The 2023 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), a crucial barometer of public sector corruption worldwide conducted by Transparency International, has uncovered a disturbing global trend of rampant corruption. Evaluating 180 countries and territories, the CPI uses a scale from 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean) to rate perceived levels of corruption.
Alarmingly, over two-thirds of the nations evaluated scored below the halfway mark of 50, signaling deep-rooted corruption issues.
The global average is stagnantly low at 43, with the majority of countries showing no significant improvement or even regressing over the past decade. A concerning finding is that 23 countries have plunged to their all-time low scores this year.
The weakening of justice systems worldwide is a key factor contributing to this trend, diminishing accountability among public officials and paving the way for corruption to flourish. Governments, both authoritarian and democratic, are complicit in this decline, thereby fostering an environment where corrupt practices are rampant and often go unpunished.
Countries with high CPI rankings are not immune to corruption issues. Their involvement in cross-border corruption cases and failure to prosecute transnational corruption perpetrators highlight an underlying impunity problem.
Geographically, no region shows marked progress in fighting corruption. Western Europe and the EU, although the highest-scoring region, witnessed a drop in its average score to 65. This decline points to a weakening of political integrity and erosion of checks and balances. Sub-Saharan Africa remains the lowest scorer with an average of 33, amidst challenges to democracy and the rule of law.
Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the Middle East and North Africa, the Asia Pacific, and the Americas each face their own corruption challenges, ranging from authoritarianism and systemic corruption to weak judicial independence and rule of law.
Leading the 2023 index is Denmark with a score of 90, followed closely by Finland, New Zealand, and Norway. Transparency International, which released the report on January 30, noted that two-thirds of the jurisdictions assessed scored below 50, with only 28 showing improvement and 34 deteriorating.
In Western Europe and the EU, a minority of countries improved their scores, while several experienced declines. Notably, top democracies like Sweden, the Netherlands, Iceland, and Britain hit their lowest index scores, with Britain facing a significant six-point drop over five years.
In the Asia-Pacific region, the top five include New Zealand, Singapore, Australia, Hong Kong, and Japan. However, the region’s average CPI score has been stuck at 45 for the past five years, indicating a persistent struggle against corruption.
Singapore retained its score of 83, consistent with the previous year. However, the corruption charges faced by former People’s Action Party minister S Iswaran, a prominent figure, have raised concerns about the integrity of the system.
Responding to The Straits Times, Ms. Urantsetseg Ulziikhuu, Asian regional coordinator at Transparency International, remarked that any potential repercussions from Iswaran’s case in Singapore would be more discernible in the medium term rather than immediately.
She elaborated, “Factors such as the independence of institutions, the robustness of checks and balances, and the enforcement of laws play a significant role in shaping Singapore’s perceived corruption levels, which typically evolve gradually over time.”
Emphasizing Singapore’s high ranking, Ms. Urantsetseg stated, “A high score does not automatically imply a nation is free from corruption… The CPI focuses on evaluating how effectively governments combat corruption and implement mechanisms to maintain integrity in the public sector, including the prosecution of corrupt officials.”
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