Corruption Perceptions Index 2012: Life at the top

Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2012, coming out on Wednesday, once again ranks the Nordic countries among the “most clean” when it comes to public sector corruption. As discussed in a previous post, such good results stem from political will, open government and robust legislation and mechanisms for holding politicians and civil servants to account.

Click on the image for more info on the CPI 2012 results

However, no country, not even Denmark, Sweden, Finland (more on Finland here) or Norway, can be considered perfect.

In June 2012, Transparency International published a report on corruption risks in Europe, based on assessments of more than 300 institutions in 25 countries. The Nordics performed well, showing evidence of some of the strongest ‘integrity systems’ in Europe, with well-established, well-enforced laws.

Our research shows that these countries have not managed to fully insulate themselves from corruption risks, with the main threats to integrity located at the nexus between politics and business. Conflicting interests and opaque party funding are among the problems that prevent these countries achieving full marks in our ‘integrity test’. Local government corruption is also troubling the region, particularly with regards to public procurement processes.

In all four countries, regulation of political party financing showed signs of weakness. In Sweden, there is only a voluntary agreement amongst all but one political party to disclose budgets, and details of donors are not included in this disclosure. This shields influential donors from the public eye, meaning that citizens are unable to judge who could be influencing their national politics. Transparency International Sweden wants mandatory regulation to make parties disclose their budgets and details of donors.

Conflicting interests present a significant risk across the region. In Finland, the national assessment concluded that old boy’s networks provide fertile ground for corruption to grow. When those charged with making political decisions have multiple interests and ties with business, decisions could be skewed in favour of those interests.

Given this problem, the revolving door syndrome needs to be addressed with waiting periods, and efforts should be made to ensure that public officials and political figures are ready to make their financial interests public. Lobbying should be made more transparent through the use of mandatory registers.

The problem is similar in Norway, where there are no written rules regarding conflicts of interest for parliamentary representatives. Codes of conduct should be introduced in Norway to provide representatives with guidance when faced with an ethical dilemma, and to lay out mechanisms for addressing such conflicts of interests.

The assessment in Denmark concluded that there are some limitations to access to information, particularly when it comes to cases of exemption in the public sector. Exemption provisions are sometimes misused, denying legitimate public access to information. Our National Chapter in Denmark is calling for the revision of these provisions in order to increase transparency in the public sector.

In addition, the Nordics face a somewhat peculiar problem. Due to the fact that these countries frequently feature at the top of the good governance indexes, and are often considered to be the ‘cleanest’, a feeling of indifference towards corruption could prevail.

However, it is important to understand that integrity and transparency are not a given. The research carried out by our National Chapters clearly demonstrates that gaps do exist and the risk of corruption is still present. Efforts need to be made in the region by a wide range of actors, including civil society, media, business and government to address these threats to integrity.

Carousel image: Flickr/Creative commons: Christopher Gosselin

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Helen Turek

About Helen Turek

Helen Turek is Programme Officer for EU Projects at Transparency International.

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9 Responses to Corruption Perceptions Index 2012: Life at the top

  1. Poul Martin Jensen 5 December 2012 at 4:09 pm #

    Perception is perhaps the right word here..

    There are vast differences of perception from someone not having to deal to any high degree with the system, and then to someone that haves.

    The index of 90 for Denmark did make me smile, but somewhat bitterly in that regard.

    Most Danes love the system we have, but it is the idea, the illusion of it, with its equality, its welfare, its humanitarianism, its relatively broad party system etc.

    And as long as you never need the security of the system, the illusion will never break – After all we would not tolerate the highest taxes in the world, if we did not firmly believe it went to the things we believe in, and as such we sometimes have a hard time admitting the less than perfect aspects to our nation, meaning they seldom gets mended, but more often are pushed under the carpet.

    Let me just state that those that end up needing the system, ends up with a somewhat different perception, that often lies in the quite opposite end of what they otherwise had until then..

    Don’t get me wrong, I still firmly believe in the idea, just not the illusion any longer.

    An old saying goes on the fact that if you want to find corruption, then look no further than to those you not are allowed to criticize, and in Denmark that is most often the municipalities, at least if you are a common citizen, and since it is the municipalities that handles public service, then that is no small deal.

  2. Jason Brown 6 December 2012 at 9:29 pm #

    Hmmm, don’t see anything about my country, New Zealand, here, as promised at this link?

    New Zealand seems to fly under the radar because of its small size, and clean, green image.

    However projects like the OCCCP, the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, estimate billions flow through thousands of NZ shell companies, which can be set up with secret overseas directors.

    You can see more on that with my story for Islands Business here:

    New Zealand is, in the words of one diplomat, a “dirty little country” whose citizens pay for its export “success” by paying higher prices for its own products than people on the other side of the world.

    Using business people as a major source of corruption perception in such a deeply conflicted (as in conflict of interest) country skews the CPI, markedly, in my opinion. More emphasis needs to be put on civil society sources, and journalists.

  3. Léonard 3 July 2013 at 4:20 pm #

    An interesting ranking which give a vision of racist prejudices. Low corruption in Switzerland in a kind of bad joke. What about corruption in North Korea ?


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