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The Most Corrupt Countries in the World

24/7 Wall St. logo 24/7 Wall St. 28-01-2016 Thomas C. Frohlich, Sam Stebbins, Evan Comen and Michael B. Sauter
© Reuters

No country is free of corruption. It is a severe problem in more than two-thirds of countries globally, some of which are major global economic powers, according to Transparency International’s 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index. Somalia and North Korea are tied as having the worst corruption problem.

The index 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 corruption experts.

In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Finn Heinrich, research director at Transparency International, explained that the countries at the bottom of the Corruption Index fall into two categories. Some, such as Libya, Iraq, Somalia, Syria, and Yemen, are what some people call failed states. In these countries, “corruption is really an effect of a fully collapsing state and people are using all means available just to get by, and that involves corruption,” Heinrich said.

While some corruption can be expected under such circumstances, corruption can also partially explain -- and exacerbate -- the crises in these nations. Widespread corruption breeds mistrust of the people in the government, for example, and it also frequently means resources are shared by only a part of the population, but not others.

Heinrich explained that in many countries at the bottom of the index, inequality and poor distribution of economic resources are pervasive. “Basically, countries will fall apart,” he said.

In other countries -- such as Angola, North Korea, and Turkmenistan -- the state is not in disarray. On the contrary, “the state has full control over society and corruption is used for the elite to maintain that control,” Heinrich said.

Five of the bottom 15 countries are in the Middle East and North Africa region. Another six of the 15 are in Sub Saharan Africa.

Where these countries are located and what geopolitical advantages they offer to other countries can be major factors in how corrupt public and private officials are. A strategic position or the presence of oil, for example, can spur investment from wealthier nations. And most of the money amassed through corrupt activity almost never stays in these countries, Heinrich said.

“It’s being transferred into the north, into the west, and to banking systems, and many [western] governments are complicit in the sense that they don't have the checks to make sure that those illicit financial flows are not being used in their countries to enjoy luxury goods.”

According to Transparency International, oil production will increasingly come from developing nations, which disproportionately make up the most corrupt countries. Perhaps as a testament to the level of corruption in these nations, the developing countries with abundant oil reserves are also home to some of the poorest populations in the world. Seven of the 15 most corrupt countries with available data have GDPs per capita of less than $5,000. The United States, by contrast, has a GDP per capita of $55,904.

In order to identify the 15 most corrupt countries in the world, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the lowest 15 index scores from Transparency International’s 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index of 168 countries. Nations were assessed by experts as part of a variety of data sources. 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 15 most corrupt nations in the world.

15. Yemen

> Corruption index score (0-100): 18 (tied-12th worst)

> Population: 28.3 million

> Region: Middle East & North Africa

> GDP per capita: $2,670.06

Yemen has been mired in turmoil for much of its quarter century history. In 2014, the country’s capital city was overtaken by Shia Islamist rebels, a key event at start of the ongoing civil war. That year’s rebellion was largely the consequence of gross wealth inequality in Yemen, which is common in the world’s most corrupt nations. The country’s substantial oil wealth, for example, is held by a small group of residents. Meanwhile, government corruption, and the resulting violence and turmoil, have left most Yemen residents far more likely to suffer than their neighbors in the region.

Less than half of all people in Yemen have access to electricity, while 96% of people do across the Middle East and North Africa. Additionally, the childhood mortality rate in Yemen of roughly 42 deaths for every 1,000 children under five is nearly double the corresponding figure across the region. The United Nations estimates that four in every five Yemenis currently require humanitarian assistance. While the rebel group, known as the Houthis, maintains control of much of the capital city and major swaths of the rest of the country, neither the United States nor the U.N. recognize their legitimacy.

14. Turkmenistan

> Corruption index score (0-100): 18 (tied-12th worst)

> Population: 5.9 million

> Region: Europe & Central Asia

> GDP per capita: $15,334.52

A country rich in gas reserves, Turkmenistan’s GDP per capita of $15,335 is among the higher in the world and higher than the $9,942 per capita average of other developing Asian countries overall. However, not all residents benefit from the country's gas reserves, which are the fifth largest on the planet. Just one-fifth of state hydrocarbon revenues make it to the federal budget. The remainder is controlled exclusively by the president and is largely unaccounted for. Poverty data is limited in Turkmenistan, but the Asian Development Bank estimates that 24.8% of Turkmens live on less than $1.25 a day, more than double the share of any other developing Central or West Asian country. According to watchdog organization Freedom House, corruption is widespread in Turkmenistan, and many of the nation’s leaders bribed their way into office. The state controls nearly all print and electronic media and Internet access, and political dissenters are often sent to prison.

13. Syria

> Corruption index score (0-100): 18 (tied-12th worst)

> Population: N/A

> Region: Middle East & North Africa

> GDP per capita: N/A

Syria has been in the midst of an ongoing civil war for nearly five years, leading to the collapse of the country’s government institutions. Syrians are fleeing the country in the millions not only because of the war, but also due to the record-breaking water shortages over the past decade. Considering all that, corruption is perhaps the least of Syria’s problems. Corruption, however, at least partially contributed to the current level of disaster. In 2011, President Bashar al-Assad’s security forces violently suppressed a group of Syrians protesting the arrest and torture of several teenagers. Violent reactions to protest from the government, which indicate a lack of accountability and are common in corrupt nations, only escalated unrest in the country. Since then, more than 250,000 people have died in the conflict, and countless millions have been forced into poverty. The chaos has not only splintered pro-government and opposition forces into smaller factions, but has also allowed the Islamic State militant group, known for its brutality, to thrive in the region.

12. Eritrea

> Corruption index score (0-100): 18 (tied-12th worst)

> Population: 6.8 million

> Region: Sub-Saharan Africa

> GDP per capita: $1,175.72

With a GDP per capita of just $1,176, Eritrea is one of the poorest countries in the world. In addition to insufficient economic resources, Eritrea’s corrupt political leadership undermines basic welfare in the country. After more than 30 years of conflict, the country gained independence from Ethiopia in 1993. At the time, a legislative body chose Isaias Afwerki to serve as president until formal elections could be held. Afwerki has stayed in power ever since, establishing an authoritarian rule accused of numerous human rights violations. While corrupt governments are known for squandering foreign aid money, Eritrea has on numerous occasions refused aid from international relief organizations. Eritrea ranks 101st in money received through foreign aid. Yet, Afwerki may not have his people’s best interest in mind. The United Nations estimates as many as two thirds of Eritreans suffer from malnourishment.

11. Venezuela

> Corruption index score (0-100): 17 (tied-9th worst)

> Population: 30.9 million

> Region: Americas

> GDP per capita: $15,891.69

The relationship between corruption and income is complicated. Still, most nations that struggle with the most severe corruption problems tend to be extremely poor. Countries such as Afghanistan, Haiti, and Eritrea, for example, have GDPs per capita of less than $2,000. Venezuela's GDP per capita, on the other hand, is more than $15,000. Still, according to Transparency International, corruption in Venezuela is widespread, and the government’s management of resources is inefficient at best and illegal at worst. An investigative report found that between 2010 and 2014, officials allowed 400 tons of medicine to remain in a warehouse and expire. Another investigation revealed that both the Venezuelan customs and military aided in the smuggling of powdered milk out of the country, resulting in a milk shortage across the country.

10. Guinea-Bissau

> Corruption index score (0-100): 17 (tied-9th worst)

> Population: 1.8 million

> Region: Sub-Saharan Africa

> GDP per capita: $1,505.94

Like many of the poorest countries in the world, Guinea-Bissau’s economy is largely dependent on agriculture. The country has one of the largest cashew industries on the planet, which comprises a bulk of its total exports. However, another source of the country’s wealth -- and ultimately corruption -- is illegal drug trafficking. Guinea-Bissau is one of the major transit hubs in the flow of cocaine from South America to Europe. According to a U.N. report, the assassination of the country’s president in 2009 and a coup d’etat the following year may have been partially financed by drug money. With many of Guinea-Bissau leaders complicit in the drug trade, the government has done little to combat the problem. After the most recent coup in 2012, corruption and the associated consequences -- drug trafficking, the illegal exploitation of timber and fish, and so forth -- have been on the rise.

9. Haiti

> Corruption index score (0-100): 17 (tied-9th worst)

> Population: 10.6 million

> Region: Americas

> GDP per capita: $1,793.69

In 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake decimated the Haitian capital of Port-Au-Prince and killed close to a quarter of a million people. Over the course of the five years since, the poorest nation in the hemisphere received roughly $13 billion in aid from international bodies. Despite all the aid, thousands of citizens remain in displacement camps half a decade later. This could be due to authorities poorly utilizing the funds, but some point to corruption as the source of the problem. Crises such as what Haiti has endured make areas extremely vulnerable to corrupt practices. At least one major charity, Wyclef Jean’s relief organization, is currently under investigation. Apart from aid funds-related corruption, corruption in the political system also common.

According to a commissioned report on the country’s presidential elections, intimidation at the polls and significant miscount are common in Haiti’s electoral system. More than half of all votes are believed to be fraudulent, and less than 30% of registered voters cast ballots. In response to protests against corruption, the country’s electoral council recently postponed a presidential election for the third straight time.

8. Libya

> Corruption index score (0-100): 16 (tied-7th worst)

> Population: 6.3 million

> Region: Middle East & North Africa

> GDP per capita: $14,854.52

Libya is one of many corrupt countries in complete disarray. Since the violent overthrow of longtime dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Libya has been in a state of near constant political turmoil. While Gaddafi’s government was notoriously corrupt, the power vacuum left in his absence has done little to improve matters. Disputes between groups vying for control of the North African nation devolved into civil war in 2014. In a deal brokered by the U.N., a 32-minister Government of National Accord was formed at the start of this year to govern the war-torn nation. However, neither of the opposing sides involved in the civil war consent to the new government, leaving the country without any semblance of political or economic governance. In addition to the violence and countless casualties, Libya’s economy has suffered tremendously. The 6.1% GDP drop in 2014 was one of the sharpest such economic declines in the world.

7. Iraq> Corruption index score (0-100): 16 (tied-7th worst)

> Population: 35.2 million

> Region: Middle East & North Africa

> GDP per capita: $15,112.95

Precipitated by the 2003 U.S. invasion and the subsequent toppling of Saddam Hussein, Iraq is currently in the midst of a civil war involving multiple regional interests and parties, which are often defined by religious sects. Without stable government institutions, like the police or banks, Iraqis often need to turn to corrupt practices in order to survive. Civilians in Iraq are not protected, and illegitimate authorities -- such as the terrorist group and self proclaimed Islamic State (IS) -- control major parts of the country. Under current conditions, economic growth has stagnated in Iraq. Iraq is one of only 14 countries reviewed where GDP declined in 2014.

Corruption in the country was also rife under former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's administration. The Iraqi Commission on Integrity found that roughly half of the government’s oil income and funds for reconstruction -- approximately $500 billion -- were stolen under al-Maliki’s rule.

6. South Sudan

> Corruption index score (0-100): 15 (tied-5th worst)

> Population: 11.9 million

> Region: Sub-Saharan Africa

> GDP per capita: $1,888.62

South Sudan became the world’s youngest country in 2011 when it seceded from Sudan and its brutally oppressive government. While the country is now independent it has not escaped turmoil. Civil War between the supporters of South Sudanese President Salva Kiir and the rebels led by Riek Machar raged from 2013 through 2015, leaving millions displaced from their homes. Amid the chaos, and due to the presence of large oil reserves, South Sudan is extremely vulnerable to corruption. Upon its secession, the new country immediately received heavy investment and foreign aid from the world’s major powers, including most notably the United States and China. Little of this aid appears to be reaching needy country residents, however. The United Nations estimates that approximately 3.9 million people face serious food insecurity. Meanwhile, the country’s elite continue to negotiate aid sharing agreements.

5. Angola

> Corruption index score (0-100): 15 (tied-5th worst)

> Population: 25.1 million

> Region: Sub-Saharan Africa

> GDP per capita: $7,375.98

A number of the world’s most corrupt countries are in complete disarray, and the governments in these areas would be largely ineffective even if corruption was properly addressed. In Angola, on the other hand, tackling corruption would likely alleviate a great deal of the country’s struggles. President José Eduardo dos Santos has ruled the country for 36 years, and over that time the country’s substantial wealth has been funnelled to a small fraction of society. Angola is the second largest oil producer in Africa, and luxury goods such as diamonds, sports cars, and expensive housing are common in the capital, which is also known as one of the most expensive cities in the world for expatriates. Yet, a great many people live in poverty despite the apparent wealth. And as one consequence of the inequality, one child in six is expected to die before the age of five, the highest childhood mortality rate in the world.

4. Sudan

> Corruption index score (0-100): 12

> Population: 38.4 million

> Region: Sub-Saharan Africa

> GDP per capita: $4,355.92

Sudan is one of several especially corrupt countries located in the Middle East and North Africa region. The country's government institutions are very weak, and with the ongoing conflicts and abject social and economic conditions they are not likely to strengthen and improve in the near future. Without well-functioning institutions, many Sudanese likely have no choice but to resort to corrupt activities in order to survive.

The entire southern and oil-rich portion of the country seceded in 2011, forming South Sudan -- the world’s youngest country. The split came after a multi-decade civil war fought over the Sudanese government’s violent attempts to convert southerners to Islam, and the lack of autonomy given to southerners. Oil from the south was also extracted and used to disproportionately concentrate economic benefits in the north.

3. Afghanistan

> Corruption index score (0-100): 11

> Population: 32.0 million

> Region: Europe & Central Asia

> GDP per capita: $1,957.64

Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani last September stated that fixing corruption in the country would be the top agenda item for his administration. According to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), approximately $110 billion of relief, reconstruction, and development funds have gone to Afghanistan between 2002 and the middle of last year. The country is still heavily dependent on foreign aid. In 2013, assistance net of repayments totalled $5.3 billion, down from previous years but still the second highest of all countries reviewed. Large portions of these funds have been squandered. For example, SIGAR reported that the country’s Ministry of Education falsified the number of schools and teachers it had in order to increase international funding. Fewer than one-third of Afghani adults are considered literate, one of the lowest literacy rates of countries reviewed.

2. Somalia

> Corruption index score (0-100): 8 (tied-the worst)

> Population: N/A

> Region: Sub-Saharan Africa

> GDP per capita: N/A

Since the overthrow of its president in 1991, Somalia has struggled to establish a permanent government amid violent infighting and the most severe famine on the planet. What little government does exist in the country is highly corrupt. According to a U.N. Monitoring Group report, 80% of withdrawals from the federal Central Bank of Somalia are for private purposes. According to the report, the private withdrawals are suspected to finance terrorist activity. There is evidence of direct diversion of humanitarian aid to private wealth.

According to a U.N. report from October 2015, the Somali National Army is the most important defense against the territorial gains being made by Al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Shabaab that threatens the nation’s stability. However, misappropriation of defense funding within the army has jeopardized the military’s proper functioning. The army systematically inflates its enrollment numbers to ensure larger salaries, and cash payments make accountability even more challenging. There is also evidence the army is frequently using violence against civilians.

1. North Korea

> Corruption index score (0-100): 8 (tied-the worst)

> Population: N/A

> Region: Asia Pacific

> GDP per capita: N/A

Little is known of North Korea, which may itself be evidence of how corrupt it is compared to the rest of the world. The extreme level of corruption in the country, while likely detrimental to long-term economic growth, may also be a relatively positive force in the country. For one, corruption is normal in North Korea. Some analysts have suggested, for example, that if all bribes and embezzlement ceased in the country today, the enforcement of government regulations would trigger complete economic collapse.

While it may be difficult to directly link corruption in North Korea with the struggles of ordinary citizens, the country shares a number of negative factors with other countries at the bottom of Transparency International’s Corruption Index. Fewer than 30% of North Koreans have access to electricity, for example, one of the lowest proportions of any country reviewed.

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