The adage that “no news is good news” doesn’t apply to Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). That corruption levels remain at a global standstill or have worsened highlights a disturbing trend for companies, governments, and citizens alike.
Every year, the CPI ranks 180 countries and territories by how the public perceives its region’s level of corruption, using a scale of zero (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean). According to the 2021 edition of the report, published Tuesday, the global average—at just 43 out of a possible 100 points—remains unchanged for the 10th year in a row.
“Despite multiple commitments, 131 countries have made no significant progress against corruption in the last decade,” Transparency International (TI) stated. “Two-thirds of countries score below 50, indicating that they have serious corruption problems, while 27 countries are at their lowest score ever.”
The United States, at a record low of 67 points for the second consecutive year, has dropped nine points since 2015. For the first time in a decade, the country is not among the top 25 best-performing countries on the CPI, according to TI. Even with President Joe Biden’s newly launched anti-corruption initiative, announced in December, “[T]he country’s lack of progress on the CPI can be explained by the persistent attacks against free and fair elections,” TI stated.
On a global scale, according to TI, “[C]ountries with well-protected civil liberties generally score higher on the CPI, while countries who violate civil liberties tend to score lower.” Those civil liberties include democracy and human rights, both of which continue to come under attack in many regions around the world, as research by Freedom House indicates.
“Human rights are not simply a nice-to-have in the fight against corruption,” said TI Chair Delia Ferreira Rubio. “Authoritarianism makes anti-corruption efforts dependent on the whims of an elite. Ensuring that civil society and the media can speak freely and hold power to account is the only sustainable route to a corruption-free society.”
Notably damaging is that many countries continue to use the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse to sidestep checks and balances, as indicated by data tracked by V-Dem.
For anyone who has closely followed the CPI each year, they know the results realistically have remained stagnant since its launch in 1995—not just over the last decade. The year-over-year findings are analogous to the sort of stereotypical groups one observes in high school—which is to say, as it relates to the CPI, a select few European countries are always at the head of the class; the Middle East and Africa regions are the dropouts; and all the other countries in between are just happy to get a passing grade, even if it’s below average.
The top-performing countries aren’t innocent bystanders in the global anti-corruption fight, either. “Many of these high-scoring countries remain safe havens for corrupt individuals from abroad,” TI stated.
The CPI’s annual message consistently highlights one raw truth: Many public- and private-sector entities in countries around the world are either complicit in corruption or aren’t doing enough or care enough to make any real change. Otherwise, there would be real change.
“In authoritarian contexts where control over government, business, and the media rests with a few, social movements remain the last check on power,” said TI Secretariat Chief Executive Daniel Eriksson as part of a call to action. “It is the power held by … ordinary people from all walks of life that will ultimately deliver accountability.”