Anti-corruption efforts have stalled around the world, including in the U.S., study finds

Capitol Hill in Washington
The U.S. dropped to 27th place in Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index, the first time it has failed to make the top 25.
(Susan Walsh / Associated Press)
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Most countries have made little to no progress in bringing down corruption levels over the last decade, and authorities’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic in many places has decreased accountability, a closely watched study by an anti-graft organization found Tuesday.

Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index, which measures the perception of public-sector malfeasance according to experts and businesspeople, found that “increasingly, rights and checks and balances are being undermined not only in countries with systemic corruption and weak institutions, but also among established democracies.”

Among other issues over the last year, it cited the use of Pegasus software, which has been linked to snooping on human rights activists, journalists and politicians across the globe.


The report said the pandemic has “been used in many countries as an excuse to curtail basic freedoms and sidestep important checks and balances.”

In Western Europe, the best-scoring region overall, the pandemic has given countries “an excuse for complacency in anti-corruption efforts as accountability and transparency measures are neglected or even rolled back,” the organization said. In some Asian countries, it said, COVID-19 “also has been used as an excuse to suppress criticism.” It pointed to increased digital surveillance in some nations and authoritarian approaches in others.

The report ranks 180 countries and territories on a scale from zero, meaning “highly corrupt,” to 100, meaning “very clean.” The United States, which slipped over recent years to 67 points in 2020, held that score this time but slipped a couple of places to 27th on the list. Transparency said the U.S. dropped out of the top 25 for the first time “as it faces continuous attacks on free and fair elections and an opaque campaign finance system.”

Los Angeles’ reputation for civic corruption pales in comparison with Chicago or San Francisco. But the City of Angels has a long history of sinners in public office.

Oct. 26, 2021

Denmark, New Zealand and Finland tied for first place with 88 points each; the first two were unchanged from the previous index, while Finland gained three points. Norway, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Germany completed the top 10. Britain was 11th with 78.

Canada, which slid three points to 74 and two places to 13th, “is seeing increased risks of bribery and corruption in business,” the group said. It added that the publication of the Pandora Papers showed Canada as “a hub for illicit financial flows, fueling transnational corruption across the region and the world.”

South Sudan was at the bottom with 11 points; Somalia, with which it shared last place in 2020, tied this time with Syria for second-to-last with 13. Venezuela was a notch above with 14, and then Yemen, North Korea and Afghanistan with 16 apiece.


Transparency said the control of corruption had stagnated or worsened in 86% of the countries it surveyed in the last 10 years. In that time, 23 countries — including the U.S., Canada, Hungary and Poland — have declined significantly in its index, while 25 have improved significantly. Those include Estonia, the Seychelles and Armenia.

Compiled since 1995, the index is calculated using 13 different data sources that provide perceptions of public-sector corruption from businesspeople and country experts. Sources include the World Bank, the World Economic Forum, and private risk and consulting companies.