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East: Many Former Soviet States Rank Low on Corruption Perception Index

  • Andrew Tully

Transparency International -- a private organization advocating the fight against corruption -- has released its annual Corruption Perception Index. The document reports on how businesses and individuals rate corruption in 91 countries around the world. The latest index shows that former Soviet republics are still viewed as being very corrupt. Our correspondent Andrew F. Tully reports.

Washington, 28 June 2001 (RFE/RL) -- A private advocacy group says the governments of many former Soviet states are hurting their countries' prospects for economic development by not strengthening their fight against corruption.

This assessment was made by Frank Vogl, the vice chairman of Transparency International, or TI. Since 1996, the organization has issued annual assessments of corruption -- including the giving and receiving of bribes -- in nations around the world.

Vogl made his comments during a news conference on 27 June in Washington, where TI announced the release of its latest annual survey rating and ranking 91 of the world's 200 sovereign nations. He explained that the survey -- known as the Corruption Perception Index, or CPI -- is really a survey of 14 different polls by seven independent survey-research companies.

According to Vogl, the surveys compiled by TI calculate the perceptions of corruption held by a nation's residents and by companies doing business in that nation. He said the perception of corruption may not always be absolutely accurate, but he stressed that publishing these indexes stimulates public debate on fighting corruption in a given country.

Vogl said these rankings often serve as warnings to foreign businesses that they should not invest in countries with poor CPI ratings.

Based on these surveys, each country is given a score ranging from zero -- utter corruption -- to 10 -- virtually corruption-free. The country with the highest ranking in the 2001 CPI is Finland, with a score of 9.9. The country with the lowest score is Bangladesh, with a score of 0.4.

Of the countries of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the highest-rated country on the CPI is Estonia, ranked number 28 with a score of 5.6. It is followed closely by Hungary, with a ranking of 31 and a score of 5.3, then Slovenia, ranked 34 with a score of 5.2

Very near the bottom of the CPI list is Azerbaijan, ranked number 84 out of 91 countries with a score of 2.0. Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan are both given a ranking of 71 with identical CPI scores of 2.7. Russia has a ranking of 79, with a score of 2.3, and Ukraine ranked 83rd, with a score of 2.1

Vogl emphasized that it is important not to take the rankings as seriously as the score of each country. He noted that all countries ranked below number 46 have scores of less than 4. In the latest index, several lower-ranked countries show improvements in their scores, and occasionally improvements of their rankings, over last year's CPI.

Still, he told the news conference that any country with a score below 4 has little to boast about. He used Ukraine as an example:

"Ukraine has gone up this year compared to last year by 0.6, so, i.e., it's gone from 1.5 to 2.1. That is still a desperately, desperately low score."

In an interview with RFE/RL after the news briefing, Vogl addressed corruption in Central Asia. He said international businesses with money to invest view the five nations in that region -- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan -- as highly corrupt. Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyzstan are formally listed in Transpency International's Corruption Perception Index. He said these countries are rich in raw materials that need foreign investment to develop them.

"In order to develop them properly, they're going to need foreign capital. If they don't improve the perceptions of corruption -- which is part of a broader issue of governance and transparency in governance and accountability in governance and honoring of the rule of law when it comes to contracts -- then they're not going to get the investment they need to help their people develop and grow and socially advance."

According to Vogl, the blame for this lies squarely with the leadership in Central Asia. He said they restrict the kind of public discourse that prompts citizens to demand reform, and they control their countries' legal systems that are supposed to punish corruption.

"You simply do not have leaders at the very top of the government who allow a sufficiently strong free press, who allow full and free public debate of all public policies, who allow transparency in government tendering, who allow an independent judiciary and a strong, independent office of public prosecution."

Vogl did not limit his criticism to Central Asia. He said the same is true of Azerbaijan, a former Soviet republic in the Caucasus, as well as Ukraine and Russia. He says their scores show that there is little difference between these states and those in Central Asia.

"These are basically minor statistical differences. These are all scores that are incredibly low, which means -- put it another way -- that they are all scores that suggest very, very high levels of perceived corruption in all of these countries."

During the news conference, Nancy Boswell, the managing director of Transparency International's U.S. office, argued against the view of some observers that corruption is what is called a "victimless crime" -- one that suits the purposes of both those who pay bribes and those who receive them, for example, and harms no one.

But Boswell and Vogl said corruption in countries with a large population of poor people -- whether in Africa or in Russia -- has many victims. Vogl said this humanitarian problem is most noticeable in the area of health care. He said money meant for hospitals too often is stolen by a country's leaders, leaving the poor without essential medical attention.

Boswell said Transparency International can take some satisfaction that greater numbers of corrupt officials are either being driven from power and even sent to prison for their crimes. But she said more needs to be done, and that must begin with a frank public dialogue about the problems of corruption in every nation.

(More information on all 91 countries ranked is available at http://www.transparency.org)

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