The COVID-19 pandemic has been used in many countries as an excuse to curtail basic freedoms and sidestep important checks and balances, according to a new report that stresses the need to accelerate the fight against corruption to uphold human rights and democracy.
The annual Corruption Perceptions Index from Transparency International warns that “human rights and democracy across the world are under assault.”
The Berlin-based nongovernmental organisation surveys business leaders and experts to assign scores to 180 countries and territories on their perceived levels of public sector corruption.
Using a scale from 0 to 100 (with 100 being very clean and 0 ranking as highly corrupt), the 10th annual report found that two-thirds of countries scored below 50. The average score was 43 out of 100. Overall, the fight against corruption is having mixed results – with some nations making gains and others falling behind.
“Since 2012, 25 countries significantly improved their scores, but in the same period 23 countries significantly declined,” the report said.
It also found that despite increased momentum to end the abuse of anonymous shell companies, many high-scoring countries with relatively clean public sectors continue to enable corruption. A shell company does not have a physical location, employees, products or revenue. It is used to store money, help facilitate tax avoidance and, in some cases, deal in illegal activity such as money laundering. Some high-ranking countries such as Switzerland have been called tax havens in part due to their tolerance of shell companies.
But corruption is not merely measured in dollars and cents, the report notes. Financial corruption spills over into law enforcement and the judiciary, which could lead to impunity for serious crimes.
Human rights suffer as a result. This year, highly corrupt countries accounted for almost all murders of human rights defenders around the world.