Political populism risks undermining the global fight against corruption, Transparency International (TI) warned this morning as it unveiled its 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The annual report uses a number of different data points to rank countries from most to least transparent. Denmark, New Zealand and Finland were the most transparent nations on the planet last year, while war-ravaged Somalia, South Sudan and secretive North Korea were the most corrupt, according to the index.
More countries’ scores declined rather than improved in 2016, according to TI, which warned populism is not the answer to worsening institutionalised corruption and social inequality.
Sixty-nine percent of the 176 countries included in the index last year scored below 50 on a scale of zero to 100, where zero meant the country was perceived to be highly corrupt, and 100 meant a nation was perceived to be very clean.
TI notes that a global failure to tackle corruption is driving voters to populist politicians who promise to shake up the system and “drain the swamp”. The watchdog warns that the rise of divisive figures such as new US President Donald Trump will be more likely to exacerbate the problem rather than solve it.
“In countries with populist or autocratic leaders, we often see democracies in decline and a disturbing pattern of attempts to crack down on civil society, limit press freedom, and weaken the independence of the judiciary,” commented TI Chair José Ugaz.
“Instead of tackling crony capitalism, those leaders usually install even worse forms of corrupt systems. Only where there is freedom of expression, transparency in all political processes and strong democratic institutions, can civil society and the media hold those in power to account and corruption be fought successfully.”
The anti-graft organisation observed that the index scores of Turkey and Hungary, which have both witnessed the rise of autocratic leaders, have dropped in recent years. Conversely, Argentina has seen its score start to improve after the ouster of a populist government in the South American country.
Regionally, the index showed few drastic changes in Europe and Central Asia, but TI was quick to point out that this did not mean corruption had become less of a problem in the countries that fall into this area.
Ukraine, which is regularly namechecked as one of the most corrupt countries in Europe, posted a minor improvement of two points to its score last year, but still only managed to achieve 29 out of 100, on a par with countries such as Kazakhstan, Russia, Nepal and Iran.
The UK maintained its 10th spot on the index, but TI warned that Britain’s reputation for transparency could take a hit if the country’s standards are allowed to fall after Brexit.
Robert Barrington, UK Executive Director of TI, said: “Already, the uncertainty posed by Brexit has the potential to encourage a ‘business at any cost’ trade strategy; such an approach would be a disaster for UK’s long-term reputation as a leading anti-corruption player.”