Corruption is contributing to a ‘global crisis of democracy’, warns latest annual Corruption Perceptions Index

The 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) released this week by Transparency International claims that the continued failure of most countries to significantly control corruption is contributing to a crisis of democracy around the world. While there are exceptions, the data shows that despite some progress, most countries are failing to make serious inroads against corruption. In fact, all ten of the world’s most transparent nations, a list that is again headed by Denmark, New Zealand and Finland, have seen a decline in their scores recorded back in the middle of the decade.


  • The continued failure of most countries to significantly control corruption is contributing to a crisis of democracy around the world, annual CPI reveals;
  • Denmark, New Zealand and Finland are most democratic nations, but all score lower in 2018 than the levels recorded in the middle of the decade;
  • United States of America (USA) slips in the annual ranking, falling out of the top 20 countries on for the first time since 2011.

The CPI draws on 13 surveys and expert assessments to measure public sector corruption in 180 countries and territories, giving each a score from zero (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean). It also incorporates data from the Democracy Index produced by The Economist Intelligence Unit, the Freedom in the World Index produced by Freedom House and the Annual Democracy Report produced by Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem).

Denmark remains in top spot with a score of 88 in 2018, the same as last year, but down from 91 in 2015. New Zealand, which also scored 91 in 2015 has seen its score decline to 87 in 2018, while Finland, the only other nations to score 90 or over in 2015, scored 85 and ranked joint third with Singapore, Sweden and Switzerland.

Since its inception in 1995, the CPI, Transparency International’s flagship research product, has become one of the most recognised global indicators of public sector corruption.

The latest annual research certainly delivers some global concerns, most notably the decline of the United States of America (USA) in the ranking, falling out of the top 20 countries on the CPI for the first time since 2011. With a score of 71, the US lost four points since last year as it experiences “threats to its system of checks and balances as well as an erosion of ethical norms at the highest levels of power,” according to the research.

Brazil also dropped two points since last year to 35, also earning its lowest CPI score in seven years. Alongside promises to end corruption, the country’s new president has made it clear that he will rule with a strong hand, potentially threatening many of the democratic milestones achieved by the country.

“With many democratic institutions under threat across the globe – often by leaders with authoritarian or populist tendencies – we need to do more to strengthen checks and balances and protect citizens’ rights,” says Patricia Moreira, managing director of Transparency International. “Corruption chips away at democracy to produce a vicious cycle, where corruption undermines democratic institutions and, in turn, weak institutions are less able to control corruption.”

Worryingly, more than two-thirds of countries score below 50, with an average score of only 43. Somalia, South Sudan, and Syria are at the bottom of the index, with 10, 13 and 13 points, respectively. Since 2012, only 20 countries have significantly improved their scores, including Estonia and Côte D’Ivoire, and 16 have significantly declined, including, Australia, Chile and Malta.

The highest scoring region is Western Europe and the European Union, with an average score of 66, while the lowest scoring regions are Sub-Saharan Africa (average score 32) and Eastern Europe and Central Asia (average score 35).

The research also identifies by using cross analysis with global democracy data, a link between corruption and the health of democracies. It says full democracies score an average of 75 on the CPI; flawed democracies score an average of 49; hybrid regimes – which show elements of autocratic tendencies – score 35; autocratic regimes perform worst, with an average score of just 30 on the CPI.

Exemplifying this trend, the CPI scores for Hungary and Turkey decreased by eight and nine points respectively over the last five years. At the same time, Turkey was downgraded from ‘partly free’ to ‘not free’, while Hungary registered its lowest score for political rights since the fall of communism in 1989. “These ratings reflect the deterioration of rule of law and democratic institutions, as well as a rapidly shrinking space for civil society and independent media, in those countries,” according to the research.

“Our research makes a clear link between having a healthy democracy and successfully fighting public sector corruption,” says Delia Ferreira Rubio, chair of Transparency International. “Corruption is much more likely to flourish where democratic foundations are weak and, as we have seen in many countries, where undemocratic and populist politicians can use it to their advantage.”

To make real progress against corruption and strengthen democracy around the world, Transparency International calls on all governments to:

  • strengthen the institutions responsible for maintaining checks and balances over political power, and ensure their ability to operate without intimidation;
  • close the implementation gap between anti-corruption legislation, practice and enforcement;
  • support civil society organisations which enhance political engagement and public oversight over government spending, particularly at the local level;
  • support a free and independent media, and ensure the safety of journalists and their ability to work without intimidation or harassment.

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