Countries with the least corruption have been best positioned to weather the health and economic challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a closely watched annual study.
Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index, which measures the perception of public-sector corruption, concluded that countries that performed well in coping with the pandemic invested more in health care, were “better able to provide universal health coverage and are less likely to violate democratic norms”.
Australia and New Zealand both figure strongly in the upper echelons of the study, which ranks nations from best to worst.
“COVID-19 is not just a health and economic crisis,” Transparency International head Delia Ferreira Rubio said.
“It is a corruption crisis – and one that we are currently failing to manage.”
— Transparency Int'l (@anticorruption) January 28, 2021
This year’s index showed the United States hitting a new low amid a steady decline under the presidency of Donald Trump, with a score of 67 on a scale where 0 is “highly corrupt” and 100 is “very clean”.
That put the US 25th on the list in a tie with Chile, but behind many other western democracies.
Australia scores 77 for a rank of 11th-equal with Canada, the UK and Hong Kong, while New Zealand tops the table jointly with Denmark on 88.
The link between corruption and coronavirus response could be widely seen around the world, according to the report’s analysis.
The key lesson from Transparency International’s research is that strong democratic governance is essential to managing an equitable and effective #COVID-19 response. See @anticorruption's latest research #CPI2020 https://t.co/ZzovO0MbtL
— TI Australia (@TIAustralia) January 28, 2021
For example, Uruguay scored 71 – placing it 21st. It invests heavily in health care and has a strong epidemiological surveillance system, which has helped not only with COVID-19 but also other diseases like yellow fever and Zika, Transparency International said.
By contrast, Bangladesh, which scored 26 and placed 146th on the list, “invests little in health care while corruption flourishes during COVID-19, ranging from bribery in health clinics to misappropriated aid,” it wrote.
“Corruption is also pervasive in the procurement of medical supplies.”
Even in New Zealand, which placed joint No.1 as the least corrupt nation with a score of 88 and has been lauded for its pandemic response, there was room for improvement, Transparency International noted.
“While the government communicates openly about the measures and policies it puts in place, more transparency is needed around public procurement for COVID-19 recovery,” the organisation wrote.
Of 180 countries surveyed, two-thirds scored below 50 out of 100 and the average score was 43.
Somalia and South Sudan fared the worst with scores of 12 to put them jointly in 179th place, behind Syria with a score of 14, Yemen and Venezuela at 15, Sudan and Equatorial Guinea with 16, Libya with 17, and North Korea, Haiti and the Democratic Republic of Congo with 18.
The index is calculated using 13 different data sources that provide perceptions of public-sector corruption.
These include the African Development Bank Country Policy and Institutional Assessment, the World Bank Country Policy and Institutional Assessment, the World Economic Forum Executive Opinion Survey and the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index Expert Survey.