The COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis and growing security threats across the globe are fuelling a new wave of uncertainty. In an already unstable world, countries failing to address their corruption problems worsen the effects.
This year’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) reveals that 124 countries have stagnant corruption levels, while the number of countries in decline is increasing. This has the most serious consequences, as global peace is deteriorating and corruption is both a key cause and result of this.
How do countries measure up on corruption in the public sector?Corruption Perceptions Index 2022
Corruption and conflict feed each other and threaten durable peace. On one hand, conflict creates a breeding ground for corruption – political instability, increased pressure on resources and weakened oversight bodies create opportunities for crimes, such as bribery and embezzlement.
Unsurprisingly, most countries at the bottom of the CPI are currently experiencing armed conflict or have recently done so.
On the other hand, even in peaceful societies, corruption and impunity can spill over into violence by fuelling social grievances. And siphoning off resources needed by security agencies leaves states unable to protect the public and uphold the rule of law. Consequently, countries with higher levels of corruption are more likely to also exhibit higher levels of organised crime and increased security threats.
In this complex environment, fighting corruption, promoting transparency and strengthening institutions are critical to avoid further conflict and sustain peace.
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Highlights from the index
The Index ranks 180 countries and territories by their perceived levels of public sector corruption according to experts and businesspeople. It relies on 13 independent data sources and uses a scale of zero to 100, where zero is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean.
More than two-thirds of countries (68 per cent) score below 50 and the average global score remains unchanged at 43. Since 2012, 25 countries significantly improved their scores, but in the same period 31 countries significantly declined.
The CPI uses a scale of 0 to 100
Top and bottom performers
Countries with strong institutions and well-functioning democracies often find themselves at the top of the Index. Denmark heads the ranking, with a score of 90. Finland and New Zealand follow closely with a score of 87. Norway (84), Singapore (83), Sweden (83), Switzerland (82), the Netherlands (80), Germany (79), Ireland (77) and Luxembourg (77) complete the top 10 this year.
On the flip side, countries experiencing conflict or where basic personal and political freedoms are highly restricted tend to earn the lowest marks. This year, Somalia (12), Syria (13), and South Sudan (13) are at the bottom of the index. Venezuela (14), Yemen (16), Libya (17), North Korea (17), Haiti (17), Equatorial Guinea (17) and Burundi (17) are also in the bottom 10.
What has changed?
All in all, the CPI shows that corruption levels have stagnated or worsened in 86 per cent of countries over the last decade.
CPI Score Changes, 2012-2022
In the past five years, only eight countries have significantly improved their scores, and 10 countries have dropped significantly, including high-ranking countries such as Austria (71), Luxembourg (77) and the United Kingdom (73).
Most Significant Five-Year Movers
Conflict, security and corruption
Corruption is a fundamental threat to peace and security. It has been shown time and again that corruption is not only a consequence but also a cause of conflict, fuelling it in several ways. Corruption generates new grievances in society, or drives existing ones, by undermining defence and security institutions, and by eroding state legitimacy.
It can also enable a country’s elites to exert illegitimate influence, sow instability and undermine government institutions abroad as a way of securing favourable outcomes. The use of corruption as a foreign policy weapon has also become a way to undermine democracy abroad.
Diverting public resources away from the common good to benefit special interest groups can cause popular discontent. The resulting grievances are particularly likely to lead to conflict when they coincide with disparities in the distribution of political and economic power along ethnic or other group lines. Corruption, exclusion and outright discrimination increase the risk of outbreaks of violence and make them harder to control once they erupt.
Corruption has made our world a more dangerous place. As governments have collectively failed to make progress against it, they fuel the current rise in violence and conflict – and endanger people everywhere. The only way out is for states to do the hard work, rooting out corruption at all levels to ensure governments work for all people, not just an elite few.
Corruption weakens the state’s capacity to protect its citizens. The misuse or theft of public funds can deprive institutions responsible for ensuring security of the resources they need. Our analysis shows that weak law enforcement and defence institutions make it harder for a state to secure control of its territory and prevent violent threats, including terrorism.
Corruption was central to the failure of the international effort to establish peace and security in Afghanistan (24). It undermined the legitimacy and capability of the Afghan government, hollowed out the Afghan military, and channelled resources to and strengthened popular support for the Taliban.
Corruption and security threats
Source: Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2022 and the Fund for Peace Fragile States Index
With the military firmly entrenched in power after its 2021 coup, Myanmar dropped five points this year to 23. The governing powers are maintaining control by closely monitoring activists and dissenters after criminalising any actions seen as countering the government shortly after the coup. They also heavily censor information released to the public, allowing people access to just 1,200 government-approved websites.
Mali’s (28) CPI score has declined seven points since 2015. While corruption is not necessarily an active driver of the conflict, the divisions behind the violence have been reinforced over years of mismanagement and indifference to the plight of certain groups in Malian society. The grievances that jihadists have proved adept at exploiting stem largely from corruption, which has also prevented the state from providing security in all parts of its territory.
Iran’s score on the CPI has been stagnant at its historical minimum of 25 for the past three years. Tensions in the country had been building as a result of the economic crisis, the impact of international sanctions and grievances over corruption. The death of Mahsa Amini in September 2022 ignited the largest protests that the country has seen in years. The government’s violent response has resulted in over 450 civilian casualties.
Impunity and organised crime
Corruption fuels impunity and undermines state legitimacy. By affecting the operation of law enforcement agencies, the courts and the prison system, corruption weakens the rule of law and the basic principle of equality before the law. Criminals are often aided by the complicity of corrupt public officials, police officers, prosecutors and judges, which allows them to operate with impunity. Where corruption levels are high, money and influence may decide which cases are prioritised or dismissed, who gets punished and who gets to walk free.
This a major enabling factor of organised crime and terrorism. It also causes loss of trust in the state, which means people report crime and violence less – making it difficult to address these problems. It also threatens governments’ ability to mediate conflict or negotiate lasting peace.
Corruption and resilience to organised crime
Source: Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2022 and the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime
Democratic Republic of the Congo
With a score of 20, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of the 15 most corrupt countries in the world. The unstable political context and deeply embedded corruption facilitate the activities of illegal armed groups. Poorly governed defence and security forces struggle to contend with such challenges and the corruption that robs them of resources undermines the state’s response.
Serbia (36) reached its all-time lowest score on the CPI this year. It has been slow in addressing organised crime, and responsible institutions are still lacking adequate resourcing and independence. Serbia’s judiciary is heavily influenced by political players, severely undermining progress in organised crime cases, including those pointing to high-level officials’ involvement.
What needs to be done
Dealing with the threats that corruption poses to peace and security must be a core business of political leaders. Prioritising transparency, oversight and the full, meaningful engagement of civil society, governments should:
- Reinforce checks and balances, and promote separation of powers. Anti-corruption agencies and oversight institutions must have sufficient resources and independence to perform their duties. Governments should strengthen institutional controls to manage corruption risks in defence and security, as identified in the Government Defence Integrity Index (GDI).
- Share information and uphold the right to access it. Ensure the public receives accessible, timely and meaningful information, including on public spending and resource distribution. There must be rigorous and clear guidelines for withholding sensitive information, including in the defence sector.
- Limit private influence by regulating lobbying and promoting open access to decision-making. Policies and resources should be determined by fair and public processes. Measures such as establishing mandatory public registers of lobbyists, enabling public scrutiny of lobbying interactions and enforcing strong conflict of interest regulations are essential.
- Combat transnational forms of corruption. Top-scoring countries need to clamp down on corporate secrecy, foreign bribery and complicit professional enablers, such as bankers and lawyers. They must also take advantage of new ways of working together to ensure that illicit assets can be effectively traced, investigated, confiscated and returned to the victims.