Image: Flickr/dirkb86

There’s not much to say about South Africa’s showing in this year’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), released today by Transparency International (TI). We’ve said it all before in recent years, because South Africa has produced yet another mediocre score – one that has not changed by more than three points in the last 10 years.

However, TI has found that the same applies to many countries. Stagnation is one of the key take-away points of the 2021 CPI. “Despite commitments on paper, 131 countries have made no significant progress against corruption over the last decade and this year 27 countries hit historic lows in their CPI score,” the organisation reports.

The 27 are: Australia, Belgium, Botswana, Canada, Comoros, Cyprus, Dominica, Eswatini, Honduras, Hungary, Israel, Lebanon, Lesotho, Mongolia, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Niger, Nigeria, Philippines, Poland, Serbia, Slovenia, South Sudan, Switzerland, Thailand, Turkey, and Venezuela.

The score sits on a scale from 0 to 100, where 100 is clean and 0 is corrupt. It is important because it is the real indicator of perceptions about corruption in the country. The rank is merely an indication of where a country stands in relation to others and it changes as the number of countries surveyed changes or as other countries improve or decline. Since 2012, 25 countries have improved their scores, but 23 have declined.

This year the top countries are Denmark (88), Finland (88) and New Zealand (88), all of which also rank in the top 10% in the world on the Democracy Index in the category of civil liberties. The bottom countries are Somalia (13), Syria (13) and South Sudan (11).

Overall, the CPI shows that control of corruption has stagnated or worsened in 86% of countries over the last decade, thought some countries have moved upwards notably in that period – they are Armenia (+14), Angola (+10), South Korea (+8), Uzbekistan (+6), Moldova (+5), and Ethiopia (+4). Those which declined significantly over the same period include Canada (-8), Honduras (-6), Nicaragua (-6), and  Venezuela (-4).

Download the report.

Human rights and democracy in decline

Meanwhile, human rights and democracy across the world are under assault. This is connected to the levels of corruption because, as TI points out, “Corruption enables human rights abuses, setting off a vicious and escalating spiral. As rights and freedoms are eroded, democracy declines and authoritarianism takes its place, which in turn enables higher levels of corruption.”

And those who are corrupt will do anything to protect their situation, committing atrocious human rights violations in the process. We recall instantly the brutal death of Babita Deokaran, the former acting CFO at the Gauteng health department. She blew the whistle on a R332-million personal protective equipment scandal in the department and was gunned down in August 2021 in front of her home.

While corruption undermines the ability of governments to guarantee the human rights – such as the right to life – of their citizens, respecting human rights is essential for controlling corruption because empowered citizens have the space and the platforms to challenge injustice, says TI.

Such injustices include the disruption of delivery of public services, dispensation of justice and provision of safety for all.

Sub-Saharan Africa

With an average score of 33 out of 100, sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is again the lowest-scoring global region. Last year the region managed 32, so there is no significant improvement from previous years, despite some gains by countries topping the regional table.

However, these pale into insignificance against the region’s poor performance overall, with 44 out of 49 countries still scoring below 50 – an indication that they are grappling with serious corruption problems. This reinforces the urgent need for African governments to implement existing anti-corruption commitments, urges TI, if they are to alleviate the devastating effect of corruption on millions of citizens living in extreme poverty.

South Africa remains stagnant at 44, sharing its place with Jamaica and Tunisia, and sitting at number eight on the regional SSA table. In 2012 the country scored 43, ranking 69 out of 176 countries that were assessed that year. A decade later South Africa scored 44, the same as on 2021 and 2019. In 2018 and 2017 it scored 43 and before that, it managed 45 (2016), 44 (2015). 44 (2014), 42 (2013), and 43 (2013).

The countries that have improved the most since 2012 are Seychelles (+18), Senegal (+7), Côte d’Ivoire (+7), Angola (+7), and Ethiopia (+6). Tanzania has also shown a climb of +8 since 2014.

Key CPI messages

  • Human rights: Corruption levels have stagnated worldwide at a time when human rights and democracy are also under attack. TI’s research shows a strong correlation between anti-corruption and respect for human rights, and that very few countries have managed to establish effective control of corruption without also respecting human rights.
  • Stagnation: 154 countries have either declined or made no significant progress in tackling corruption in the last decade, and 27 countries are at historic lows in their score.
  • Recommendations: Governments around the world must address corruption at the highest levels and ensure that no one can get away with abuses of power.
  • Call to action: TI calls on the public to demand that governments act on their own anti-corruption and human rights commitments, some of which are decades old and remain unfulfilled.