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Watchdog ties corruption to virus response

Transparency International found nations doing the most to combat corruption had better health care systems in place to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and other anti-corruption protesters at a march in Moscow
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, center, and other anti-corruption protesters at a march in Moscow in memory of slain politician Boris Nemtsov (AN/Michał Siergiejevicz)

Transparency International reported on Thursday that nations doing the most to combat public corruption saved more lives because they had better health care systems in place to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Berlin-based global watchdog group's annual Corruption Perceptions Index said most nations made little to no progress fighting corruption in 2020, which contributed to "democratic backsliding" and weakened their ability to deal with the coronavirus.

“COVID-19 is not just a health and economic crisis. It is a corruption crisis. And one that we are currently failing to manage,” Delia Ferreira Rubio, chair of Transparency International, said. “The past year has tested governments like no other in memory, and those with higher levels of corruption have been less able to meet the challenge."

The report said corruption in health care, ranging from bribery and embezzlement to overpricing and favoritism, contributed to "enormous cracks" in nations' COVID-19 responses. Among the 180 countries and territories that the Berlin-based organization ranked from zero to 100, based on perceived levels of public sector corruption, more than two-thirds fell below 50 — and the average score was 43.

"The data shows that despite some progress, most countries still fail to tackle corruption effectively," the report said. "In addition to earning poor scores, nearly half of all countries have been stagnant on the CPI for almost a decade. These countries have failed to move the needle in any significant way to improve their score and combat public sector corruption."

Denmark and New Zealand came out on top, each with 88, followed by Finland, Singapore, Sweden and Switzerland, each with 85. The lowest scoring were Somalia and South Sudan, each with 12, followed by Syria, 14, and Yemen and Venezuela, each with 15.

Just 26 nations improved their scores since 2012, while 22 nations fell further behind. By region, Western Europe and the European Union scored the highest, 66, while most of Africa scored the lowest, 32.