Venezuela is the most corrupt country in Latin America and Uruguay the least, according to the latest global Corruption Perceptions Index released Wednesday.
But the region’s biggest loser was Brazil, which, fuelled by the scandal surrounding state-owned oil company Petrobras, which dropped seven positions to a rank of 76, narrowly above Colombia (83), Peru (88) and Mexico (95).
The annual index, compiled by corruption watchdog Transparency International, ranks 168 countries and territories by perceived levels of public sector corruption based on a series of surveys with experts and businesspeople.
Two-thirds of the countries analyzed scored below 50, on a scale from 0 (perceived to be highly corrupt) to 100 (perceived to be very clean). Only three Latin American nations scored 50 or above.
Uruguay retained its place as the most honest country in Latin America with a ranking of 21, closely followed by Chile (23). Costa Rica was the region’s next best performer (40), followed by Cuba (56) and El Salvador and Panama (joint 72).
Venezuela and Haiti were the joint worst performers from Latin America, tied at 158 with a score of just 17. The pair were ranked lower than countries including Zimbabwe (150) and Syria (154).
Alejandro Salas, Transparency International’s Director for the Americas, said 2015 would be characterized by two “remarkable trends”.
“The uncovering of grand corruption networks and the mass mobilization of citizens against corruption,” he said in a statement.
“It’s no surprise that Brazil – which faced its largest-ever corruption scandal around Petrobras – is this year’s biggest index decliner in the Americas, yet there and elsewhere we saw corruption investigations against people who looked untouchable only 12 months ago.”
He said the region could take heart from action taken against high-profile figures like the charging of members of the powerful Rosenthal family in Honduras with money laundering and the jailing of former Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina for allegedly taking bribes.
But he warned arrests, even of powerful figures, “aren’t enough” to stamp out “long-standing corruption” present in much of Latin America.
Corruption as the norm?
“Many countries low down the index have ample natural resources – take Argentina, Mexico or oil-rich Venezuela – yet long-standing corruption has led to a desperate lack of investment in security, education and health. Until these weaknesses are addressed, corruption will continue to be the norm and citizens’ quality of life will not improve,” he said.
“Governments need to ensure real and systemic reform – starting with freeing judiciaries from political influence and creating better regional cooperation between law enforcement to stop the corrupt hiding in different jurisdictions.”
“Citizens, meanwhile, should continue their calls for change. In 2015 we saw ever more people connect the poor services they receive with the illicit enrichment of a few corrupt individuals. These people need to keep up their pressure on leaders, and demand the accountable, well-functioning institutions they deserve.”
José Ugaz, Chair of Transparency International, said that while the index “clearly shows that corruption remains a blight around the world”, more countries improved their scores in 2015 than declined.
“2015 was also a year when people again took to the streets to protest corruption. People across the globe sent a strong signal to those in power: it is time to tackle grand corruption.”
For the full table, visit Transparency International.