dantas coordinated the joint efforts of NGOs, trade unions and students in order to tackle public sector corruption that was denying people access to water. Control of the water supply often meant control of votes at election time. Marching through towns and villages in the region, citizens came together to expose and challenge such practices.
The march is now in its 12th year, and Dantas continues to lead citizens in demanding that access to basic rights, such as water, is not hindered by corruption.
The Transparency International Integrity Awards and Youth Competition winners are also a shining example of how individuals can hold corrupt officials to account in all walks of life. From traditional media to online blogs, citizens increasingly have the means to expose corruption at their fingertips. As our Youth Writing winner Ugoh Wilson Emenike explained, the battle against corruption starts from within.
Corruption is an endemic disease that affects all sectors of society, meaning that everyone has a role to play in bringing an end to corrupt practices. The Corruption Perceptions Index 2013 has proved that no government can afford to be complacent in the face of corruption.
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