Global democracy under threat as corruption levels remain high | by Nikolai Viedge

Nikolai Viedge Dec 2017The Corruption Perception Index (CPI) by Transparency International (TI) measures the perceived level of public-sector corruption in countries around the world, with the aim of combatting this corruption. The report measures countries on a scaled ranking, with 100 meaning a perception of a corruption-free public sector (a score no country has achieved) and 0 indicating the most corrupt public sector imaginable (a score no country has met). This year’s report warns that unless greater efforts are made to deal with corruption, democracy globally is under threat.

The report notes that this year’s results (where the global average was just 43) highlights not only that countries are failing “to significantly control corruption”, but that there is a “crisis in democracy”. Decreasing levels of transparency are echoed by decreasing levels of democracy. For example, the report notes that “the United States has dropped out of the top 20 countries on the CPI … at a time when the US is experiencing threats to its system of checks and balances alongside an erosion of ethical norms at the highest levels of power”.

Delia Ferreira Rubio, Chair of TI, notes, “[c]orruption is much more likely to flourish where democratic foundations are weak and … where undemocratic and populist politicians can use it to their advantage”.

Relative rankings
The 2018 report measures perceived corruption across 180 countries – the same number as the 2017 report. Globally, New Zealand remains the top-ranked country, though, worryingly, its score marginally dropped once again. From 90 in 2016, 89 in 2017 to 88 in 2018. Somalia remains the worst-ranked country in the world with a score of 10, one better than 2017’s score of 9.

In the sub-Saharan Africa context, the top three countries are the Seychelles (66), Botswana (61) and Cabo Verde (57), while Somalia (10), South Sudan (13) are not only the two worst countries in the region, they are among the worst-three countries globally, with Syria (13) sandwiched between the two. Encouragingly, the Seychelles have dramatically improved their score from 60 in 2017, while Cabo Verde has improved its score from 55 to 57.

In 2017, South Africa was ranked 71/180. This dropped in 2018 to 73rd in the world. This marks a year on-year-year worsening ranking, with coming South Africa 64/176 in 2016. South Africa is tied with Morocco, Suriname and Tunisia; slightly ahead of countries like Ghana, Burkina Faso and India (all 41); but behind countries such as Belarus (44), Senegal (45) and Cuba (47).

A South African perspective
According to TI’s 2018 report, despite significant changes at the top levels of government, South Africa’s score has remained the same (scoring 43 in both 2017 and 2018). As the TI report notes, the CPI “presents a largely gloomy picture for Africa – only eight of 49 countries score more than 43 out of 100 on the index”. This comes despite the fact that 2018’s theme for the African Union was “Winning the Fight against Corruption: A Sustainable Path to Africa’s Transformation”. As the 2018 report highlights, “this has yet to translate into concrete progress”.

South Africa represents an unwanted global mean: the 43 scored by South Africa is the global average for perceived levels of corruption.

For a country that is still looking to prove that it has a sustainable democracy, more effort must be made to combat corruption given its deleterious impact on democracy.

Nikolai Viedge is an academic and writer for Bespoke Procurement Bulletin -

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Posted on February 13, 2019