BERLIN (Reuters) – The United States hit four points lower on a global corruption index in 2018 and escaped from the 20 largest countries for the first time since 2011, said watchdog Transparency International in a report citing growing threats to democracy worldwide .
The US flag flies near the Statue of Liberty on US Capitol in Washington, USA on November 2, 2018. REUTERS / Jonathan Ernst
The group said the latest report on corporate perceptions of corruption put the US in 71, down from 75 , on a scale of 0-100.
It sounds a "wake-up call" on the need to deal with conflicts of interest, the disproportionate influence of the private sector and the expansion of gaps between rich and poor, said Zoe Reiter, watchdog acting US representative.
"This is a red flag because it really is part of a pattern we have seen since the global financial crisis in 2008 of a loss of confidence … in our public institutions," she told Reuters. "People do not see us as having sufficient mechanisms to fight corruption and ensure responsibility for our elected officials."
There were already concerns about the election of Donald Trump, although they had been highlighted by a rich president who believed precedent to keep his personal tax matters secret and keep his places of business in the office.
"Concerns about the Trump administration are quite serious, but it has been for several years," she said. "Conflict of interest was not a new problem, but it was illuminated in its glory when you have someone who basically breaks standards."
"Trump is a symptom, not a cause. His presidency highlights some of the problems."
Denmark and New Zealand again had the best results in the corruption perspective index (CPI) again in 2018 and scored 88 and 87, while Somalia, Syria and South Sudan remained at the bottom, with scores of 10, 13 and 13, TI said.
Overall, more than two-thirds of countries scored below the 2018 index and the average was 43, said TI, which has more than 100 chapters worldwide.
The group said that only 20 countries had improved their scores significantly since 2012, including Argentina and the Ivory Coast. Sixteen others, including Australia, Chile and Malta, declined significantly over the same period.
The average score for the EU and Western European countries held at 66, while sub-Saharan Africa scored only 32, TI said. A score of 100 is considered "very clean", while a score of zero is strongly corrupt.
TI said the analysis showed a clear link between having a healthy democracy and combating corruption in the public sector and quoting declining scores for Turkey and Hungary in the context of the rule of law and press freedom.
Hungary's score dropped by eight points to 46 over the past five years, among the worrying developments, including the forced departure of the Open Society Foundation and Central European University, founded by philanthropist George Soros, TI said.
Turkey's score dropped by nine points in the same period to a score of 41, as the country was downgraded to "not free" in a democratic position, TI said.
"Corruption is far more likely to flourish, where democratic foundations are weak and … where unemocratic and populist politicians can use it to their advantage," said Delia Ferreira Rubio, who trusts the global civil society group.
Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Peter Graff