Opinion-Policy Nexus

Once a year, Transparency International, a Berlin-based NGO, publishes a massive survey on corruption among the nations of the world.

The Corruption Perceptions Index, as it is called, gives national leaders, international businessmen, academics and journalists a tool with which to compare the honesty and integrity of the public sectors in no fewer than 180 countries world-wide.

The 2018 CPI, which came out a few days ago, gave Canada a score of 81 out of 100 – an A-minus, if you will. That put Canada in ninth place in the ranking, which is not too shabby, but not exactly great. It left this country’s public sector well behind the leaders – Denmark and New Zealand with 88 and 87, respectively, followed by Finland, Singapore, Sweden and Switzerland, which all had 85.

The poorest performers, not surprisingly, were Somalia (10/100) and Syria and South Sudan (both 13/100).

Canada has usually been ranked in the bottom half of the top 10 in the annual survey, although it fell to 14th place in the wake of the Sponsorship scandal of the early 2000s – the Liberal scandal that occurred on  the watch of former Prime Minister Jean Chretien, precipitated the defeat of his successor, Paul Martin, and led to the election Stephen Harper and the Conservatives.

Prior to the election of Donald Trump in 2016, the United States generally finished a just few places behind Canada. But Trump has clearly damaged his country’s global reputation. The 2018 survey has the U.S. down in 22nd place.

In its assessment, Transparency International (TI) notes that Trump had been elected “on a promise of cleaning up American politics and making government work better for those who feel their interests have been neglected by political elites.”

And yet, as TI continues, “The U.S. faces a wide range of domestic challenges related to the abuse of entrusted power for private gain. … Key issues include the influence of wealthy individuals over government; ‘pay to play’ politics and the revolving doors between elected government office, for-profit companies, and professional associations; and the abuse of the U.S. financial system by corrupt foreign kleptocrats and local elites.”


The low U.S. score, TI explains, “comes at a time of growing nativist populist sentiment, a rise in hate crimes, trenchant political polarisation and the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. All of these factors combined only exacerbate the loss of public trust in America’s foundational institutions.” 

In a separate survey, taken in October and November 2017, TI found that 44 per cent of Americans believed all or most of the people in the White House were corrupt (up from 36 per cent a year earlier); seven out of 10 respondents believed the Trump administration was failing to fight corruption; and nearly one-third of African-Americans saw the police as highly corrupt. Chances are, those numbers would be even higher today.

The loss of faith in the integrity of public institutions and authorities may seem pronounced in the United States, but in the view of Transparency International, the “continued failure” of most countries to control corruption is contributing to a crisis of democracy. Patricia Moreira, TI’s managing director puts it this way: “Corruption chips away at democracy to produce a vicious cycle, where corruption undermines democratic institutions and, in turn, weak institutions are less able to control corruption.”

Weak democratic institutions mean less protection for citizens’ political rights, and TI worries about the rise of populism in many countries. “Throughout the world, political leaders who run on a populist platform are gaining power and undermining democracy,” the CPI report concludes. “High corruption rates can contribute to increased support for populist candidates.” 

By way of post-script, where does China, the country with which both the United States and Canada seek to negotiate a trade agreement, stand in the corruption ranking? China is in 87th place with a “cleanliness” rating of just 39 out of 100. Prospective trade partners might want to proceed with caution.


Tuesday, February 5, 2019 - 09:17