Transparency International released its annual Corruption Perceptions Index today. The survey includes some 133 countries and pinpoints corruption hot spots around the world -- and places where graft is not a huge concern.
Prague, 7 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Just how corrupt are public officials?
That might be an easy question to answer for the millions of people around the world who have to pay bribes for everything from health care to education. But it's difficult to answer accurately if you have to rely on hard data, such as the number of corruption prosecutions or court cases.
That's why Transparency International, an international organization that fights corruption, issues an annual survey based on perceptions -- that is, how corrupt a country's politicians and public officials are perceived to be by businesspeople, analysts, and residents.
Its latest Corruption Perceptions Index, released today, shows the Nordic countries Finland and Iceland once again have the cleanest bills of health, scoring close to the maximum of 10 points.
Miklos Marschall, the organization's executive director for Central and Eastern Europe, says there's been some improvement in the more economically advanced countries of his region.
"Countries like Slovenia [5.9], Estonia [5.5], Hungary [4.8], Lithuania [4.7] are relatively all right," Marschall says. "It doesn't mean they are not facing serious corruption issues. Nevertheless, they are the front-runners in terms of improving economic conditions. Lithuania has shown some improvement. All the Baltic countries -- Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia [3.8], although Latvia is still facing severe problems -- are getting somewhat better. Very slowly, but there is definitely an improvement."
Belarus (4.2), although it showed noticeable worsening, actually scores higher than Bulgaria (3.9) or the Czech Republic (3.9). Marschall says this is deceptive.
The index measures corruption, not democracy, he says. And it's corruption in the narrow sense -- how often a businessman has to pay a bribe to get a license, for example. That might mean countries with more state control over their economies score higher than ones with freer markets.
"Actually, we have been having some debates internally whether we should include Belarus in the CPI [Corruption Perceptions Index] in the future because this is to some extent like comparing pears with apples. Obviously, the Czech Republic or any other countries with much freer marketplaces and much higher levels of freedom in the economy score worse, because with freedom [comes many] more opportunities for corruption," Marschall said.
This year's index is the biggest ever, drawing on 17 surveys of businesspeople and analysts in 133 countries.
Marschall says some nations are included for the first time, like Bosnia (3.3) and Croatia (3.7). He says they can take some solace from their rankings, even though they scored poorly.
"The fact that there are surveys on those countries shows that the international business community started doing business with those countries, and that is good news, indeed, because that can mean a stronger outside pressure on those governments to do much more to combat corruption," Marschall said.
At the bottom of the heap are some familiar names: Ukraine (2.3), Kyrgyzstan (2.1), Georgia (1.8), and Tajikistan (1.8). And Marschall says his organization is concerned that some of the worst performers are oil-rich countries.
"In overall terms, we have to say that there is not much improvement. We are deeply concerned about oil-rich countries in the post-communist region, like Azerbaijan (1.8) and Kazakhstan (2.4). They don't score very well, and there is hardly any improvement," Marschall said.
The reason they're worried is simple. In theory, at least, ordinary people should be able to share in the oil wealth of their country. Too often, such wealth has merely lined the pockets of governing elites.
That's why Transparency International is calling on international oil companies to publish what they pay to governments and state oil companies around the world.
"The information available will enable [nongovernmental organizations] in those countries to put pressure on those governments, ask them where did the millions of dollars go that they received from these oil companies? That's important in the oil-rich countries in our region," says Marschall. "The notable examples are Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan."
The "publish-what-you-pay" campaign has gathered some momentum. Earlier this year, the G-8 group of rich countries called for greater transparency from oil and mining companies and the governments receiving their payments.
But so far, such disclosures are voluntary. And Diarmid O'Sullivan of Global Witness, which is spearheading the campaign, says that's not good enough.
"The problem is that the countries where governments are least responsible are not likely to be responsive to a voluntary approach, so it may mean we do have to push for mandatory measures to oblige companies and governments to disclose," O'Sullivan said.
Marschall says often there is some will to beat corruption, even in the countries with the worst records. He says his organization is eager to help those seriously intent on tackling the rot. It has policy recommendations on everything from conflict-of-interest rules to public procurement procedures.
(The full report can be found at www.transparency.org)