Egypt slips in corruption index despite Arab Spring: Transparency International

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.

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