Egypt slips in corruption index despite Arab Spring: Transparency International

Egypt has slid in a global league table of perceived official corruption in the past year, and the "Arab Spring" revolutions have yet to produce serious anti-graft action across the region, Transparency International said on Wednesday.

In its annual Corruption Perceptions Index, the anti-graft organisation said Egypt had fallen six places to 118th out of 176 countries as levels of bribery, abuse of power and secret dealings remain high in the Arab world's most populous nation.

"We know that frustration about corruption brought people out onto the streets in the Arab world," Christoph Wilcke, Transparency International director for the Middle East and North Africa, said.

"We've observed that in countries where substantial change occurred they're still struggling to put in place new systems of governance. That's reflected in these scores. The hope hasn't materialised yet in more serious anti-corruption programmes."

The public sector league table from the Berlin-based group - on which the higher the ranking, the cleaner a country is - produced a mixed picture for nations swept up in last year's unrest.

Tunisia slipped two places to 75th while Morocco, which experienced less turmoil, fell eight spots to 88th. Syria, which is engulfed in a civil war, tumbled 15 places to 144th but Libya managed an improvement from a very low base, rising to 160th from 168th.

Overall, Denmark, Finland and New Zealand were in a first-place tie with scores of 90 on a new scale where 100 stands for most clean and 0 for most corrupt. Somalia, North Korea and Afghanistan shared last place.

Egypt was in a five-way tie with the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Indonesia and Madagascar with a score of 32.

Islamist Mohamed Mursi became Egypt's first freely-elected president in June this year after a period of direct military rule following the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak last February.

Corruption ranging from the petty to the grand scale was one of the main grievances that toppled Mubarak. However, hopes that the problem would ease remain far away as people waiting for paperwork complain that low-level graft has become even worse since the uprising because of lax law enforcement.

Mursi has talked of sweeping out corrupt elements in the state and among those doing business with the government.

However, many businesses have been rattled by his remarks, fearing it will mean replacing one elite with another or challenging deals that were agreed in good faith by investors with Mubarak's government.

However, some executives say there are at least a few signs that corruption has become a little less blatant in some areas of business, partly because of a new sense of accountability that has come with Egypt's still incomplete democratic transformation.

Wilcke said that Mursi has made a number of speeches in which he said fighting corruption was a top priority. "But as far as we can tell, very little has happened on the ground in making this a reality, as far as putting in place systems that we know work to prevent corruption," he said. "Strengthening the independence of the judiciary is just one of them."

Wilcke said good work in countries that fight corruption can lead to an initial drop in their ranking because the public is made more aware of graft.

"I would say Egypt has made big promises and taken some small tentative steps," he said. "Anyone who witnessed the transition would agree they are extraordinarily difficult. It's not possible to change things over night."

Mursi is waging a high-stakes battle with Egypt's judges, many of them foes of his supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood, which is bent on purging a judiciary seen as tainted by Mubarak appointees.

Judges called strikes and top courts halted work in protest at Mursi's decree last month that extended his powers and put his actions temporarily above legal challenge.

Greece takes bottom EU spot in global corruption index

BERLIN: Greece has scored the worst ranking of all 27 European Union nations in a global league table of perceived official corruption, falling below ex-communist Bulgaria as public anger about graft soars during the country's crisis.

The index on state sector corruption, published by anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International (TI) on Wednesday, also showed other struggling euro zone countries scoring poorly such as Italy which ranked below Romania.

Releasing its annual corruption perceptions index, Berlin-based TI urged European and other governments to try much harder to turn promises of fighting graft into action in areas such as public tenders, political party financing and tax evasion.

"The results of the survey should be a warning signal for the EU to require more information and accountability from its member states," said TI's EU analyst Jana Mittermaier, adding that this should apply also to current efforts to establish European banking oversight.

Weak or inefficient judicial systems, poor public audit services and cosy ties between government and business all contribute to perceptions of corruption in some European countries, she said.

TI's index, which this year ranks 176 countries, measures perceptions of graft rather than actual levels due to the secrecy that surrounds most corrupt dealings.

Greece took 94th place, below the poorer, newer democracies such as Bulgaria and Romania. Italy was placed 72nd, just ahead of Bulgaria at 75th but behind Romania on 66th.

In the 2011 index, Greece was 80th with Bulgaria scoring worst among the EU nations in 86th place.

Greeks have long complained about corruption but anger has soared, particularly about tax evasion among the rich, as the government has imposed wave after wave of austerity that the country's international lenders have demanded.

The EU has kept Bulgaria and Romania out of its Schengen zone, which allows passport-free travel between member states, due to concerns about corruption. A recent study showed Bulgarians gave about 150,000 bribes to civil servants every month last year, more than in 2010.

Portugal and Ireland, which like Greece have received euro zone bailouts, were placed 33 and 25 respectively in the table.

TI cautioned that the 2012 rankings did not entirely reflect relatively recent developments such as the advent of a reform-minded Italian government because some of the research shaping the index dated back more than a year.

A BIG GAME CHANGER

TI said there was a stronger public recognition worldwide, including in big emerging "BRIC" economies such as China and Brazil, of the costs of corruption and a growing refusal to accept it as an inevitable fact of life.

"Today corruption is the world's most talked about social problem. It is very positive that people around the world are demanding more accountability... This could be a big game changer," TI Managing Director Cobus de Swardt said.

New Zealand, Denmark and Finland vied for the overall top slot as being perceived as the least corrupt countries, while Somalia, North Korea and Afghanistan shared last place.

Among the major global economies, the United States ranked 19, up from 24, Germany was at 13, up from 14, Japan and Britain tied for 17th place and France was at 22, up from 25 last year.

Swardt said it was worrying that two thirds of all countries surveyed ranked below 50 on TI's new scale where 100 is perceived as most clean and 0 most corrupt. "It is widely recognised today that high levels of corruption in the public sector have hampered the global economic recovery," he said.

Corruption has become a hot political issue fuelling protests from China and Russia to the Arab world.

CHINESE STANDARDS

China saw its ranking slip to 80 from 75 last year, but Swardt said the Beijing leadership showed a greater understanding of the dangers of ignoring corruption, including among Chinese companies operating both at home and abroad.

Last month, state media quoted Communist Party chief Xi Jinping as saying that if corruption was allowed to run wild, the Communist Party risked major unrest and the collapse of its rule.

Swardt drew comparisons with standards in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, which groups wealthy nations. "We have seen a criminalisation of bribery to the standards of the OECD," he said.

"The Chinese used to say their companies could not be held to rich country standards because they needed to catch up, but now they realise tackling this is in their own interests."

But tackling corruption in a lasting way required allowing ordinary citizens the power to scrutinise public services and institutions, he added.

Elsewhere among the so-called BRICs, Swardt said Russia's new restrictions on non-governmental organisations would make it harder to monitor and check corruption. Russia ranks 133rd in the 2012 global rankings, up from 143 last year.

With Russia taking on the rotating presidency of the Group of 20 leading economies, Moscow should try to "lead by example and not by the lowest common denominator in terms of bribery", Swardt said.

Political will has a big role to play in determining whether a country moves up or down the corruption rankings, Swardt said. "Those countries stuck at the bottom are often those where political elites are very unwilling to tackle the issues in a serious manner," he said.

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