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Corruption Watchdog Says Poor Hardest-Hit By Bribery

A Ukrainian postcard project -- "We are against corruption"
(RFE/RL) -- According to Transparency International's annual "Global Corruption Barometer," bribery is eroding public confidence in many governments and the hardest-hit victims of bribery, even during the current economic crisis, are the poor.

The corruption watchdog's 2009 report says that the private sector in many countries is using bribery to influence public policy, while "the poorest families continue to be punished by petty bribe demands."

The 2009 Barometer is based on responses from more than 73,000 people in 69 countries, a level of participation that Transparency International says "offers the greatest country coverage to date." However, there was no information on Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, or countries in Central Asia.

This year's report shows "a public sobered by a financial crisis precipitated by weak regulations and a lack of corporate accountability."

This is due not only to the lack of government oversight, but also to the questionable practices of banks and other financial institutions over the past several years, according to Miklos Marschall, Transparency International's regional director for Europe and Central Asia.

Privatizing Corruption

Marschall says that people in most countries used to think of bribery primarily as an outgrowth of poor governance. Now, he says, their faith in private enterprises has dropped markedly.

He describes this as an "important message to the private sector," because "people are not only dissatisfied with corruption in the public sector, growingly they recognize the responsibility of the private sector as well."

Half of those surveyed say they believe the private sector in their countries is corrupt and is able to use bribery to manipulate state decisions. The report says this is particularly true in countries of the former Soviet Union, identified in the report as "Newly Independent States."

Activists rallied against corruption in law enforcement in Moscow on June 2.
But as bad as the perception of the private sector is among those polled, "Globally, respondents perceived political parties as the single most corrupt domestic institution."

The report notes regions where small-scale bribery is seen as especially prevalent, and again points to the Newly Independent States. Among the countries listed as "most affected by petty bribery" are Azerbaijan and Armenia, comparable with the findings in Uganda, Cambodia, and Sierra Leone.

According to the Transparency International Barometer, between 23 and 49 percent of those polled in Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Russia list petty bribery as among the biggest problems faced by their countries.

In Armenia and Azerbaijan, Marschall says, corruption among public officials is massive.

"If we ask this very straightforward question, whether you, as a citizen, or your relatives -- have you paid a bribe in the last year? Yes or no? In Azerbaijan, 46 percent said yes. In Armenia, 43 [percent]. The global average is 13 [percent]. So it shows that in both countries, corruption is endemic," Marschall says.

The majority of those surveyed say they believe they have no legal recourse to fight against corruption, including petty bribery. Notably, the report identified the judicial systems in many countries as being just behind the private sector in terms of corruption.

The survey also asked if respondents would be willing to pay more for goods if they could be sure they were buying from corruption-free companies. About half said they would.