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Corruption, And Outrage About It, Is On The Rise

An Indian man takes part in a protest against alleged corruption at a telecom company in New Delhi today.
An Indian man takes part in a protest against alleged corruption at a telecom company in New Delhi today.
Corruption is on the rise in many countries, but so is the number of people willing to report incidents of it, according to a new report by the watchdog group Transparency International (TI).

The group released its 2010 Global Corruption Barometer to coincide with International Anticorruption Day today. It contains a mix of discouraging and hopeful news about the level of corruption in 86 countries.

Unlike the group's annual Corruption Perception Index, this new report surveyed 91,000 people in an attempt to measure ordinary citizens' experiences with things like demands for petty bribes in everything from the government to hospitals, police to housing, and schools to courts.

Sixty percent of people surveyed said they believe corruption has increased over the last three years. TI's regional director for Europe and Central Asia, Miklos Marschall, said one-quarter of those surveyed said they had been a victim of corruption.

"The bad news is that corruption is getting worse," Marschall said. "Globally, more than 60 percent of our respondents said so. Corruption is increasing; corruption has increased in the last three years. The other damaging news is that 25 percent of all those people we asked in the 86 countries, 25 percent of them paid a bribe last year. So that is really not terribly good news."

Police And Judiciary

The police rank as the most corrupt officials in the countries surveyed, with almost 30 percent of respondents saying they gave a bribe to a police officer in the last 12 months -- more than twice the number who said so in 2006. Authorities who hand out licenses and permits were also named as a highly corrupt group.

Corruption within the judiciary is also getting worse, the report found.

People living in Afghanistan, India, Iraq, and sub-Saharan Africa reported paying the highest number of petty bribes -- more than half had done so in the past year. Around one-third of people living in the NIS (Newly Independent States) countries (in this report, that refers to Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Mongolia, Russia, and Ukraine) reported paying a bribe; 20 percent of Balkan citizens did so; while 5 percent of people living in EU states and North America did.

Most people said they cooperated with corrupt authorities for the same reason, Marschall said.

"When we asked people why they paid a bribe, most of them answered that they paid bribes to avoid problems with authorities," Marschall said.

'Regressive Tax'

The report also found that corruption takes a huge toll on poor people. TI chairwoman Huguette Labelle called it "a regressive tax" and an "injustice [that] must be addressed."

When it comes to their own government's efforts against corruption, most citizens reported not being impressed.

The exceptions were in the United States and most NIS countries, where citizens said they believed the government was having an effect against corruption.

Marschall said the group was surprised to learn that political parties are the least-trusted groups in many countries. Some 80 percent of respondents said they believed such organizations are "deeply corrupt."

Encouragingly, the survey found a healthy level of outrage over corruption, with more people than ever saying they would be willing to stand up and report incidents to authorities.

"More people are now ready to fight against corruption. More people believe that, actually, he or she can make a difference," Marschall said. "Seventy percent of all our respondents told us that they are ready now to report on corruption if they come across such a case, so that is definitely good news."

However, that number drops in half if the person is a victim of corruption.

'Reason For Hope'

Still, Marschall said the awareness of the problem and outrage is a "reason for hope." Eliminating the deep-rooted practice requires public frustration as much as government action, he said.

"Fighting corruption is not possible without pressure from the population. It takes a combination of a top-down and bottom-up approach," Marschall said. "We need enlightened political leaders who have the will for reform, but also we need very strong pressure from the people that enough is enough and they want changes.

"Where you have more or less free media and more or less free space for civil society, that pressure can be channeled and that can lead to reforms."

As the group's chairwoman, Labelle, put it: "The message from the 2010 Barometer is that corruption is insidious; it makes people lose faith. The good news is that people are ready to act."

written by Heather Maher in Washington and Antoine Blua in Prague
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