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What’s at stake when corruption looms unchecked

More countries worldwide gained ground in their fight against corruption than lost footing last year, but a new index for 2015 says there is still a long way to go.

In 2015, Denmark topped the Corruption Perceptions Index, which was released today by the Transparency International. That means Denmark is widely viewed as the world’s least corrupt nation, a spot the Scandinavian country has held for four years in a row. Finland and Sweden followed. The United States ranked in 16th place on the index.

In the U.S. and across Western Europe, corruption often is not as blatant as a government official who demands a bribe, but it remains a problem, says Finn Heinrich, research director for Transparency International in Berlin.

He pointed to the Volkswagen emissions scandal in his native Germany and debate about gun control efforts despite widespread gun violence in the United States as examples of how corruption takes shape in more developed countries.

“This is, in our view, the corrupting influence of money in politics,” Heinrich said.

Elsewhere, corruption stems development, he said. Places that people perceive as the most corrupt among the index’s 169 countries included Afghanistan, North Korea and finally Somalia. And corruption shares a strong relationship with economic development and gross domestic product.

Heinrich explained that on this side of the index are nations “where the fight against corruption is not taken seriously, or even worse, where the leaders of those countries start to shrink the space for citizens to express themselves and hold public officials to account.”

Nations that have shed light successfully on corruption in recent years, such as Chile and Senegal, “just get the basics right,” he explained.

“Prosecuting the big fish — that shouldn’t be underestimated about what message it sends to public officials and citizens who have to pay bribes,” Heinrich said.

No matter where on the globe it unfolds, “corruption takes place where power remains unchecked,” he said.

Corruption also is a difficult behavior to track, precisely for what it is — misbehavior often done in secret that sidesteps rules and morals.

For more than two decades, Transparency International has released its Corruption Perceptions Index, which scores countries on a scale of 0 to 100, or very corrupt to corruption-free.

Researchers build the index based on responses from a dozen surveys from nearly as many institutions that include the World Bank, Freedom House, World Economic Forum, African Development Bank and more. In many cases, survey respondents are economists and top regional experts, creating a point of criticism that the index yields to an elite bias over the years.

Does the Corruption Perceptions Index fully illustrate how corrupt a nation might be? Transparency International’s own methodology for the index answers that question with a flat-out “No.”

“The CPI is limited in scope, capturing perceptions of the extent of corruption in the public sector from the perspective of business people and country experts,” the organization says of its 2015 index. In recent years, the organization has introduced several measurements of corruption to more fully capture what shady dealings in public service and government, in addition to the index.

Rank Most
Denmark 1 Somalia 167
Finland 2 Korea (North) 167
Sweden 3 Afghanistan 166
New Zealand 4 Sudan 165
Netherlands 5 South Sudan 163
Norway 5 Angola 163
Switzerland 7 Libya 161
Singapore 8 Iraq 161
Canada 9 Venezuela 158
Germany 10 Guinea-Bissau 158
Luxembourg 10 Haiti 154

Source: Transparency International

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