UK tumbles in corruption index after a year of political scandal

The UK slipped down a global corruption ranking, with watchdog Transparency International describing public trust as “worryingly low” after a string of political and public spending scandals. The group also highlighted a lack of progress in Russia, Brazil and Qatar.

The UK dropped seven places to rank 18th among 180 nations and territories on the Corruption Perceptions Index 2022, the biggest slide among Group of Seven countries on this year’s list. Among the steepest decliners was Qatar, which faced European bribery allegations and complaints about poor working conditions as hosts of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. It dropped nine spots to 40th place.

In Britain, scandals ranging from lobbying to ministerial misconduct “highlighted woeful inadequacies in the country’s political integrity systems,” the Berlin-based watchdog said. 

The closely watched index, a composite that draws from multiple surveys, has become a corruption benchmark used by analysts and investors. Denmark, Finland and New Zealand maintained their spots at the top of the list, while Somalia, Syria and South Sudan were at the bottom. 

Published two days after UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak fired his Conservative Party Chairman Nadhim Zahawi over his tax affairs, the 2022 report highlighted the UK’ growing list of problems. They include the appointment of politically connected people to public-sector roles during the pandemic and the awarding of lucrative contracts for protective equipment to Conservative loyalists. 

The report also flagged a botched attempt by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government to overhaul standards to help Conservative parliamentarian Owen Paterson evade a November 2021 ethics probe. Allegations that haven’t yet been investigated further underline the problems with systems meant to protect integrity in public life, the report said. 

The appointment in December of a new ethics adviser and changes to transparency rules for ministers were “steps in the right direction,” but the watchdog said that more needs to be done. “If the government is truly committed to restoring trust in politics, it needs to overhaul how the standards and conduct of elected representatives are regulated to stop the slide,” the report said.

Corruptions Risks

In Russia, which ranks a distant 137th, Transparency cited a system of “kleptocrats” accruing fortunes in exchange for loyalty to President Vladimir Putin — a factor that helped erode any checks on the leader before he launched the invasion of neighboring Ukraine in February 2021. 

Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro was responsible for the “dismantling of anti-corruption frameworks” and creation of a system of “corrupt schemes” to shore up support, according to the report. Bolsonaro traveled to the US last month after skipping the inauguration of his successor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. His supporters stormed and vandalized government buildings in Brasilia Jan. 8.. 

The index grades a country on a scale of zero to 100, the latter being perceived as least corrupt. The UK scored 73, sliding from 78 a year earlier. Denmark scored 90 points, while Somalia had 12. Azerbaijan fell the most spots, down 29 places to rank 157th.

Other struggling nations include Malaysia, where a scandal involving the nation’s sovereign wealth fund 1MDB ensnared top-level officials including former Prime Minister Najib Razak. Pakistan recorded its lowest score since 2012, making no progress on corruption and with ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan seeking a comeback.

“It’s most important that the new government does not allow such political scandals to derail comprehensive anti-corruption efforts,” the watchdog said. 

In the European Union, Hungary replaced Bulgaria as the lowest-ranked member state, dropping four places to 77th. Prime Minister Viktor Orban has come under ever more EU scrutiny over his erosion of rule-of-law standards and corruption. In December, the European Commission effectively froze about $30 billion in funding for Hungary until the government addresses the problems. Austria fell nine places, the most of any EU nation.

Countries with traditionally robust anti-corruption standards were also cited. Germany, Europe’s largest economy, dropped a point and one place in the index after the introduction of a €100 billion euro defense fund to upgrade its military. 

“Such simplified procurement opens up significant risks for corruption,” Transparency International said. –BLOOMBERG