The 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) released In January by Transparency International revealed that persistent corruption was undermining health care systems and contributing to democratic backsliding amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Uganda, which had made some gains in the 2019 report, to position 137 out of 180 countries sampled slipped up to position 142 out of 180 countries in the 2020 report.
Countries that performed well on the index invest more in health care, are better able to provide universal health coverage and are less likely to violate democratic norms and institutions or the rule of law.
“COVID-19 is not just a health and economic crisis. It is a corruption crisis. And one that we are currently failing to manage,” Delia Ferreira Rubio, Chair of Transparency International said. “The past year has tested governments like no other in memory, and those with higher levels of corruption have been less able to meet the challenge. But even those at the top of the CPI must urgently address their role in perpetuating corruption at home and abroad.”
The 2020 edition of the CPI ranks 180 countries and territories by their perceived levels of public sector corruption, drawing on 13 expert assessments and surveys of business executives. It uses a scale of zero (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean). Denmark and New Zealand top the index, with 88 points. Syria, Somalia and South Sudan come last, with 14, 12 and 12 points, respectively.
Since 2012, the earliest point of comparison in the current CPI methodology, 26 countries significantly improved their CPI scores, including Ecuador (39), Greece (50), Guyana (41), Myanmar (28) and South Korea (61).
Twenty-two countries significantly decreased their scores, including Bosnia & Herzegovina (35), Guatemala (25), Lebanon (25), Malawi (30), Malta (53) and Poland (56).
Nearly half of countries have been stagnant on the index for almost a decade, indicating stalled government efforts to tackle the root causes of corruption. More than two-thirds score below 50.
Corruption poses a critical threat to citizens’ lives and livelihoods, especially when combined with a public health emergency. Clean public sectors correlate with greater investment in health care. Uruguay, for example, has the highest CPI score in Latin America (71), invests heavily in health care and has a robust epidemiological surveillance system, which has aided its response to COVID-19 and other infectious diseases, like yellow fever and Zika.
In contrast, Bangladesh scores just 26 and invests little in health care while corruption flourishes during COVID-19, ranging from bribery in health clinics to misappropriated aid. Corruption is also pervasive in the procurement of medical supplies. Countries with higher corruption levels also tend to be the worst violators of rule of law and democratic institutions during the COVID-19 crisis. These include the Philippines (34), where the response to COVID-19 has been characterised by major attacks on human rights and media freedom.
Continuing a downward trend, the United States achieves its worst score since 2012, with 67 points. In addition to alleged conflicts of interest and abuse of office at the highest level, in 2020 weak oversight of the US$1 trillion COVID-19 relief package raised serious concerns and marked a retreat from longstanding democratic norms promoting accountable government.
The past year highlighted integrity challenges among even the highest-scoring countries, proving that no country is free of corruption. To reduce corruption and better respond to future crises, Transparency International recommends that all governments:
Strengthen oversight institutions to ensure resources reach those most in need. Anti-corruption authorities and oversight institutions must have sufficient funds, resources and independence to perform their duties.
Ensure open and transparent contracting to combat wrongdoing, identify conflicts of interest and ensure fair pricing.
Defend democracy and promote civic space to create the enabling conditions to hold governments accountable.
Publish relevant data and guarantee access to information to ensure the public receives easy, accessible, timely and meaningful information.