Special Report

The Most Corrupt Countries in the World

More than half of the world’s population believes corruption in the public sector is a very serious problem. According to Transparency International’s 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index, more than two-thirds of the 175 countries reviewed received a score of less than 50 on a scale of 0-100. While no country is absolutely corruption-free, the level varies considerably between countries. Denmark, the least corrupt country, scored 92. At the other end, Somalia and North Korea tied for the most corrupt with a score of 8.

The index, released annually for the past 20 years, considers the levels of bribery, embezzlement, freedom of information, and other corrupt practices. It does not, however, capture all forms of corruption. It is difficult to measure the bribery practices of multinational corporations while doing business abroad, for example. In addition, the Corruption Perceptions Index scores are not based on the views of ordinary people. Rather, the rank is based on the opinions of “internationally focused experts.”

Click here to see the most corrupt countries in the world

In many of these nations, public opinion differs substantially from the experts’ opinion — and the index score. While more than half of people around the world think corruption is a very serious problem, less than one-third of country residents claimed it was a serious problem in four of the most corrupt nations. Public sector corruption may be so commonplace in many of these countries that it is no longer questioned.

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In many cases, country residents may have no choice other than to participate in corrupt practices. More than 20% of residents in all but two of the countries on this list with available data said bribes were the only way to obtain services. In South Sudan and Libya, more than 50% of people thought bribery essential to obtaining services.

One third of the world’s population strongly disagree that ordinary people can make a difference in the fight against corruption. In six of the most corrupt countries, far higher percentages of people strongly disagreed they could make a difference.

Bribes are frequently used in a majority of the most corrupt nations, especially to obtain everyday services. While 31% of people globally have paid a bribe to police at some point in their lives, more than 50% of people in five of the most corrupt nations had done so. Bribes were also quite common in the use of other public services in these nations. Residents in all of these countries were more likely than people globally to have paid a bribe for utilities service, for example.

A recent OECD report found there are most likely far more foreign bribes in extractive sectors than in any other industry. According to Transparency International, oil and gas companies in particular are liable to facilitate corrupt deals with national governments. Many of these companies protect the identities of their clients and do not publish information by country. Among other problematic issues such a veil of secrecy brings, this also allows corrupt country leaders to disguise stolen funds. Iraq, Libya, and Venezuela, are members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), a cartel that plays a huge role in determining global oil supplies. Sudan and South Sudan are also heavily dependent on their shared oil industries.

According to Transparency International, oil production will also increasingly come from developing nations, which disproportionately make up the most corrupt countries. Many of the most corrupt nations remain among the world’s less-developed and poorest. Seven of the most corrupt countries with available data had GDPs per capita of less than $5,000 in 2013. The United States, by contrast, had a GDP per capita of more than $53,000 in 2013. This figure was exceptionally low in Burundi, which had a GDP per capita of just $877.

In order to identify the 12 most corrupt countries in the world, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the lowest 12 index scores from Transparency International’s 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index of 175 countries. Nations were assessed by experts as part of a variety of data sources. Country-resident survey data came from Transparency International’s 2013 Global Corruption Barometer, which surveyed residents in 107 countries. National economic data came from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). GDP per capita figures are based on purchasing power parity.

These are the most corrupt countries in the world.

12. Cambodia
> Index score (0-100): 21 (tied–11th worst)
> Pct. saying corruption very serious: 33% (23rd lowest)
> Pct. paid bribe for any service: 57% (10th highest)
> 2013 GDP per capita: $3,056 (20th lowest)

According to a survey of experts, Cambodia is the 12th most corrupt country in the world. Ordinary Cambodians, however, seem to have a very different perception of their government. Less than 30% of respondents thought that the country’s political parties were corrupt, and just 16% thought the legislature was corrupt. Both percentages were among the lower figures worldwide, as well as lower than figures for the United States. Residents also believed the problem of corruption had improved, with 11% stating corruption decreased by a lot, one of the highest figures reviewed. However, some forms of corruption may be so commonplace in Cambodia that they become the norm rather than questioned. Cambodians were among the world’s most likely to pay bribes. Nearly 60% of people had paid a bribe to at least one public service, more than twice the rate globally and one of the top figures reviewed.

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11. Zimbabwe
> Index score (0-100): 21 (tied–11th worst)
> Pct. saying corruption very serious: 81% (4th highest)
> Pct. paid bribe for any service: 62% (5th highest)
> 2013 GDP per capita: $1,954 (13th lowest)

More than three-quarters of survey respondents said that corruption had increased by a lot in Zimbabwe, a higher share than in almost any other country. Also, more than 80% claimed corruption was a very serious problem in the public sector, versus a global rate of 51%, and higher than in all but three other nations. Like other countries with relatively corrupt public sectors, bribery is very common in Zimbabwe. Seventy percent of survey respondents said they had been asked to pay a bribe, considerably higher than the global rate of 34% and also among highest figures reviewed. Zimbabwe residents are also relatively discouraged about tackling corruption issues, as 44% said they strongly disagreed that ordinary people can make a difference in the fight against corruption.

10. Burundi
> Index score (0-100): 20
> Pct. saying corruption very serious: 46% (37th lowest)
> Pct. paid bribe for any service: N/A
> 2013 GDP per capita: $877 (3rd lowest)

Rampant corruption in Burundi is largely due to poverty and security concerns. Burundi had a GDP per capita of just $877 last year, nearly the lowest figure in the world. Burundi has struggled to recover from a 12-year civil war, which was largely due to tensions between the country’s Tutsi and Hutu ethnic groups. While relatively high proportions of residents in the world’s most corrupt nations believed the level of corruption had decreased in their country, only 6% of Burundians thought so, one of the lowest percentages reviewed. More than two-thirds of survey respondents, on the other hand, believed corruption had increased in Burundi, among the higher proportions. Ninety percent of the country’s residents stated they had been asked to pay a bribe in their lifetime, the second-highest percentage reviewed.

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9. Yemen
> Index score (0-100): 19 (tied–8th worst)
> Pct. saying corruption very serious: 11% (tied-5th lowest)
> Pct. paid bribe for any service: 74% (3rd highest)
> 2013 GDP per capita: $3,838 (23rd lowest)

Fifty-six percent of Yemeni respondents stated that corruption in their country had increased, more than in most countries. Yemen only recently instituted an access to information law — which enables citizens and the press to gather information about a government’s activities –so this perception may actually be an understatement. Further, Transparency International notes that affiliates have recently called on Yemen “to introduce access to information laws that meet international standards and to implement them now.” Yemen has faced a dramatic increase in weapons and drug smuggling in the last decade. Diesel has been particularly vulnerable to corrupt trading practices because it is subsidized by the state. Smugglers buy the fuel in Yemen and sell it elsewhere at international prices. Like other countries with high levels of corruption, Yemen’s GDP per capita of $3,838 was among the lower figures worldwide.

8. Venezuela
> Index score (0-100): 19 (tied–8th worst)
>Pct. saying corruption very serious: 83% (3rd highest)
> Pct. paid bribe for any service: 27% (42nd highest)
> 2013 GDP per capita: $18,452 (39th highest)

Venezuelans seem to have a clear perception of their country’s corruption. Eighty-three percent claimed corruption was a very serious problem in the public sector, more than in all but two other countries reviewed. Nearly 60% also said that corruption had worsened significantly, also among the highest figures. Venezuelans have been expressing their displeasure, as the largest protest in more than a decade took place at the beginning of this year. The protest was initially a reaction to security concerns, but later included corruption as a major grievance. While the demonstrations have been largely peaceful, dozens have been killed since the protests began. Like several other highly corrupt nations, Venezuela is highly dependent on its oil sector, an industry the OECD has identified as extremely vulnerable to corrupt practices. In predicting the country would soon default, Harvard University professors Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff pointed out that, despite its oil wealth, Venezuela “is so badly mismanaged that real per capita GDP today is 2% lower than it was in 1970, despite a ten-fold increase in oil prices.”

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7. Libya
> Index score (0-100): 18
> Pct. saying corruption very serious: 41% (31st lowest)
> Pct. paid bribe for any service: 62% (5th highest)
> 2013 GDP per capita: $20,681 (35th highest)

More than two-thirds of Libya’s residents had paid a bribe for some form of utilities services, the highest proportion among all countries reviewed. More than half of respondents said there was no other way to obtain a service other than to bribe an official, a higher figure than in all but three countries. The necessity for some degree of corruption in Libya may partly explain why less than 30% of residents said they would report an incident of corruption, one of the lowest percentages worldwide. Like several other countries with high levels of corruption, Libya has been struggling through a period of instability. The more than 40-year authoritarian rule of Muammar Gaddafi came to a violent end in 2011. The ensuing turmoil, including the as yet unsuccessful attempt to establish a central government, likely will not help the country curb its corruption.

6. Iraq
> Index score (0-100): 16
> Pct. saying corruption very serious: 44% (33rd lowest)
> Pct. paid bribe for any service: 29% (38th highest)
> 2013 GDP per capita: $14,366 (46th highest)

As in other highly corrupt nations, Iraqis do not seem to agree with experts that their country has remarkably high levels of corruption. Just 44% claimed that corruption was a very serious problem in the public sector, less than the global figure of 51%. Corruption has likely been fairly commonplace since the U.S. invasion. According to Transparency International, conflict-torn countries are “characterized by a massive influx of reconstruction and state-building resources,” which tends to create opportunities for corruption. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi recently announced the discovery of 50,000 “ghost soldiers” listed as part of the country’s military, which vastly inflated job counts and military accounting figures. A fraction of the U.S. investment in the country is allocated to army payroll. Austerity measures brought on by the recent drop in oil prices and the war on the terrorist group ISIL will likely only hamper the country’s efforts to curb corruption.

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5. South Sudan
> Index score (0-100): 15
> Pct. saying corruption very serious: 24% (12th lowest)
> Pct. paid bribe for any service: 39% (24th highest)
> 2013 GDP per capita: $2,400 (17th lowest)

South Sudan established its independence from Sudan in 2011, making it the youngest country in the world. The country’s 2013 GDP per capita of $2,400 was among the lowest in the world. However, perhaps because of of limited historical data, different statistics attempting to ascertain South Sudan’s economic status and progress are still subject to large fluctuations. GDP had risen more than 27% in 2013 from the year before, after dropping nearly 48% year-over-year in 2012. The IMF estimated similar surges and downturns for this year and 2015, respectively. These growing pains, in addition to the fallout from a long period of civil war, have likely made South Sudan very vulnerable to corruption. More than half of the residents believed bribes were the only way to obtain a service, a higher percentage than in all but a handful of countries.

4. Afghanistan
> Index score (0-100): 12
> Pct. saying corruption very serious: 50% (43rd lowest)
> Pct. paid bribe for any service: 46% (17th highest)
> 2013 GDP per capita: $1,923 (12th lowest)

Sixty-five percent of people in Afghanistan have paid a bribe at some stage of the judiciary process, nearly the highest rate worldwide. While local country experts agreed that Afghanistan’s public sector was among the most corrupt, only half of survey respondents claimed corruption in the public sector was a very serious problem, one of the lower figures reviewed. Like in other war-torn nations, Afghanistan is also more likely to have costly corruption scandals related to foreign investments and aid for reconstruction. The country relies heavily on the production of opium — the main ingredient in heroin — which likely exacerbates Afghanistan’s vulnerability to corruption. General John Allen, a former U.S. commander in the country, recently identified corruption as the worst threat to Afghanistan’s future.

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3. Sudan
> Index score (0-100): 11
> Pct. saying corruption very serious: 11% (5th lowest)
>Pct. paid bribe for any service: 17% (33rd lowest)
> 2013 GDP per capita: $4,428 (26th lowest)

Experts believe Sudan is nearly the most corrupt nation in the world. More than three-quarters of Sudanese residents surveyed agreed that the parliament in particular was corrupt, the 12th highest figure among all countries reviewed. However, just 11% of respondents thought corruption in the public sector was a very serious problem, among the lowest rates worldwide. Corruption is most likely to occur in extractive industries, according to a recent OECD report. While Sudan lost 75% of its oil production in 2011 when South Sudan gained independence, much of the country’s corruption problem may be attributed to its long history of reliance on oil.

2. North Korea
> Index score (0-100): 8 (tied-the worst)
> Pct. saying corruption very serious: N/A
> Pct. paid bribe for any service: N/A
> 2013 GDP per capita: N/A

As perhaps the world’s least transparent nation, it is not particularly surprising that North Korea is perceived as among the most corrupt countries by regional experts. The complete absence of survey data from country residents makes it both impossible to estimate the level of perceived corruption, while also serving as a testament to the severity of the problem. By many accounts, public sector affairs as well as North Korea’s image are under rigid control of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un. Corruption has, by many accounts, become normal in North Korea, and its people almost certainly suffer for it. Beyond corruption, North Korea has a distressing record of human rights violations. According to a United Nations Human Rights Council-mandated Commission of Inquiry, the human rights violations in North Korea are “without parallel in the contemporary world.”

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1. Somalia
> Index score (0-100): 8 (tied-the worst)
> Pct. saying corruption very serious: N/A
> Pct. paid bribe for any service: N/A
>2013 GDP per capita: N/A

Like North Korea, there is no survey data of residents from Somalia. Yet, experts asked by Transparency International believe that the country is tied with North Korea for the world’s most corrupt. Following the collapse of the Somalian government in 1991, much of the country lacked any formal government for decades. Some area of the country are largely autonomous, and one part of the country, Somaliland, has claimed independence since 1991. For much of the last few decades, infighting among warlords in the country was responsible for much of the unrest. In the last decade, however, terrorist group al-Shabaab has become the major destabilizing force in the country. Somalia has also been home to many pirate groups, which have attacked ships off the Horn of Africa. The State Department not only advises against travelling to Somalia, but also recommends that ships avoid sailing close to the coast.

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