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Corruption continues to have a devastating impact on societies and individuals around the world. 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. No government can afford to be complacent. So says the anti-corruption presure group Transparency International (TI) in its latest annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI).
The index, a global indicator of public sector corruption, scores countries on a scale from zero (perceived to be highly corrupt) to 100 (perceived to be very clean). TI says that 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.
TI notes that anti-corruption is an increasingly attractive platform for politicians, with many anti-corruption pledges in election campaigns. It reflects waning public tolerance towards corruption. The danger, however, according to TI, is that these anti-corruption promises fail to materialise. Protests in Brazil in summer 2013 showed public exasperation at the continuation of political scandals in spite of governmental assurances of a zero-tolerance policy on corruption.
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 described by TI as a step in the right direction, but a missed opportunity.
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 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.
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, TI suggests.
Ultimately, TI adds, 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, TI argue.
In Piauí, one of the country’s driest and poorest states, Arimatéia Dantas coordinated the joint efforts of NGOs, trade unions and students 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.