Are all the world's nations becoming less corrupt?

Transparency International released the 2015 Global Perceptions of Corruption Index Wednesday, saying that while public-sector corruption is still a major problem around the world, more countries are improving than worsening.

Pavel Golovkin/AP
Transparency International Russia chief Elena Panfilova speaks to the media during a news conference in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016. The anti-graft watchdog group says corruption continues to be a problem for Russia and although the country’s perceived corruption rankings have improved slightly in the past year, there is still significant room for improvement.

Denmark is the least corrupt country, for the second consecutive year, while the United States ranked 16th with with a score of 76, moving up one place from the previous year.

Transparency International released its 2015 Global Perceptions of Corruption Index Wednesday, saying that while public-sector corruption is still a major problem around the world, more countries are improving than worsening. The rankings looked at 168 nations around the globe.

Denmark scored 91, followed by Finland, Sweden, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, Singapore, and Canada, as the top 10 least corrupt countries, according to the organization. Britain climbed in the ranking, to the 10th spot from 14th while Greece also advanced to 58th from 69th.

Turkey fell two spots to 66th, continuing its deterioration from 53rd place in 2013, while Somalia and North Korea continued to rank as the world's most corrupt countries.

Brazil also ranked as one of the worst performers as it slid to 76th place, down from 69th last year, a position that the organization attributed to the massive corruption scandal at state-run companies, including oil giant Petroleo Brasileiro SA (Petrobras), which involved allegations against top government officials.

“The 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index clearly shows that corruption remains a blight around the world,” said Transparency head José Ugaz, The Washington Post reported. “But 2015 was also a year when people again took to the streets to protest corruption – people across the globe sent a strong signal to those in power: it is time to tackle grand corruption.”

The Corruption Perception Index has been around since 1995 and measures “the perceived levels of public sector corruption worldwide.” Transparency International uses data from institutions including the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and business school IMD to compile data using a range of factors, including accountability, levels of bribery, unpunished corruption, and whether public institutions respond to citizens’ needs. The organization then ranks 168 countries on a scale of zero to 100, with the latter being the least corrupt.

The organization noted that countries that have clean public sectors at home can be linked to international corruption scandals elsewhere. Sweden, for example, ranks third in the index, “yet the Swedish-Finnish firm TeliaSonera – 37 percent owned by the Swedish state – is facing allegations that it paid millions of dollars in bribes to secure business in Uzbekistan, which comes in at 153rd in the index.

How accurate then, is the Corruption Index in depicting the levels of corruption worldwide?

The Corruption watchdog recognizes that “the index cannot capture the individual frustration of this reality, but it does capture the informed views of analysts, businesspeople, and experts in countries around the world.”

The Corruption Perception Index has other limits too, according to experts who contend that ranking a country on one score does not accurately represent what the whole country is experiencing. For instance, the "scope and extent of corruption evident in, say, the city administration of New York is likely to be altogether different to that which you’ll find in, for example, rural Kansas," writes Dan Hough, a professor of politics at the University of Sussex, in a Washington Post commentary. "Computing one score to accurately cover such variety is always going to be very difficult."

He adds that measuring the perceptions of corruption is not the same thing as measuring the actual corruption in a particular country.

“TI doesn’t claim that the CPI measures corruption, but rather perceptions of corruption. While knowing more about how citizens perceive a phenomenon certainly has its uses, it is also plausible that perception and reality might differ considerably. This gulf may well mean that the CPI is actually (and inadvertently) distorting reality, simply reinforcing stereotypes and cliches.”

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