Troubling signs and key opportunities that can make – or break – the fight against corruption
Over the past decade, frustration about corruption has dominated electoral campaigns, toppled governments and inspired people to take to the streets in their thousands.
And while the 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) paints a grim global picture of the state of public sector corruption, it also shows that 25 countries have made demonstrable improvements in recent years. Many of these wins belong not only to government reformers, but also to the dedicated individuals and communities from across all parts of society who have sparked change.
But progress against corruption cannot be taken for granted – especially not when human rights and democracy are under attack. In the last year alone, high-level corruption scandals, fresh allegations of misused COVID-19 funds, and deliberate efforts to weaken institutional and societal checks on power show that vigilance is needed across the board.
Transparency International’s analysis reveals that in 2022 our societies will need to be on particularly high alert in nine countries.
What is a ‘country to watch’ on the CPI?
In this annual watch-list published alongside the CPI, Transparency International flags countries that need closer monitoring and attention in the coming year.
Some are countries where significant developments may have not yet been reflected in their CPI scores. For example, following violent crackdowns against protestors and increased repression, we flagged Belarus as a country to watch last year. Belarus had been gradually improving on the Index – until it dropped 6 points this year.
Other countries highlighted include those with new opportunities to advance the fight against public sector corruption. For example, following the peaceful Velvet Revolution which brought to power a reform-minded government, Transparency International listed Armenia as a country to watch on the 2018 CPI. Since then, the country has risen 14 points, marking a significant improvement.
Australia (CPI score: 73) is one of the world’s most significant decliners, having dropped 12 points since 2012 to hit a record low this year. Its deteriorating score indicates systemic failings in tackling public sector corruption. Despite public calls and previous promises, last year Australia missed a landmark opportunity to establish a national anti-corruption agency with broad powers to investigate corruption.
And like many other top-scoring countries on the CPI, Australia needs to do much more to end its complicity in transnational corruption, which is not measured by the Index.
The Pandora Papers investigations in 2021 showed that, thanks to persistent opacity in real estate ownership, Australia’s property market is an easy target for corrupt individuals from abroad.
Enforcement remains weak against companies paying bribes to secure contracts abroad. This shortcoming creates major corruption risks in other Pacific countries too. Many businesses working in the Pacific, particularly in the extractives sector, are registered in Australia – a sector which most people surveyed by the 2021 Global Corruption Barometer believe is tainted with corruption.
As Australia heads into a federal election, anti-corruption commitments – and a firm resolution to follow through on them – will matter more than ever. The establishment of a strong anti-corruption commission, which is long overdue, should be a top priority.