Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 show there has been little progress on corruption and the EU has not held the best example either, writes Anna Damaskou.
Athens (Brussels Morning) Since 1995, there has been one day in the year that has caused global leaders to hold their breath if only for a moment: the day Transparency International publishes its annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), the leading global indicator of public-sector corruption.
In 2021, the day fell on 28 January, publication day for the 2020 CPI and inevitably focusses on the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic. Widespread corruption across the globe, threatening not only public health and financial recovery from the pandemic, but also democracy itself, was uncovered in the revealing CPI-related research.
Ranking corruption and transparency
Transparency International’s CPI was first published in 1995. Seventeen years later, in 2012, the methodology was revised in order to allow for comparison of scores from one year to the next. The CPI aggregates data from a number of different sources that provide the perceptions among business people and country experts as to the level of corruption in the public sector. The 2020 CPI was calculated using 13 different data sources from 12 different institutions reflecting perceptions of corruption over the previous two years. For a country or territory to be included in the CPI, a minimum of three sources must have assessed that country.
The 2020 CPI ranked 180 countries and territories according to their perceived levels of public sector corruption, using a scale of zero (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean). Denmark and New Zealand, the traditional champions in the CPI, topped the 2020 CPI, with 88 points. Somalia and South Sudan came last, with 12 points. Over two thirds of the world’s countries scored below 50 points in the 2020 CPI.
What is even more striking, however, is the troubling fact that nearly half the countries in the world have remained stagnant in their fight against corruption over the past decade. Although low scores in the CPI are not a verdict on the levels of corruption of entire nations or societies or of their private sectors, the CPI serves as an indicator of perceptions of public-sector corruption, i.e., administrative and political corruption. This is extremely critical in light of the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, since countries that performed well on the 2020 CPI tended to invest more in health care, were more empowered to provide health coverage and less likely to violate democratic norms or the rule of law.
Is the situation in our developed region of the EU and Western Europe any better than what has been described above? With an average score of 66, EU and Western Europe is traditionally the highest performing region in the CPI ratings. Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Switzerland were best scorers in the 2020 CPI and, conversely, Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria the lowest.
Admittedly, though, the COVID-19 pandemic has put the region under enormous strain, testing the limits of countries’ transparency, accountability, democracy and the rule of law. Malta and Poland, in particular, have been marked by Transparency International as “countries to watch”, with regard to their performance in the 2020 CPI.
In more detail, Malta, with a score of 53 in the 2020 CPI, registered a significant decline, dropping seven points in all since 2015 and hitting a new low. Tormented during the past few years by a series of scandals, ranging from the murder of the journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia and the provision of controversial “golden visas” to the European Central Bank’s probe into Malta’s biggest bank for alleged money laundering and other crimes, the rule of law in Malta has been seriously challenged.
Poland, with a score of 56 in the 2020 CPI, has declined significantly too, dropping seven points on the CPI scale since 2015. During the past few years, the country has been in the news across Europe for all the wrong reasons: restriction of judicial independence, limited access to information for citizens and journalists, impunity for public officials who broke the law, violent police crackdown on peaceful protestors and vetoing the enactment of the rule of law as a pre-condition for the allocation of EU funds.
The 2020 CPI Report includes, inter alia, Transparency International’s recommendations for reducing corruption and enhancing responses to crises. In this context, governments across the world are urged to strengthen institutions mandated with oversight, to ensure open and transparent contracting, to defend democracy, to promote civic space for holding governments accountable, to publish data and to guarantee easy, timely and meaningful access to information.
For countries in the EU and Western Europe that failed to score as high as the 2020 CPI champions within the region, there are plenty of reasons for hope and examples to emulate. All they need do is look around their neighbourhood for best practices promoting transparency, accountability, democracy and the rule of law.