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Xi Jinping's anti-graft campaign

Global corruption worsens under populist leaders: watchdog

China improved in global rankings, but still ranked poorly overall, while more than 70 per cent of countries moved backwards, Transparency International says in annual survey

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 January, 2017, 3:04pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 January, 2017, 11:04pm

China’s global corruption ranking slightly improved in 2016 but a global watchdog said Beijing’s crackdown on graft could not come at the expense of transparency and independent oversight.

The Transparency International group also warned in its Corruption Perceptions Index 2016 that around the world, people who turned to populist politicians promising to upset the status quo and end corruption may only be feeding the problem.

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Both the mainland and Hong Kong improved in both their transparency scores and global ranking in the 2016 report. The mainland increased by 3 points but remained with a poor score of 40 out of 100, ranking 79th place among 176 countries and regions studied in the report. It ranked 83rd in 2015.

The report said while the mainland has focused its anticorruption efforts on catching “tigers and flies”, Beijing needed a holistic approach involving civil society as well as the private sector.

Hong Kong also moved up three notches to rank 15th, while Taiwan slipped from 30th to 31st.

Dan Hough, director of the Sussex Centre for the Study of Corruption at the University of Sussex, said although the mainland had made a slight gain in the index, it still lacked the core traits that tended to characterise countries with low corruption.

“Freedom of expression is strictly limited, decision-making processes are opaque and convoluted, and democratic institutions in the widely understood sense don’t exist. The civil society organisations that are permitted have only very narrow room for manoeuvre and the press is there to defend the Communist Party’s line much more than to hold it to account,” he said.

“Much of what the [party] has been doing under President Xi Jinping flies directly in the face of what anti-corruption thinkers tend to believe might work,” he added.

Denmark, joined this year by New Zealand, continued to be the least corrupt country.

Globally, the report singled out countries with populist or autocratic leaders: “Instead of tackling crony capitalism, those leaders usually install even worse forms of corrupt systems,” the report said.

The group’s board chairman, Jose Ugaz, cited Hungary and Turkey as examples. Their scores have worsened in recent years under leaders with authoritarian leanings, while Argentina, which ousted a populist government, had improved in the rankings, he said.

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Based on expert opinions of public sector corruption, the annual report rated Denmark and New Zealand in first place, followed by Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, and Norway. Somalia was ranked most corrupt, followed by South Sudan, North Korea, and Syria.

Rounding out the Top 10 least corrupt were Singapore, the Netherlands, Canada, and the tie-placing trio of Germany, Luxembourg and the United Kingdom at 10th place.

The United States placed 18th, down from 16th in 2015. Transparency International research director

Finn Heinrich said that the organisation was taking a wait-and-see approach to Donald Trump’s presidency, but that already it had “serious concerns”.

“Donald Trump came on board, as did the people in Hungary and Turkey, on an anticorruption ticket. He said, ‘We’re going to drain this swamp’,” Heinrich said. “But if you look at his actions so far, there is nepotism .... The people in his Cabinet have many conflicts of interest. They are not people who stand for transparency.”

The index scores countries on a range of factors, such as whether government officials are held to account or go unpunished for corruption, the perceived prevalence of bribery, and whether public institutions respond to citizens’ needs.

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Nearly 70 per cent of the 176 countries scored below 50 on the 100-point scale, with lower scores indicating greater degrees of corruption.

“This year, more countries declined in the index than improved, showing the need for urgent action,” the report said.

The country that dropped most sharply in the rankings was Qatar, which has faced criticism over alleged human rights abuses involving migrant construction workers since it was chosen to host the 2022 football World Cup. It dropped 10 points, falling to 31st place on the list from 22nd last year.

Still, Heinrich said Qatar’s government in the past had shown itself “willing and keen” to fight corruption, and that Transparency would appeal to them for more fundamental reforms to ensure better freedom of speech and more media freedom, among other things.

“You can’t fight corruption without having accountability and transparency in the entire public process,” he said.

Afghanistan, a perennial fixture near the bottom of the list, rose 4 points – the most of any nation in 2016. But its still ranked 169th, just ahead of Libya, Sudan and Yemen.

Additional reporting by Staff Reporter