Rooting out corruption: What does a new corruption perceptions index reveal?

26 Apr 22

Transparency International’s 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index shows a worrying trend among advanced economies, says Kirtsy Stanners.


In January, campaign organisation Transparency International released research showing that 86% of countries around the world had made no progress on tackling public sector corruption during the past decade.

Each year, the body’s Corruption Perception Index ranks 180 countries and territories by their perceived levels of public sector corruption on a scale of zero (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).

Transparency International said that countries violating civil liberties consistently score lower on the Corruption Perception Index. Somalia (13), Syria (13) and South Sudan (11) remain at the bottom of the list. Syria is also ranked last in civil liberties (Somalia and South Sudan are unrated for civil liberties).

“Complacency in fighting corruption exacerbates human rights abuses and undermines democracy, setting off a vicious spiral,” the organisation explained. “As these rights and freedoms erode and democracy declines, authoritarianism takes its place, contributing to even higher levels of corruption.”

Since 2012, 23 countries have significantly declined on the index – including advanced economies such as Australia (73), Canada (74) and the US (67).

The latter this year dropped out of the top 25 countries on the index for the first time. Meanwhile, the UK has improved its score from 74 in 2012 to 78 this year, putting it into 11th position.

Simple mitigation measures

The 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index confirms what most members of the public sector accounting profession will have suspected – while some nations are making real progress in tackling corruption, some higher-scoring countries are experiencing a worrying decline.

The global pandemic demanded a rapid response from public services.

As a result, the governance, transparency and oversight that usually accompanies vast sums of public money was often bypassed. Unsurprisingly, this has provided new avenues for corruption to flourish.

Many of the bribery-related and behavioural problems inherent in a corrupt country can be mitigated against at a systemic level.

This can be achieved through technical solutions, improved financial controls, cultural or behavioural changes, or a combination of all three.

These mitigations could include implementing effective supervision. Simple measures such as motivating public officials, offering fast-track services that could be paid to the government, effective segregation of duties, establishing dual signatories/authorisations or automated processes all reduce entry points for corrupt activity.

The government of Ukraine used an entirely automated procurement system called ProZorro. Developed by Transparency International and funded by the World Bank and other donors, this technical solution has almost eliminated corruption from government procurement.

While these structural mitigations are essential tools in the fight against corruption, for the professional public finance accountant, personal responsibility and accountability are equally important.

Personal due diligence is key to resisting the threat of self-interest when an opportunity to make a personal, financial or other gain presents itself.

CIPFA’s Standard of Professional Practice on Ethics supports our members by clearly setting out the five fundamental principles of ethical behaviour: integrity; objectivity; professional competence and due care; confidentiality; and professional behaviour. It is a key requirement of our roles to be constantly alert to the risk threatening our compliance with these principles and, of course, the principles of public life.

To learn more about reducing opportunities for corruption both for yourself and your organisation, see CIPFA’s free-of-charge ethics e-learning module for all members.

Members can also contact a sounding board comprised of CIPFA members, who can listen to and, on a personal basis, advise people who are experiencing ethical dilemmas, by emailing [email protected].

Image credit | iStock

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