After coming out of a 2016 Presidential election cycle in which one candidate was the subject of multiple federal investigations related to illegal pay-to-play activities as well as the illegal destruction of federal records subject to a Congressional subpoena, perhaps it shouldn't be so shocking that the United States was ranked 18th on Transparency International's 2016 "Corruption Perceptions Index." But irrespective of our expectations, here is how the United States stacks up against other countries in terms of mass corruption of our publicly elected officials and the institutions they run.
And while the United States may not suffer from the widespread issues that plague the most corrupt nations of the world, certainly there is a growing distrust of the public institutions in Washington D.C. and the lifelong politicians that have all somehow managed to amass substantial fortunes from their careers in "public service".
The lower-ranked countries in our index are plagued by untrustworthy and badly functioning public institutions like the police and judiciary. Even where anti-corruption laws are on the books, in practice they're often skirted or ignored. People frequently face situations of bribery and extortion, rely on basic services that have been undermined by the misappropriation of funds, and confront official indifference when seeking redress from authorities that are on the take.
Grand corruption thrives in such settings. Cases like Petrobras and Odebrecht in Brazil or the saga of ex-President Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine show how collusion between businesses and politicians siphons off billions of dollars in revenue from national economies, benefitting the few at the expense of the many. This kind of systemic grand corruption violates human rights, prevents sustainable development and fuels social exclusion.
Higher-ranked countries tend to have higher degrees of press freedom, access to information about public expenditure, stronger standards of integrity for public officials, and independent judicial systems. But high-scoring countries can't afford to be complacent, either. While the most obvious forms of corruption may not scar citizens' daily lives in all these places, the higher-ranked countries are not immune to closed-door deals, conflicts of interest, illicit finance, and patchy law enforcement that can distort public policy and exacerbate corruption at home and abroad.
Meanwhile, here is how the United States has trended over time compared to the other nations of the world...a 74 is solid C...we're passing!
And here is a brief summary from Transparency International on how the various regions of the world fared in their 2016 corruption study.
Americas: From the Panama Papers in April to the record US$3.5 billion Odebrecht settlement in Brazil in December, 2016 was a good year in the fight against corruption in the Americas. But there is still a long way to go.
Asia Pacific: Unfortunately, the majority of Asia Pacific countries sit in the bottom half of this year’s Corruption Perceptions Index. Poor performance can be attributed to unaccountable governments, lack of oversight, insecurity and shrinking space for civil society, pushing anti-corruption action to the margins in those countries.
Europe and Central Asia: There are no drastic changes in Europe and Central Asia on this year’s index, with only a few exceptions. However, this does not mean that the region is immune from corruption. The stagnation also does not indicate that the fight against corruption has improved, but rather the opposite.
Middle East and North Africa: Despite the political changes that shook the Arab region six years ago, the hope for Arab countries to fight corruption and end impunity has not seen any progress yet. This explains the sharp drop of most of Arab countries on the 2016 index – 90 percent of these have scored below 50, which is a failing grade.
Sub Saharan Africa: 2016 saw elections across the African continent with the results providing a good reflection of corruption trends in the region. In Ghana, for example, voters voiced their dissatisfaction with the government's corruption record at the polls where, for the first time in Ghana's history, an incumbent president was voted out.