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Transparency Campaigner Warns Corruption Could Slow Recovery In Fragile Countries

Transparency International has just released its annual index of corruption in countries across the globe. The Corruption Perceptions Index 2009 finds that high levels of corruption in some countries could slow international efforts to help them cope with, or recover, from the global economic crisis. We speak with Jana Mittermaier, head of Transparency International's Brussels office, to learn more. RFE/RL correspondent Charles Recknagel conducts the interview.

RFE/RL: This year's annual report on perceived corruption levels in 180 countries comes at a time when there are growing signs that the global economic crisis is easing. But you warn that high levels of corruption in some states could slow international efforts to help their people cope with, or recover, from the economic downturn. Would you elaborate?

Jana Mittermaier: What is worrying for us is that the vast majority of the 180 countries that are included in the list scored below five out of the possible 10 points. And this is very worrying in a lot of countries, for example, fragile and instable countries like Afghanistan, Myanmar, Sudan, or Iraq. If you imagine that in a time of economic recovery, when massive stimulus packages are floating around and aid is supplied by various donors and investors to various countries, that actually in some regions of the world and some countries of the world good governance is really blocked by corruption.

RFE/RL: Are there any areas where the index shows some improvement in fighting corruption?

Mittermaier: It was actually surprising that in the former Soviet Union many countries showed improved scores this year. In particular, Kazakhstan, Georgia, Russia -- Russia only slightly -- Azerbaijan, those are the countries among the former Soviet Union countries that really improved. The reasons for this could be that countries, and governments in particular, came to the conclusion that anticorruption efforts really pay off when trying to please donors on their conditions for foreign direct investment....

And in particular when I look to Georgia, for example, we do have a situation where petty corruption decreased significantly. However, those countries still are not high scorers on our list, they still have widespread corruption. Only because petty corruption is reduced does not mean that all the high-level corruption cases or worries are resolved already. And with regards to Russia and its slim increase from 2.1 to 2.2 (a slightly improved score in fighting corruption) this could really be interpreted as a very mild positive response to the newly adopted anticorruption package of President Medvedev.

RFE/RL: How does Transparency International collect its data as it rates counties according to how much corruption is perceived to exist there?

Mittermaier: The corruption perception index is a composite index. It is basically a poll of polls and what we do is we draw on corruption related data from 17 expert and business surveys that are carried out independently from one another and by reputable institutions. And the results of those 17 expert and business surveys are consolidated by Transparency International.

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