Six years ago the Arab streets resounded with calls for change and anti-government protests and uprisings that eventually toppled several leaders from power. At the heart of these protests were deep-seated resentment at entrenched leaders who failed to heed social inequalities, including poverty, unemployment and corruption. Fast forward six years ahead and the hopes of people in the Arab world of a corruption-free, equitable and egalitarian state have yet to be realized.
The majority of Arab countries have failed to fulfill the will of the people to build democratic systems allowing for greater transparency and accountability, says the global corruption watchdog, Transparency International in its annual report for 2016. This year’s results also highlight the intrinsic connection between corruption and inequality, which synergize each other to create a vicious circle of corruption, unequal distribution of social power and uneven distribution of wealth.
“In too many countries, people are deprived of their most basic needs and go to bed hungry every night because of corruption, while the powerful and corrupt enjoy lavish lifestyles with impunity,” said José Ugaz, Chair of the Berlin-based Transparency International ahead of the release of this year’s report.
The Corruption Perceptions Index 2016 shows that more countries declined than improved their rankings. Over two-thirds of the 176 countries and territories ranked in the 2016 Index fell below the midpoint of the scale. The index, which ranked countries on a scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean), found the global average to be meager 43. This was a clear indication that endemic corruption continued to erode the public sector in too many countries and that there was an urgent need for committed action to thwart corruption worldwide.
There are a number of steps that countries can initiate to improve their rankings on the corruption index. They could ensure effective transparent systems that allow for accountability in all sectors and put an end to political corruption in all its forms. Governments could protect freedom of expression of their citizens and stop persecuting anti-corruption activists, whistleblowers, and civil society organizations. The independence of the judiciary, as well as auditing bodies, could be strengthened and respected to ensure that the corrupt are prosecuted and stolen assets are returned.
However, very often, it is not the lack of policies but political connivance in corruption and the absence of any serious commitment on the part of governments that prevents the effective implementation of anti-corruption measures that bring about inequality in society.
The interplay of corruption and inequality also feeds populism. When traditional politicians fail to tackle corruption, people grow cynical and increasingly turn to populist leaders who promise to break the cycle of corruption and privilege. In many places rampant corruption among the elite few, gives rise to discontentment among the masses that spillover into lethal conflicts.
Tellingly, seven out of the ten most corrupt countries in the world — Iraq, Libya, South Sudan, Sudan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen — are currently embroiled in conflicts and wars. These countries are also inflicted with economic inequality, political instability, ethnic conflicts and terrorism, all of which underscores the fact that corruption and in particular political corruption eventually fuels more wide ranging upheavals.
The failure to fight corruption is also behind the sharp drop of most of Arab countries in the Corruption Perceptions Index 2016. Nearly 90 percent of countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region scored below 50, which is a failing grade. Even the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, which managed to remain above the global average, declined in scores relative to 2015.
Among Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, the United Arab Emirates ranked the highest with a score of 66 on the index that earned it a global ranking of 24. This was followed by Qatar with a score of 61and a ranking of 31. Saudi Arabia with an index score of 46 was ranked 62; Oman with one score lower at 45 was ranked 64 and Bahrain with a score of 43 was ranked 70 worldwide. Kuwait brought up the rear among GCC states with a score of 41 and a ranking of 75 among the 176 countries ranked globally.
Denmark and New Zealand with a score of 90 were placed first on the 2016 Index, followed closely behind by Finland (89), Sweden (88) and Switzerland (86) to finish the top-five rankings. Others that climbed on the top-ten podium of least corrupt countries, included Norway (85), Singapore (84), Netherlands (83), Canada (82) and Germany (81).
Among the countries in the bottom of the Corruption Perception Index were Libya, Sudan and Yemen with a score of 14 and a global ranking of 170. Syria with a score of 13, North Korea with 12, South Sudan with a score of 11 and Somalia scoring 10, were placed respectively among the last five in the 2016 report.