Eastern Europe, Central Asia Failing To Make Progress In Corruption, Says Watchdog

Transparency International says much of Eastern Europe and Central Asia is failing to make progress in lowering the perceived levels of public sector corruption, threatening democracy across the region.

More than two-thirds of the 180 countries on the Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 released on January 29 by the Berlin-based watchdog scored below 50 on its 0-100 scale. The lower the number, the more corrupt a country is perceived to be.

Afghanistan, with 16 points, ranked 172nd in the world, and Pakistan ranked 117th with a score of 33.

For the Eastern Europe and Central Asia area, the average score was 35, putting it only above Sub-Saharan Africa, which scored 32, on a regional basis.

The grouping for Eastern Europe and Central Asia includes Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan.

Denmark was the highest-ranked country globally with a score of 88, followed by New Zealand with 87.

The average score on the index, which ranks countries and territories by their perceived levels of public-sector corruption according to experts and businesspeople, was 43.

With nearly every country [in Eastern Europe and Central Asia] scoring 45 or less out of 100, there has been very little progress in combatting corruption, the report said.

"A general lack of political will, weak institutions, and few political rights create an environment where corruption flourishes with little opposition," it added.

'Crisis Of Democracy'

The report said that the broader picture isn't much better as the continued failure of most countries to significantly control corruption is contributing to "a crisis of democracy" around the world.

Turkmenistan scored worst of all countries in the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region, placing 161st with a score of 20, followed by Uzbekistan (23), which placed 158th.

Russia's score fell to 28 from 29 the previous year, leaving it in 138th place out of 180 nations, the same as Iran.

Georgia led the way for the entire region with a score of 58, making it 41st on the list.

While neighboring Armenia, with a score of 35, was much further down at 105th place, the organization struck an optimistic chord about reforms promised by the government of Nikol Pashinian. A former anticorruption journalist and opposition lawmaker, Pashinian rose to power last year on the back of nonviolent mass protests fueled by outrage over endemic corruption.

"Judicial reform should be at the top of the priority list; a proper separation of powers, as well as the appropriate checks and balances, will go a long way to ensuring these reforms are a success," Transparency International said in singling out Armenia. It added that the role of civil society was also crucial.

The organization also warned that voter frustration with corruption, which has reshaped the politics of several countries such as Armenia in recent years, must not be forgotten by elected officials.

"The leaders riding waves of discontent to positions of power must pay more than lip-service to anti-corruption; it should enter the DNA of their policies and reforms," the watchdog said.

European Union members Romania and Bulgaria ranked 61st and 77th in the world, with scores of 47 and 42 respectively.

With a score of 71, the United States dropped four points from the previous year, putting it in 22nd place and leaving it out of the top 20 countries on the index for the first time since 2011.

The low score comes at a time when the United States "is experiencing threats to its system of checks and balances as well as an erosion of ethical norms at the highest levels of power," the organization said.

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