North Korea is the world’s most corrupt nation, according to a new report which ranked the pariah state for the first time.
The country tied with Somalia for dead last among 183 nations and territories, the Berlin-based corruption watchdog Transparency International said in its annual Corruption Perceptions Index, released Thursday.
“Basically, North Korea is still a very closed economy. There is not so much foreign investment inside the country except from South Korea and China,” said Liao Ran, Transparency International’s senior program coordinator for East Asia.
“So in this case, it is actually very difficult to collect the facts from donors, investors, or businessmen on that particular country.”
North Korea was given a score of 1.0—the lowest of all rated countries—on a scale where 0 indicates “highly corrupt” and 10 represents “very clean” based on perceived levels of public-sector corruption.
The index uses data from 17 surveys 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 remained tied with Afghanistan for second to worst in corruption, although its ranking dropped to 180th from 176th last year due to the inclusion of new nations in 2011.
The country, which on Sunday tackled its first official corruption case since the former military regime handed power to a nominally civilian government in March, was rated 1.5 out of 10, up from 1.4 a year ago.
China’s score also improved slightly to 3.6 from 3.5 last year and moving up in rank to 75th. The country was ranked 78th a year ago.
Liao said China’s public sector was heavily affected by corruption in the country in 2011 due to official interference.
“In China, the government is everywhere. Public service is totally under government control. So when we are talking about construction and land, especially land and financial services, it’s definite that the government is behind all those sectors,” he said.
Transparency International rated Cambodia 2.1 in 2011, the same as last year, based on what Liao said was unchecked graft in the country’s expanding construction sector.
“In Cambodia, like China, there is a lot of construction going on, so the government officials try to grab land from the peasants without proper compensation. Most of the construction projects have no proper procurement procedures,” he said.
“The situation in Cambodia and Vietnam and China—these three countries are very much alike. The government is behind the public sector.”
Cambodia, which fell to 164th from 154th last year, also suffers from a corrupt court system, Liao said.
Vietnam and Laos both improved slightly in their scores from last year.
Vietnam was rated 2.9, up from 2.7 in 2010, based on work the government had undertaken to “seriously address corruption issues” over the last two years, Liao said.
“For example, they are cooperating with donors to … address the corruption issues, and also they are trying to adopt many tools to fight against corruption. I think the government’s commitment is strong, and it shows in the improvement,” he said.
He called Vietnam a country “in transition” enjoying newfound wealth, but lacking a fully developed legal system to regulate growth.
“There are a lot of loopholes, so a lot of government officials try to take these opportunities to charge fees to ordinary citizens. They demand bribes paid by ordinary citizens so that they can get the services they are entitled to,” he said.
“But there has been a slight improvement.”
Vietnam improved its ranking to 112th from 116th last year.
'Cost of doing business'
Transparency International rated Laos 2.2—a slight improvement from 2.1 in 2010—but said the country still suffers from bribery as a cost of doing business.
“Laos is still very poor and is trying to develop the economy, but they don’t have so much investment,” Liao said.
“The main problem, according to the report, is when foreign businessmen go to do business in Laos, they have to seek help from the government officials, and this means they have to pay a bribe.”
The country remained ranked 154th for the second straight year.
Transparency International warned that protests around the world in 2011 show that citizens feel their leaders and public institutions are neither sufficiently transparent nor accountable.
“2011 saw the movement for greater transparency take on irresistible momentum, as citizens around the world demand accountability from their governments,” said Transparency International Managing Director Cobus de Swardt.
“High-scoring countries show that over time efforts to improve transparency can, if sustained, be successful and benefit their people.”
Written by Joshua Lipes with reporting by Richard Finney.