With populations under lockdown and governments wielding greater emergency powers, the Covid-19 crisis has exacerbated already alarming levels of graft and democratic violations worldwide, Transparency International said.
Bribery for virus tests and the procurement of medical supplies to are allowing ruling elites to skim taxpayer funds, according to a report from the global corruption watchdog published Thursday. Transparent budget spending is also particularly difficult to enforce during a pandemic, it said.
“Covid-19 isn’t just a health and economic crisis,” Delia Ferreira Rubio, Transparency’s head, said in the watchdog’s 2020 ranking of countries from cleanest to most corrupt. “It’s a corruption crisis. And one that we’re currently failing to manage.”
Denmark, New Zealand and Finland topped the list of least-corrupt countries while South Sudan, Somalia and Syria were rated worst.
The U.S. slipped another two spots during the final year of Donald J. Trump’s presidency to 25th, down from 16th in 2017.
Challenges from his administration to the oversight of a $1 trillion relief package was an example of how new measures to deal with the virus post risks to transparent governance, Transparency said.
It “raised serious anti-corruption concerns and marked a significant retreat from longstanding democratic norms promoting accountable government,” the report said.
In places where corruption already flourished, authorities tended to confront the outbreak with cash-strapped health services. Countries scoring in the highest third of the graft index spent on average 6.2 per cent of gross domestic product on health care, compared with 3.5 per cent for the middle third and just 1.8 per cent for the lowest third, according to the report.
There was also correlation between corruption and violations of democratic standards. Countries that recorded no violations during the pandemic had an average Corruption Perception Index score of 74 versus an average of 36 for those that perpetrated “major violations.”
The corruption index is calculated using different data sources that aims to capture the perception of graft in 180 countries and territories, with a score of zero denoting “highly corrupt” and 100 “very clean.”
“Countries with higher levels of corruption tend to be the worst perpetrators of democratic and rule-of-law breaches while managing the Covid-19 crisis,” according to the report.