Vietnam, Laos, and China have dropped significantly in a ranking of global graft, while North Korea remains the world’s most corrupt nation, according to a new report released Wednesday.
Vietnam fell to 123rd among 176 nations and territories from 112nd a year ago, the Berlin-based corruption watchdog Transparency International said in its annual Corruption Perceptions Index. The group’s 2011 report ranked a total of 183 countries and territories.
On a second graph, based on perceived levels of public-sector corruption, Vietnam was given a score of 31 on a scale where 0 indicates “highly corrupt” and 100 represents “very clean.” The nation scored a 2.9 on a scale of 0 to 10 in 2011.
Vietnam’s economy is in turmoil amid a spate of corporate scandals and inefficient management of major government-run firms which have sparked investor concerns.
Growing public frustration over the economy has led the government to renew an anti-corruption drive leading to the arrests of a number of banking executives and heads of failed state-owned companies. However, many see the arrests as a result of political infighting.
Laos slipped to 160th this year from 154th in 2011 and received a score of 21 in 2012 from 2.2 a year ago, the report said.
The poorest Southeast Asian state has moved to step up development, but rights groups complain of government repossession of land from the people and other human rights problems, including rampant official corruption, in the one-party communist state.
China dropped to 80th down from 75th a year ago and scored 39. The country scored 3.6 a year ago.
China implemented a once-in-a-decade leadership change last month, with incoming Chinese president Xi Jinping warning that the ruling Chinese Communist Party must beat graft or lose power.
Official privilege, rampant graft, and the impunity with which well-connected people break the law have caused widespread public fury in recent years, which is particularly evident on China's popular microblogging services.
North Korea tied with Somalia and Afghanistan for dead last on the list, according to the report—equal to its position in 2011, when Transparency International ranked the nation for the first time.
“Afghanistan, North Korea and Somalia once again cling to the bottom rung of the index,” the report said.
“In these countries the lack of accountable leadership and effective public institutions underscore the need to take a much stronger stance against corruption.”
North Korea scored 8 out of 100—the lowest of all rated countries—on the 2012 report. The pariah nation received 1 out of 10 a year ago.
The index uses data from a combination of surveys and assessments of graft that look at factors such as bribery of public officials, kickbacks in public procurement, embezzlement of public funds, and effectiveness of anti-corruption efforts.
Meanwhile, Burma improved slightly to 172nd from 180th last year and scored a 15 compared to a 1.5 in the 2011 report.
The new ranking brought the nation, undergoing rapid democratic change under a new quasi-civilian government, to third from the worst in corruption from second from the worst a year ago. Sudan was ranked second from the worst in 2012.
As part of Burma’s reform process, the country’s press is now free of censorship and stories about government corruption appear weekly, singling out the individuals responsible. In addition, the new government is drafting new legislation to crack down on corruption.
Cambodia also increased in rank to 157th from 164th and scored 22 compared to 2.1 last year.
Cambodia’s Anti-Corruption Unit, a government body started in 2010 to fight graft, launched a new initiative in May to eliminate bribes solicited by local commune councilors for performing public services.
At the time, Transparency International called the campaign “a vital step” in the government’s efforts to fight corruption, although the organization still considers Cambodia one of the most corrupt countries in the world.
Governments and agencies around the world have frequently called on Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Cambodian leadership to more seriously tackle corruption.
Transparency International said that of the nations it ranked in the Asia Pacific region, 68 percent scored below 50 on its scale of 0 to 100.
It said that many of the countries in Asia where citizens challenged their leaders to stop corruption “have seen their positions in the index stagnate or worsen.”
Cobus de Swardt, managing director of Transparency International, urged wealthier nations to set an example for developing countries.
“The world’s leading economies should lead by example, making sure that their institutions are fully transparent and their leaders are held accountable,” he said.
“This is crucial since their institutions play a significant role in preventing corruption from flourishing globally.”
Huguette Labelle, the chair of Transparency International, said efforts at combating graft must be better implemented into national legislation, even in the world’s more developed nations.
“Governments need to integrate anti-corruption actions into all public decision-making,” she said.
“Priorities include better rules on lobbying and political financing, making public spending and contracting more transparent and making public bodies more accountable to people.”
Reported by Joshua Lipes.