New report finds China has grown more corrupt

Despite China’s public vows to prosecute bribery and shore up government accountability, the nation falls short in its efforts to fight institutionalized corruption, according to Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index released today.

For one thing, bribery in China is legal. By law, an individual can still pay a single bribe to a Chinese public official as long as it’s less than $7,000 USD. For corporations, it’s legal up to $30,000, said Rukshana Nanayakkara, who manages outreach in the Asia Pacific region for Transparency International. That, paired with media reports of public officials going on trial for taking bribes, prevents China from truly uprooting corruption.

“If you want to fight corruption sustainably, you have to look at the systemic issues of why corruption prevails,” Nanayakkara said.

China dropped four points on the index compared to last year, and it ranked 100 out of 175 countries and territories that Transparency International assessed in this year’s report. By comparison, the United States’ ranked 17 on the index. A drop of three points or more is considered significant, Nanayakkara said. Overall, corruption worldwide has remained virtually unchanged, with an average global score of 43 on the index, he said.

“It’s a surprise. It provides a huge message to China and its approach to fighting corruption,” he said.

To develop its index, Transparency International relied on expert opinion and a dozen different data sources, including the African Development Bank, Freedom House and the World Bank. Nations received grades based on several indicators, including how well public officials are held accountable and whether or not a country’s government has “clear procedures and accountability governing the allocation and use of public funds.”

Nations that scored well on the index tend to support greater press freedom, public budgeting processes and economic stability, including several countries within the European Union, Canada and Singapore. The report’s authors advocated that these well-scoring nations should encourage emerging nations to target corruption.

Least Corrupt Countries 2012 SCORE 2013 SCORE 2014 SCORE
Denmark 92 91 90
New Zealand 91 91 90
Finland 89 89 90
Sweden 87 89 88
Norway 86 86 85
Switzerland 86 85 86
Singapore 84 86 87
Netherlands 83 83 84
Luxembourg 82 80 80
Canada 81 81 84

Source: Transparency International

Among nations plagued by poverty and civil unrest, such as Somalia, North Korea and Iraq, corruption tended to spread virtually unchecked. The report’s authors interpreted nations that produce poor scores as “likely a sign of widespread bribery, lack of punishment for corruption and public institutions that don’t respond to citizens’ needs.”

Most Corrupt Countries 2012 SCORE 2013 SCORE 2014 SCORE
Somalia 8 8 8
North Korea 8 8 8
Sudan 11 11 13
Afghanistan 12 8 8
South Sudan 15 14 N/A
Iraq 16 16 18
Turkmenistan 17 17 17
Uzbekistan 18 17 17
Libya 18 15 21
Eritrea 18 20 25

Source: Transparency International

If you want to see how Transparency International assessed other nations this year, search this interactive map, which has nations color-coded to illustrate corruption’s pervasiveness along with each country’s score.

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