HSE University Anti-Corruption Portal
Corruption Perceptions Index 2021

Transparency International (TI), an international not-for-profit organisation, has released the Corruption Perceptions Index 2021 (CPI).

The research covers 180 countries and shows that most of them, as in the previous years, have not made any significant progress: roughly 68% of countries score below 50 points out of possible 100 with the average score for all countries at only 43 points, like in the previous year.

Furthermore, 27 jurisdictions are at record lows for the past decade: for example, Australia that was ranked 7th in 2012 is now 18th, Canada has dropped from the 9th to the 13th place, Slovenia from 37th to 41st, and Cyprus form 29th to 52nd.

The best results, as usual, were achieved by Denmark, Finland and New Zealand that have scored 88 out of 100. Besides them, the top ten include Norway, Singapore and Sweden with 85 points, Switzerland (84), the Netherlands (82), Luxembourg (81) and Germany (80).

However, the researchers highlight that many countries that have the highest scores in the ranking in fact face serious challenges in countering corruption: these jurisdictions often serve as “safe havens” for concealing the proceeds of unlawful activities, including corruption, and do not take appropriate measures to counter transnational corruption or even stimulate it in certain cases.

The bottom countries in the 2021 ranking are South Sudan (11 points), Syria and Somalia (13), Venezuela (14), Yemen, North Korea and Afghanistan (16), Libya and Equatorial Guinea (17), and Turkmenistan (19).

Russia has scored 29 points (one point less than in the previous year) and is placed 136th, at the same level as Angola, Liberia and Mali.

In addition to the general ranking, TI has also released separate papers on six regions:

1. The Americas. Despite the long record of anti-corruption legislation in this region, any statistically significant improvements in corruption perceptions have not been registered in the Americas over the last three years.

In 2021, many countries of the region (Brazil, Venezuela, El Salvador, Guatemala and Colombia) systematically violated human rights, including the rights of journalists and activists, and the freedom of speech. Some countries of the region lack transparency in public decision-making: in particular, the researchers mention non-transparent procurement in Argentina, an increasingly opaque campaign finance system in the United States, the blocking of access to public information and the lack of accountability for state bodies in Venezuela. Moreover, the research shows that corruption perceptions are at an all-time low in Central America: Nicaragua has fallen nine points in the ranking, and Guatemala eight points.

2. Western Europe and the European Union. In spite of the fact that the European countries still top the ranking, the progress in countering corruption that the respondents have registered over the last years has notably slowed down primarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic that jeopardizes transparency and accountability across the region. In particular, a lot of violations in often fast-track public procurement procedures undermined public trust in authorities. Some countries of the region were involved in international corruption scandals: in particular, they were either mentioned in the Pandora Papers or implicated in selling “golden passports”. Other countries, such as Poland and Hungary have backslid to authoritarianism and have adopted a number of provisions that considerably restrict human rights and hamper the independence of all branches of power.

3. Eastern Europe and Central Asia. The authors of the research stress that COVID-19 was used as a smokescreen to introduce numerous provisions and restrictions to suppress the freedom of speech: for example, Azerbaijan’s authorities had been using Pegasus software to spy on investigative journalists and human rights activists; according to TI, Russia’s authorities used the pandemic as a pretext to ban all mass gatherings and apply restrictions to so-called “single pickets. Even Kyrgyzstan, once known as the island of democracy in a region of autocracies, has used pandemic measures to obstruct the work of journalists and curtail the freedom of assembly. In certain countries of the region (Belarus, Albania) physical violence was used against citizens in rallies and public assemblies gathered also in protest against corruption and ineffective measures to counter it.

4. Asia Pacific. Despite the continuous populist slogans and certain achievements (notable effectiveness in countering bribery for public services, decline in petty corruption), the problem of grand corruption in the countries of the region remains acute. What is more, new forms of corruption have started to emerge in some of them: the TI researchers highlight that in China, for instance, high-level officials use their powers to redistribute formerly state-owned assets to themselves and politically-connected firms. The experts are also concerned about the attitude of the countries of the region to human rights, including the rights of journalists and activists: the inability of the latter to freely conduct their activities hampers the detection and public disclosure of corrupt practices.

5. Sub-Saharan Africa. The countries of the region consistently demonstrate no significant progress in countering corruption: the achievements of some countries that have improved their positioning in the 2021 ranking are overshadowed by backsliding or stagnation in the others, as well as by poor performance of the region as a whole. In addition to the consequences of the pandemic, the negative corruption perceptions in the region are nurtured by protracted armed conflicts and rising terrorist threats. As a consequence, governments have limited information and cracked down on the NGOs that expose corruption and abuse of functions. In certain countries of the region the TI experts register widespread impunity of high-ranking officials involved in corruption crimes (Botswana, Liberia).

6. Middle East and North Africa. The countries of the region have not made any considerable progress in corruption perceptions either. This is primarily due to the tense political and military situation (armed conflicts in Syria, Libya and Yemen), widespread systemic political misconduct, and assaults on the freedom of speech and assembly. Even the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar, the CPI 2021 top-performing countries in the region, have weathered major transnational scandals: the Pandora Papers investigations revealed the use of offshore accounts by the Emir of Qatar and the country’s former prime minister, alongside the UAE’s vice president and prime minister; besides the gaps highlighted by the Financial Action Task Force in both Qatar’s and UAE’s anti-money-laundering frameworks, these have cemented their reputations as hotspots for proceeds of corruption.

For reference: the TI Corruption Perceptions Index is released annually and is one of the most well-known anti-corruption research initiatives.

The CPI is based on expert assessments and surveys of business executives and is designed to indicate the level of corruption perceptions in the public sector. TI does not carry out its own surveys but uses 13 different external sources (such as the World Bank Group, the World Economic Forum, the Asian and African Development Banks and the like), whose results are customized according to the single point system of assessment. TI uses a 100-point system of assessment, where 100 points mean the lowest level of corruption, according to the respondents, whereas 0 stands for highly corrupt. Based on the findings of the survey, countries are ranked in accordance with the overall score they got. It should be highlighted that the CPI, like most other rankings measuring the level of corruption, has a number of flaws, which we have already written about (in Russian).

Corruption measurement
Civil society

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