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Transparency International’s (TI) 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), released today, shows that while corruption is still prevalent around the world, people can succeed in the fight against the scourge when they stand together.

The CPI reveals that more countries improved their scores in the 2015 edition of the index, than declined. South Africa did not fall into either category – the country’s score remained the same as last year at 44, although its ranking improved marginally, rising to 61 from 67 in 2014. A country’s score refers to the perceived level of public sector corruption on a scale of 0-100, where 0 means that it’s perceived as highly corrupt and 100 that it’s perceived as very clean. A country’s rank indicates its position relative to the other countries included in the index – 168 in 2015.

This lack of movement, said Corruption Watch – TI’s local affiliate – is an indication that perceptions around the extent of corruption in South Africa are stabilising somewhat.

David Lewis, the organisation’s executive director, commented: “The good news is that for the second year in succession, our score, as measured by the CPI, has remained the same and our ranking has improved slightly. The bad news is that we are still ranked amongst those countries perceived to have a serious corruption problem, with our ranking perilously close to those countries suffering from endemic corruption.”

We have to turn the situation around, Lewis emphasised. “We cannot afford to fall any further. For example, Brazil has fallen significantly in score and ranking, a fall accompanied by deep economic recession and social turmoil.”

The CPI scores and ranks countries or territories based on how corrupt their public sector is perceived to be. It is a composite index, a combination of surveys and assessments of corruption, collected by a variety of reputable institutions and based on expert opinions of public sector corruption.

The CPI is the most widely used indicator of corruption worldwide. Countries’ scores can be helped by open government and leaders who are willing to be held to account by the public, while a poor score is a sign of prevalent bribery, lack of punishment for corruption, and public institutions that are dismissive of citizens’ needs.

Download the 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index

Africa, you have work to do

2015 CPI - sub-Saharan Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa

The average score in sub-Saharan Africa was 33 – as in previous years, Botswana was the top scorer at 63, while Somalia took the last position, scoring just eight. The north-east African country, with North Korea, achieved the overall lowest score on this year’s index.

South Africa scraped into the top ten regionally and in terms of score, is on par with Lesotho and Senegal. The country is part of both the Brics economic group, and the G20. Neither group shone – 53% of G20 countries scored below 50, while 100% of Brics countries achieved the embarrassing result. In the latter group, South Africa’s score was the highest.

2015 CPI - G20 nations

G20 nations

Forty of the 46 African countries showed a serious corruption problem, and Nigeria’s and South Africa’s scores remained the same. Indicators for rule of law and justice scored particularly badly – but TI noted some reason for hope.

“We can see particular improvement around transparency in financial management – good news for the companies operating in the region,” said Chantal Uwimana, TI’s director for sub-Saharan Africa. “Overall a number of countries have improved in recent years, notably Senegal, which has risen significantly since the government introduced a series of anti-corruption measures. Regional high-performer Botswana scores 63 out of 100 in the index.”

2015 CPI - Brics nations

Brics nations

Because the new Sustainable Development Goals act as a catalyst for strengthening governance, there’s hope other countries could follow, TI stated.

However, many other countries are let down by a failure to uphold rule of law, while law enforcement doesn’t always protect citizens. In many countries, including low-scorers Angola, Burundi and Uganda, there is a failure to prosecute corrupt public officials on the one hand, and intimidation of citizens who speak out against corruption on the other.

If corruption and impunity are to be successfully eliminated, governments need to take decisive steps to ensure rule of law is the norm. Prosecuting corruption is crucial, and will restore faith among people who no longer believe in the institutions that are supposed to protect them.

More countries perceived to be corrupt than not

Overall, two-thirds of the 168 countries on the 2015 index scored below 50. This means that more than six-billion people live somewhere where there is a serious corruption problem, said TI. In such places – for example in Guatemala and Ghana – citizen activists in groups and on their own worked hard to drive out the corrupt, sending a strong message that should encourage others to take decisive action in 2016.

“2015 was a year when people again took to the streets to protest corruption. People across the globe sent a strong signal to those in power: it is time to tackle grand corruption,” said José Ugaz, chairperson of Transparency International.

South Africa was no exception – at the end of September thousands of protesters marched against corruption in a legal and peaceful show of solidarity and outrage. Demonstrations took place in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town.

As noted by Lewis, Brazil was the biggest decliner in this year’s index, falling five points and dropping seven positions to a rank of 76. The unfolding Petrobras scandal brought people into the country’s streets in 2015 and there is a judicial process emerging that may help Brazil stop corruption.

Corruption Watch believes that the way forward is clear, although challenging: it is necessary to demonstrate that no-one is above the law. But as long as people with wealth and political power are perceived to be above the law, our public and private sectors – as well as our political institutions – will be seen to be riddled with corruption.

“The good work of those serious about combating corruption is overshadowed by those who continue to behave with impunity,” said Lewis.