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And The Award For Most Corrupt Nation Goes To ...

A young Afghan balloon seller runs toward a customer in Kabul on April 2. Afghanistan, North Korea and Somalia are the most-corrupt countries, according to the annual Corruption Perception Index released Tuesday.
Massoud Hossaini
AFP/Getty Images
A young Afghan balloon seller runs toward a customer in Kabul on April 2. Afghanistan, North Korea and Somalia are the most-corrupt countries, according to the annual Corruption Perception Index released Tuesday.

Each year, Transparency International releases its Corruption Perception Index, and this year, like most, the Scandinavian countries and New Zealand were at one end of the spectrum as the least-corrupt nations in the world.

In the category of most-corrupt, there was a three-way tie: Afghanistan, North Korea and Somalia.

The index by the watchdog group measures the perception of corruption in a country's public sector. It ranks nations on a scale from 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (squeaky clean). Two-thirds of the 177 countries on the list scored below 50.

The U.S. was among the least corrupt at No. 19 on the list, with a score of 73.

Other takeaways:

-- Corruption in Spain, reeling from the effects of the economic crisis, worsened. It dropped six points to 59, and was 40th on the list. Greece, by contrast, was 80th, with a score of 40 — an improvement over its score last year. Reuters reports:

"Spain's five-year economic slump, which has forced it to adopt tight austerity laws, exposed how cozy relations between politicians and construction magnates fed a disastrous housing bubble. The former treasurer of the governing People's Party (PP) told a judge that he had channeled cash donations from construction magnates into leaders' pockets, and he was found to have 48 million euros in Swiss bank accounts. The king's son-in-law, Inaki Urdangarin, was also charged this year with embezzling 6 million euros in public funds."

-- Corruption is getting worse in Arab Spring nations Yemen, Libya and Syria. The Associated Press reports:

"With the ouster of longtime Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh last year, the lawlessness that followed led to an expansion of corruption in army, police and government agencies.

"In Libya, bribery and embezzlement were common under slain dictator Moammar Gadhafi's 42-year rule. But the collapse of his government in an uprising supported by a Western bombing campaign has done little to root out corruption. ...

"And in Syria with the ongoing civil war, smuggling, bribe paying and other issues have increased with the breakdown of state order."

Corruption this year in Egypt was the same as last year, but the AP noted that the data for the country were collected before the coup that ousted President Mohammed Morsi in July.

-- Myanmar showed the biggest improvement. The Southeast Asian country emerged from nearly five decades of military rule in 2011. It gained six points, climbing to 157th position. It was 172nd last year. Other big "improvers" were Brunei, Laos, Senegal, Nepal, Estonia, Greece, Lesotho and Latvia.

-- The biggest "decliners" were: Syria, the Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Libya, Mali, Spain, Eritrea, Mauritius, Yemen, Australia, Iceland, Slovenia, Guatemala, Madagascar and Congo Republic.

You can click on the map below to see how countries fare in the rankings.

But as the Guardian's Data Blog notes, Transparency's index has garnered its share of critics. One criticism is that the index conveys an "elite bias," but the organization points out that its index is "limited in scope, capturing perceptions of the extent of corruption in the public sector, from the perspective of businesspeople and country experts."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Krishnadev Calamur is NPR's deputy Washington editor. In this role, he helps oversee planning of the Washington desk's news coverage. He also edits NPR's Supreme Court coverage. Previously, Calamur was an editor and staff writer at The Atlantic. This is his second stint at NPR, having previously worked on NPR's website from 2008-15. Calamur received an M.A. in journalism from the University of Missouri.
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