The recently published Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) for 2021 ranks Denmark, Finland, and New Zealand jointly as the least corrupt countries in the world, each with a CPI score of 88. In contrast, South Sudan, with a CPI score of 11, is ranked lowest among 180 countries, followed by Syria and Somalia, each with a CPI score of 13.

The CPI findings for 2021 (released in January 2022) indicate that 131 countries have failed to make any significant progress against corruption over the past decade. Moreover, two-thirds of countries are perceived to have “serious corruption problems” as evidenced by a CPI score of below 50.

The CPI ranks countries according to their perceived levels of public sector corruption, based on 13 independent data sources. It is published annually by Transparency International, a Germany-based organization that describes itself as a global movement working to expose and end corruption. Typical indicators of corruption include bribery, diversion of public funds, money laundering, excessive red tape, and a lack of accountability for government actions.

Least Corrupt Countries in 2022

The 10 top-ranked countries on the CPI for 2021, with CPI scores given in parentheses, are as follows:

1. Denmark (88)

1. Finland (88)

1. New Zealand (88)

4. Norway (85)

4. Singapore (85)

4. Sweden (85)

7. Switzerland (84)

8. Netherlands (82)

9. Luxembourg (81)

10. Germany (80)

Most Corrupt Countries in 2022

These are the most corrupt countries – those ranked lowest on the CPI – in 2022:

1. South Sudan (11)

2. Syria (13)

2. Somalia (13)

4. Venezuela (14)

5. Yemen (16)

5. North Korea (16)

5. Afghanistan (16)

8. Libya (17)

8. Equatorial Guinea (17)

10. Turkmenistan (19)

10. DR Congo (19)

10. Burundi (19)

Significant Movers

It is important to analyze the movement of countries in the CPI to determine the recent trends. Over the past 5-year period, the biggest improvers in terms of CPI score have been Armenia (+14), Angola (+10), South Korea (+8), and Uzbekistan (+6). On the other hand, the worst performers have been Canada (-8), Nicaragua (-6), Honduras (-6), and Venezuela (-4). Developed countries such as Australia (-12 since 2012) and the United States (-9 since 2012) have also experienced a considerable decrease in their CPI scores in recent years.   

Other Findings of CPI 2021

The CPI 2021 establishes a link between corruption and violation of civil rights. The analysis conducted by Transparency International indicates that countries where civil and human rights are better protected generally have lower perceived corruption. In contrast, a decline in anti-corruption efforts threatens basic rights and democracy. During 2020, 98 percent of the reported 331 murders of “human rights defenders” were carried out in countries with a CPI score of less than 45.

The findings further indicate a direct impact of armed conflict on perceived corruption, with countries such as Afghanistan and Yemen performing low on the index. COVID-19 has also affected perceived corruption as pandemic-related measures have been used as an “excuse” in many countries to reduce basic freedoms, according to Transparency International.  

Criticism of Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI)

There is no reliable method to measure corruption which includes actions and practices that are typically concealed. The term corruption tends to be used rather subjectively, and even if a precise definition is globally adopted, it is impossible to accurately determine its extent in any large jurisdiction – let alone in 180 countries around the world.

As a result, the CPI measures perceived corruption as opposed to actual corruption. It is based on the views of people – “experts and businesspeople” as Transparency International describes them – obtained through questionnaires. Hence, the results could be affected by errors, a lack of knowledge, or possible bias. Moreover, the rankings rely on third-party surveys which could be unreliable. In addition, the year-wise comparison of data could be misleading as CPI may use different methodologies and samples across years. The CPI is further restricted to perceived corruption in the public sector only, ignoring the private sector. Despite such limitations, however, the CPI remains the most widely used composite index for measuring perceived corruption.