This year’s Corruption Perceptions Index reveals that the continued failure of most countries to significantly control corruption is contributing to a crisis in democracy around the world.
Corruption chips away at democracy to produce a vicious cycle, where corruption undermines democratic institutions and, in turn, weak institutions are less able to control corruption
The index, which ranks 180 countries and territories by their perceived levels of public sector corruption according to experts and businesspeople, uses a scale of zero to 100, where zero is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean.
More than two-thirds of countries score below 50 on this year’s CPI, with an average score of just 43.
While there are exceptions, the data shows that despite some progress, most countries are failing to make serious inroads against corruption.
The top countries are Denmark and New Zealand with scores of 88 and 87, respectively. The bottom countries are Somalia, Syria and South Sudan with scores of 10, 13 and 13, respectively.
While no country earns a perfect score on the CPI, countries that tend to do best also protect democratic rights and values.
In the last seven years, only 20 countries significantly improved their CPI scores, including Estonia, Senegal, Guyana and Côte D’Ivoire.
Equally troubling, 16 countries significantly decreased their scores, including Australia, Chile, Malta, Hungary and Turkey.
This year, further research analysis shows a disturbing link between corruption and the health of democracies, where countries with higher rates of corruption also have weaker democratic institutions and political rights.
There are no full democracies that score below 50 on the CPI. Similarly, very few countries which have autocratic characteristics score higher than 50.
Exemplifying this trend, the CPI scores for Hungary and Turkeydecreased by eight and nine points respectively over the last six years. At the same time, Turkey was downgraded from "partly free" to "not free" by Freedom House, while Hungary registered its lowest score for political rights since the fall of communism in 1989.
These ratings reflect the deterioration of rule of law and democratic institutions, as well as a rapidly shrinking space for civil society and independent media, in those countries.
Our research makes a clear link between having a healthy democracy and successfully fighting public sector corruption. Corruption is much more likely to flourish where democratic foundations are weak and, as we have seen in many countries, where undemocratic and populist politicians can use it to their advantage.
Delia Ferreira Rubio, chair of Transparency International
Throughout the world, political leaders who run on a populist platform are gaining power and undermining democracy. High corruption rates can contribute to increased support for populist candidates.
With a score of 71, the United Stateslost four points since last year, dropping out of the top 20 countries on the CPI for the first time since 2011. The low score comes at a time when the US is experiencing threats to its system of checks and balances as well as an erosion of ethical norms at the highest levels of power.
Brazil dropped two points since last year to 35, also earning its lowest CPI score in seven years. Alongside promises to end corruption, the country’s new president has made it clear that he will rule with a strong hand, threatening many of the democratic milestones achieved to date.
With a score of 59, the Czech Republic increased two points since 2017 and eight points since 2014. However, events in the past year suggest gains may be fragile. The prime minister has been found guilty of conflict of interest in relation to his media holdings and accused of another conflict of interest over connections to a company that has received millions of euros in EU subsidies.
TROUBLE AT THE TOP
Even top scoring countries like Denmark are not immune to corruption. While the CPI shows the Danish public sector to be one of the cleanest in the world, corruption still exists, as seen with recent scandals involving Danske Bank.