Prague, 20 October 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The index is all about perceptions -- how corrupt a country's politicians and public officials are perceived to be.
And judging by the results, released yesterday, it is not a pretty picture.
Transparency International says corruption is rampant in nearly half the countries it surveyed. Sixty countries scored less than 3 against a "perfect score" of 10.
And many, as usual, are in Eastern and Central Europe and Central Asia.
"I'm afraid to say there is no good news to report on Central Asia," said Miklos Marschall, Transparency International's regional director for Europe and Central Asia. "The scores are very low, as in the past. They are in very much the bottom part of the ranking. Azerbaijan taking the place of 140, in the company of Tajikistan and Turkmenistan. What is even worse is the trend is also downward. Last year, Uzbekistan was 2.4, this year it is 2.3. If we look at Kazakhstan, which is a key oil-rich country, last year it was 2.4, this year it had 2.2."
Also ranking near the bottom are Moldova (2.3), Ukraine (2.2), and Georgia (2.0).
"The only slight positive development you can see is Russia, which is almost insignificant, but at least the trend is the other way around." -- Miklos Marschall, Transparency International's regional director for Europe and Central Asia
Marschall said Russia and Tajikistan made slight improvements -- but nothing to cheer about: "The only slight positive development you can see is Russia, which is almost insignificant, but at least the trend is the other way around. Last year, it scored 2.7, now it scores 2.8. Or Tajikistan -- last year, it scored 1.8, this time 2.0. Nevertheless, in a scale from 10 to 0, these are pretty devastating scores, and they show us that this region in general and these countries in particular still face enormous problems in terms of corruption."
It's not just Eastern Europe and Central Asia, of course -- the watchdog says corruption is rampant in 60 countries around the world.
It says public contracting is plagued by bribery, and that corruption is a pernicious problem in oil-rich countries.
That's because the oil sector offers the perfect conditions for corruption to thrive, according to Jeremy Carver of Transparency's London office.
"The oil sector is one where access to very considerable revenue, dependent on one source which is state controlled, are ideal conditions for corruption to be maintained, particularly where there is very little democratic input and where it is possible to divert very easily these valuable resources into people's pockets," Carver said.
It's called the "natural resource curse." Oil wealth should mean better standards of living for ordinary people. But instead, all too often, the money enriches a few and the poor see little or no benefit.
"Just look at Nigeria, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and in our region, you just look at Azerbaijan [1.9] and Kazakhstan [2.2]," Marschall said. "That is really a very serious global issue. These countries that have so much potential for economic development, because of these rent-seeking elite that have captured the economy, they are not making the progress they would deserve."
Transparency International continues to call on oil companies to "publish what they pay" to governments in order to promote accountability.
The campaign has been going on for several years and has gathered some momentum -- it now has the backing of mainly European oil companies.
But Marschall said progress has been too slow.
(The full Transparency International report can be found at http://www.transparency.org)