Corruption abounds in all governments. This healthy cynicism keeps us insulated from extra shock and disappointment whenever that latest disappointing or worrying case comes to light (which seems all too frequent), but also keeps us constantly critical and demanding fairness from our elected leaders. It’s a healthy dynamic in any decidedly “open” society to assume corruption happens even - or perhaps especially - when and where it isn’t seen.
In the most socially progressive countries, the popular perception is that anti-corruption measures are constantly at work through laws, committees, watchdogs, investigations and journalists that never sleep because their mandate — preventing, exposing and ideally punishing abuses of power — is never satisfied. The combination of power and politics has always engendered suspicion, because a government’s ability to abuse power has always been the rule; of course, their tendency to indulge in that ability is (we like to think) the exception.
But while the prevalence of corruption in even the most socially progressive countries is a matter of debate, the word doesn’t exactly carry the same meaning across the world. In Canada for example, corruption might be an unelected senator steering special work contracts to friends, or billing the government $90,000 for housing expenses which, if and when it comes to light, will probably result in the senator repaying the amount then retiring on a full $120,000/year parliamentary pension.
In Nigeria, corruption might be a president looting multiple billions from the public treasury over the course of years which, if and when brought to trial, mobilizes an arsenal of legal teams and financial protections to delay charges for decades until a settlement—likely a fraction of what was stolen—gets repaid.
In 2012, the World Bank estimated $40 billion dollars is siphoned out of developing countries through corruption every single year. This means entire countries engaged in massive legal and financial fraud with the compliance of numerous parties across the globe — banks, oil companies, drug cartels — that sustain governance for and by the powerful and wealthy few in numerous disadvantaged countries.
That global indexes chart its prevalence on a regular basis tells us that, like it or not, corruption is a fundamental reality of political life. Here’s a look at the 10 most corrupt countries in the world this year - based on the latest data which the 2014 Social Progress Index sourced from Transparency International. Each country has been given a score on a scale of 0-100, with 0 representing the highest level of corruption.
10 Tajikistan: 22
9 Democratic Republic of Congo: 22
A relative of former DRC president (1965-1997) Mobutu Sese Seko once poignantly described their process for looting the country:
“Mobutu would ask one of us to go to the bank and take out a million. We’d go to an intermediary and tell him to get five million. He would go to the bank with Mobutu’s authority, and take out ten. Mobutu got one, and we took the other nine.”
With that kind of history, it’s difficult to imagine the DRC playing fair today even with current-president Joseph Kabila’s modest reforms. Little of the alleged $5 billion Mobutu stole throughout his reign has been recovered; one small attempt at asset recovery failed in 2009 after Swiss courts ruled the statute of limitations had expired, and $6.7 million in frozen assets returned to the late president’s family.
8 Burundi: 21
7 Venezuela: 20
6 Cambodia: 20
5 Chad: 19
4 Yemen: 18
3 Uzbekistan: 17
2 Iraq: 16
1 Sudan: 11
It’s more than a little nerve racking that 24-year Sudanese president Al-Bashir, who allegedly has $9 billion of his country’s money stashed in London bank accounts, established Sudan’s first anti-corruption agency in 2012. A transparency ploy but nothing more: As you’d expect the agency has yet prosecute anyone, though in fact, Sudan continues arresting (and probably also extorts and tortures) anyone willing to make corruption allegations they can’t “prove”. Bribes and extortion, it seems, remain the nuts and bolts of the Sudanese public service, and as always, this cut-throat power pyramid has oil at its summit.
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