Many have raised concerns over newly elected President Donald Trump’s refusal to disclose his tax returns as they remain alert to signs that he may pursue policies for business reasons. Such concerns are more often voiced in relation to regimes in corrupt countries, where those in power use public resources for private interests.
No country is completely free of corruption, and while the United States is by no means the least corrupt nation, corruption levels in plenty of other countries far exceed that of the U.S. Approximately two-thirds of all countries, including the United States and other major economic powers around the world struggle to control corruption. This amounts to an estimated 6 billion people living under corrupt governments.
24/7 Wall St. reviewed the level of perceived corruption by country on Transparency International’s 2016 Corruptions Perceptions Index. The global average score on the index is 43 out of 100. According to Transparency International’s grading framework, any score below 50 means the government is failing to address the country’s endemic public sector corruption. Somalia is the most corrupt country in the world with a score of just 10. Venezuela and Iraq round out the top most corrupt list, each tied for 10th place with scores of 17.
The most corrupt countries share several notable characteristics: violent conflicts, high dependency on foreign aid, income inequality and rampant poverty, as well as heavy oil dependence.
One of the most important safeguards against government corruption is accountability. When a government is held accountable for its actions, officials are less likely to circumvent or break the law, and they are more likely to be caught. According to TI, community monitoring efforts around the world have in some cases led to “the detection of corruption, reduced leakages of funds, and improved the quantity and quality of public services.” Recently in the United States, for example, Trump issued a gag order on the Department of Health and Human Services and Environmental Protection Agency that prevents employees from the agency from communicating with members of Congress. After an organized public backlash, however, the order was rescinded. In many of the most corrupt countries, organized resistance is less effective.
One reason the U.S. government is accountable to its people is taxation. Most federal expenditure is taxpayer-funded, so Americans want and demand to know how their money is being spent. In many of the world’s poorest countries, by contrast, a large share of the government’s budget comes from foreign aid. As a result, citizens may be less informed about their government’s finances, and less aware if funds are misused.
Corrupt governments also avoid accountability through secrecy and limiting the public’s access to information. According to TI, “Access to information increases the responsiveness of government bodies, while simultaneously having a positive effect on the levels of public participation in a country”. In countries where public knowledge of government action is limited, officials may be more likely to break the law and less likely to be caught.
While corruption problems can seem to pale in comparison to the devastation caused by war, the two often go hand in hand. Many of the most corrupt countries are also among the most violent nations on the planet. Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, and Yemen, which have each struggled with internal conflict and war, are also among the most corrupt nations on this list.
Corruption can contribute to unrest in a nation, and it seems to flourish in such conditions to the point of becoming normal. Afghanistan is a notable example. In 2015, appointees under former Afghan President Hamid Karzai allegedly fabricated the number of schools in the country in order to obtain more funding from international aid. In a country such as Afghanistan preoccupied with security concerns, institutions often fail to function properly. As a consequence, bribes and extortion are common not just for unchecked public officials, but also for ordinary citizens seeking access to basic services.
Nearly all of the most corrupt countries are also quite poor. Of the 11 corrupt countries, the World Bank publishes GDP per capita data in eight. Of those eight countries, GDP per capita exceeds $5,000 in just three. By contrast, U.S. GDP per capita is $56,084, 11th highest of countries reviewed.
Some of the world’s poorest countries are also some of the world’s most oil-rich countries. Oil and gas companies, both private multinational and government-owned corporations, rarely publish details of their operations in these countries, and often protect the identities of their equity holders and subsidiaries. This is how corrupt government leaders are frequently able to hide stolen funds.
In order to identify the most corrupt countries in the world, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 11 countries with the 10 lowest index scores from Transparency International’s 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index of 176 countries. National economic data came from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). GDP per capita figures are based on purchasing power parity. Literacy rates, Gini index scores, and poverty rates are from the World Bank. All data are as of the most recent period available.
These are the most corrupt nations in the world.