Corruption remains the norm in much of the world, with officials on-the-take, and decision-making perverted to suit narrow interests. While this situation may be getting better in many countries, according to the latest Corruption Perceptions Index from Transparency International, an anti-graft nonprofit, 6 billion people worldwide still live in places with a "serious corruption problem."
Surveying experts on the level of corruption in 168 countries, Transparency International finds that two-thirds score below 50 points out of 100. That includes most of South, East and Central Asia, most of Latin America, and all of Africa, pretty much. Denmark, Finland and Sweden have the best reputations. Somalia and North Korea are seen as most corrupt. The U.S. is in 16th place.
See the map below. Areas in dark red indicate highly corrupt public sectors, according to the perceptions survey. Lighter red and orange indicate where corruption in public life is less serious, but still common. Yellow countries, which are mostly in Western Europe and North America, are seen as the cleanest—though they're far from exemplary.
The report emphasizes the rippling effects of corruption, including infrastructure that never gets built, poor education standards, and environmental degradation. "Public sector corruption isn‘t simply about taxpayer money going missing. Broken institutions and corrupt officials fuel inequality and exploitation—keeping wealth in the hands of an elite few and trapping many more in poverty," it says.
Brazil—which is in the midst of the massive Petrobras scandal—had the greatest decline from last year's index, falling seven positions to 76th place. In the last four years, Australia, Spain, and Turkey have all lost ground.
In general, corruption thrives in countries lacking strong police and judicial systems, where the media lacks independence, and where public accounts aren't transparent. The top countries have strong, independent institutions—though even these countries aren't blameless. Even Denmark and Sweden sometimes export corruption overseas, for example when their companies pay bribes to win contracts.
Nor is national wealth an indicator of cleanliness. Half the G20 countries, including Brazil, India and China, are among the 68 countries with the most serious corruption problems, Transparency International says.