Entrenched Corruption Undercuts Democratic Development in Transitional Countries | Freedom House

Entrenched Corruption Undercuts Democratic Development in Transitional Countries

Washington, D.C., and Nairobi, Kenya

A new study finds that entrenched corruption remains a principal obstacle to democracy in transitional countries throughout the world.  The study, Countries at the Crossroads 2006, was issued by Freedom House today. 

The study examines the state of governance in 30 countries in which democratic institutions remain fragile or which are ruled by authoritarian governments. Countries at the Crossroads measures four areas of governance: accountability and public voice; civil liberties; rule of law; and anticorruption and transparency. In almost every country included in the survey, the lowest scores were recorded for corruption and a lack of transparency. The study further noted that since 2004, when this group of countries was last evaluated, a lack of progress or, in many cases, an outright decline in performance on combating corruption was evident.  The poor corruption performance held across geographical regions and governing systems.    

"This study clearly shows that corruption is a pervasive problem throughout the world and a major obstacle to the strengthening of democratic institutions," said Freedom House Executive Director Jennifer Windsor. "The report is telling us that those who support democracy must continue to search for policy solutions that can increase transparency and hold governments genuinely accountable," she added.

Zimbabwe, Azerbaijan, Yemen, Kazakhstan and Bahrain were the five weakest performers on the anticorruption measure.  Zimbabwe was the worst performer of all 30 countries in this category. The Zimbabwe report observes that "the primary interest of the Mugabe government is to retain power through a system of patronage that includes access to both state and private assets. The ruling ZANU-PF party owns a wide range of businesses, allowing party elites to profit personally."

The report found that countries such as South Africa and Kenya, which have relatively sound performance in terms of accountability and public voice, nevertheless posted low scores for corruption.

Even in states where reform opportunities have emerged, the challenges of implementation have been daunting.  In Ukraine, for instance, the report finds that the exposure of corrupt institutions that followed the Orange Revolution "was not accompanied by a change in the structural incentives for politicians and civil servants to blur the line between private and public interests."

"These reports illustrate that sound democratic institutions do not emerge spontaneously after credible elections," said Sanja Tatic, managing editor of Countries at the Crossroads. "Even most reform-oriented governments find it extremely challenging to root out corruption and transform key state institutions," she added.

The report's anti-corruption and transparency section analyzes a government's performance in fighting corruption by evaluating the existence of laws and standards to prevent and combat corrupt practices, investigating the enforcement of such measures, and examining overall governmental transparency.

The study also noted increased constraints on press freedom in some countries where corruption is most rampant. A properly functioning press plays a vital role in increasing public access to government activities, exposing corruption and airing debates about how it can be best addressed.

"The news media are a prime target of corrupt regimes, which seek to keep their activities hidden in the shadows," said Christopher Walker, Director of Studies at Freedom House and co-editor of Countries at the Crossroads.

The survey presented a number of other significant findings:

  • Respect for the rule of law has dramatically declined across the survey since 2004, with decreased scores in nearly half of the countries examined.
  • Torture in police custody remains the most pressing human rights problem in more than half of the countries examined.
  • Countries that have achieved particular improvement in the past two years include Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, Morocco and Ukraine. Those that have declined the most are Nepal, Zimbabwe and Nigeria.
  • In nearly two-thirds of the reports, experts' recommendations emphasize a need to balance the political playing field, especially in the context of election campaigns, where incumbents often dominate and prevent the press from providing useful information to the public. 

Countries at the Crossroads is an annual report that provides detailed written analysis and comparative statistics, as well as recommendations presenting suggestions for policy action, on two sets of thirty states. Each set is evaluated every two years. This year's report examines Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Cambodia, East Timor, Jordan, Morocco, Nicaragua, Nepal, Nigeria, Georgia, Guatemala, Guyana, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Malawi, Malaysia, Pakistan, Yemen, Ukraine, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Uganda, Venezuela, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.

The findings are available in essay form as well as in a package of charts and graphs, and country narratives are available online.

Freedom House, an independent private organization supporting the expansion of freedom throughout the world, has been monitoring the state of political rights and civil liberties around the globe since 1972.

Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.

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