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Terrorism & Security

And the most corrupt nation this year is.... (+video)

It's a tie between Afghanistan, North Korea, and Somalia. Elsewhere, bankrupt Greece, one-party China, and various 'Arab Spring' nations stand out in Transparency International's annual rankings.

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And perceptions of corruption in public officials may – inadvertently – encourage corruption in society at large.  Earlier this year on the Greek island of Zakynthos, it was discovered that at least 600 people were suspected of falsely claiming to be blind in order to get disability payments. As The Christian Science Monitor reports, the discovery hit a nerve with many who felt country leadership and a general culture of corruption was to blame.

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Latin America Editor

Whitney Eulich is the Monitor's Latin America editor, overseeing regional coverage for CSMonitor.com and the weekly magazine. She also curates the Latin America Monitor Blog.

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The scandal has only fueled Greeks’ cynicism towards a political and social system that has brought the country close to ruin.

“I feel very bitter towards our politicians,” says Nikolaos Plessas, sipping thick black coffee in his cafe in a village of pastel-coloured cottages on Zakynthos.

“They have a [darn] cheek to even run for election after what they’ve done. Hard-working people like me fund their extravagant lifestyles. I won’t be voting next month.”

The campaign being waged by the mayor on Zakynthos is a microcosm of the much bigger effort required by Greece’s politicians to curb fraud, corruption, tax evasion and other long-standing abuses in order to put the country’s economic house in order.

Many Greeks say that will require more than legislation – it requires an entire change of culture.

“The whole system is sick,” says Mr. Skiadopoulos, [a] businessman. “Everybody is corrupt in Greece – the lawyers, the doctors, the judicial system, police, customs – everybody. All of us are guilty, all of us are responsible for what has happened.

“We need to change our whole mentality. Our European partners need to come here and be aggressive in pushing us to change. If they still think we are the devil of Europe, then they must throw us out.”

In releasing the 2012 Perceptions of Corruption Index, Transparency International is not only encouraging governments to integrate anticorruption measures into their system of governance, but empowering citizens to do the same. China, for example, was ranked 80th this year on the index, with a score of 39 in terms of perceived corruption. Corruption was a prominent issue in China this year, with the Bo Xilai scandal grabbing headlines and a rare leadership transition with China’s new leader Xi Jinping warning of “political unrest if corruption remains unchecked,” reports the Financial Times.

However, the Monitor’s China bureau chief, Peter Ford, reports that there have been some grassroots measures taken in China – aided by the rise of social media – to keep politicians in check.

Pity the poor Chinese official.

For years he has been able to get away with almost any kind of behavior, unaccountable to the public and rarely held to account by his superiors.

Suddenly, as two mid-ranking bureaucrats are discovering to their chagrin, he practically cannot even hitch up his shirt cuffs in public, let alone throw his weight around, without the public jumping on his case and possibly getting him fired.

Not because Chinese politics have changed, mind you, but because of Sina Weibo, the Twitter-like social media forum that has trained a critical public eye on people in authority across the land.

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