Corruption Perceptions Index 2011: Why aren’t all countries at the top?

Transparency International’s newly released 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index features some interesting results for the Americas. Alejandro Salas, Transparency International’s Regional Director for the Americas, takes a look behind the scenes. He discusses the trends, challenges ahead and the progress made in the region.

The 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index ranks 183 countries, 32 of which are in the Americas. More than two-thirds of them don’t even make it to the middle of the global ranking – indicating that corruption is a serious problem in those countries.

The 2011 scores refute arguments that blame corruption in certain regions on culture. Among the countries in the Americas that score above five we find countries not only from North America, but also from Latin America and the Caribbean. It is worth highlighting the case of Chile, a country that scores higher than the United States for the second year running.

Chile’s progress sends a strong and positive signal to other countries in Latin America. It raises the standard for those making efforts to advance anti-corruption and transparency related policies and practices. However, a relatively high rank should not be taken as cause for complacency. Although it is indeed recognition that things are moving in the right direction, countries like Chile and Uruguay should set themselves higher and more ambitious goals.

At the other end of the ranking, you can find Haiti, Paraguay and Venezuela. These countries do not have a political system or ideology in common, but they all have weak democratic institutions.

Whether it is because institutions lack independence, or because democratic reform processes are still in their early stages after years of authoritarian rule, the fact is the main institutions in these countries are weak. This leads to greater opportunities for the misuse of public resources, for decision-making in favour of specific interest groups, impunity for criminals and vote buying in electoral processes. In other words, institutions are more vulnerable to corruption.

Another challenging group of countries includes Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Mexico. These countries have abundant resources, relatively well-performing economies, some strong and modern institutions, regular elections and the rotation of power among different political parties. Yet, they continue to be stuck in the bottom half of the index.

Despite clear potential, these countries have been unable to move up significantly in the rankings over time. Part of the explanation could be that some of them have a federal or highly decentralised political structure.

Particularly in Brazil and Mexico, some modern institutions that push for reforms often clash with an old system based on patronage, cronyism and regionalism. So while showing progress and willingness to reform on several fronts, old practises still happen in different parts of their country.

A final word should go to highlight an issue that sadly affects too many countries in the region, namely organised crime. Illegal groups represent a very strong force that weakens a state’s institutions. For drugs, arms and human trafficking to take place, criminal groups need the security forces, the judiciary and other state agencies to remain weak. This results, for example, in criminals going unpunished by prosecutors and judges, and customs officials turning a blind eye.

Regardless of whether organised crime has weakened the state through corruption or if corruption has allowed organised crime to flourish, as long as both coexist, democratic institutions are under threat and corruption will not be averted.

I find it important to emphasise that analysing the Corruption Perceptions Index data is not about whether a country has a score of 0.5 more or less than a neighbouring country. The most significant thing here is to understand what the underlying factors that drive corruption are. This should inform decision-makers, so that eventually all countries in the Americas rank at the top end of the index.

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Alejandro Salas

About Alejandro Salas

Alejandro Salas is Regional Director for the Americas at Transparency International.

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10 Responses to Corruption Perceptions Index 2011: Why aren’t all countries at the top?

  1. Rob 1 December 2011 at 10:43 am #

    With the greatest of respect; It is well known that the US is corrupt despite being a ‘democracy’. Your assumptions are correct with the superficial flaws in a society but the analysis over the whole report fails to look at Governmental corruption through lobby groups and corporate conspiracies that surely have accounted for the US Economic downfall and its current demise. Your whole grading is catergorically incorrect.

  2. Bronwyn Best 1 December 2011 at 4:31 pm #

    Alejandro, I like, particularly, your comment: “The 2011 scores refute arguments that blame corruption in certain regions on culture.” This is in line with my thesis that corruption, while a global cultural issue, is not part of the culture of any country. Every country has certain strata which are corrupt, and there are different levels of tolerance for corruption in each country. However, when that level of tolerance is breached, the people speak out. They are tired of having to pay and pay and do not consider corruption to be part of their cultural make-up.

  3. Giuseppe Ferrari 2 December 2011 at 9:19 pm #

    I don’t understand how Brazil scored higher this year. Just doesn’t make sense, possibly it’s because there’s a huge gap between the rich and poor, which are deluded to think it’s getting better. When a corrupt politician is caught, instead of being punished, it receives a reward. Just take a look at the newspapers, and you won’t find a single case of corruption from politicians and judges that didn’t ended in compulsory retirement. And sometimes, an even more corrupt person assumes its place.
    NOTE: The salary+benefits of some federal employees is equal to 160 salaries.
    I know my personal experience doesn’t count much, but I’m an argentine entrepreneur and I moved my company to Brazil because of corruption in my country and tax policies, but after one year I’m simply giving up and going back to Argentina. I never found a single brazilian businessman who isn’t corrupt, even my lawyer tried to ‘outsmart’ me and I had to contract another lawyer against the first one. Not to tell the government departments, where they make people wait an entire day in queue while the public employees play games on their computers.
    It’s simply unbelievable how people tolerate this sub-human situation.
    In my perception, Argentina is fairly less corrupt than Brazil, but people in Argentina are more literate and critical, so they tend to see the situation more clearly.
    I know it’s hard to believe when I tell “everyone is corrupt”, but what can I say? Should I diminish the truth to make it more believable?
    I sincerely can’t imagine a country more corrupt and bureaucratic than Brazil. The politics even steal the money from public school lunches, the only source of food of many children in Brazil, not to tell the robbery from the healthcare, tens of billions of USD every year. The public hospitals here are worse than the campaign hospitals from WWII, and in fact, in N and NW regions you have less chance of surviving in a hospital than somewhere else.
    And the brazilian people asks themselves why there’s so much outlaws here from every part of the globe… the answer is simple: Brazil is a paradise for outlaws of every kind.
    Thank you very much.

  4. Raief 4 December 2011 at 3:32 pm #

    @Giuseppe Ferrari,
    I agree with you that Brazil is one of the most corrupt nations in the world. It is a favorite choice for many criminals to retire to.

    But Russia is just as bad, if not worse. It is a daily corrupt living situation and has been since even before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

    It is now becoming a place of choice for criminals to retire to. The problem is that the climate is not as pleasant as Brazil, and the English language is not as spoken as in Brazil. But that is quickly changing. Today the subways, stores, and even the street signs are now being printed in both Russian and English. The climate is one thing that they cannot change though.

  5. Seattleliter 7 March 2012 at 5:08 pm #

    How the hell is the US ranked at #24 and received a 7.1. That is such bullshit. Our public officials may be lazy, but they sure as hell aren’t corrupt in the slightest. Maybe in Detroit and New Orleans, but outside of that, its rare for public officials to be on the take. They make too much and their retirements are solid gold – they won’t risk it. This is just folks that are envious of the US or don’t like us for whatever reason.

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