An international monitoring group says people around the world demonstrated to governments in 2015 that they must become more transparent and tackle the large-scale corruption that continues to plague so many countries and hinder their development.
In its 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) released on January 27, Transparency International ranked 168 countries based on perceived levels of public-sector corruption, with Denmark edging out Finland to win the title as the least corrupt country in the world and Somalia and North Korea being declared the most corrupt.
The high levels of corruption in Afghanistan -- which was ranked 166th -- Iraq (161st), Turkmenistan (156th), and Uzbekistan (153rd) placed them all near the bottom of the index.
Central Asian countries as a whole did poorly, with Tajikistan tying with Nigeria for 136th place and Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan seen as equally corrupt and listed 123rd on the index.
"All five countries of Central Asia are…at the bottom of the CPI table," said Svetlana Savitskaya, Transparency International’s regional coordinator for the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in Europe and Central Asia, told RFE/RL.
"[The low score] is a signal that corruption is endemic, it is deeply ingrained, and it has a systemic nature [in Central Asia]," she said.
Savitskaya said there have been no big changes or improvement in corruption levels in any of the Central Asian countries since 2012, saying the situation is one of "stagnation all over the region."
She said the situation is similar in several other former Soviet republics such as Russia (119th), Ukraine (130th), Moldova (103rd), Armenia (95th), and Azerbaijan (119th).
"If you analyze what is going on as far as anticorruption reforms [in Ukraine], not so much is going on," Savitskaya said. "The political will is pretty weak -- the government doesn’t demonstrate that it is so committed to perform well on [taking] anticorruption [actions]."
Savitskaya said Transparency International (TI) has not seen any positive changes in Russia in recent years, even though the government has declared that it is trying to fight corruption.
"[Russian authorities] continue to limit space for civil society; they continue to press nongovernmental organizations – including [Transparency International – Russia]; to exert pressure on investigative journalists, on independent media," she said.
Savitskaya said Transparency International "has not registered any tangible changes [in Russia regarding corruption] – when you speak to ordinary citizens they don’t sense any positive change yet."
She said Belarus (107th) recently adopted a new anticorruption law which envisages regulations on conflicts of interest, public officials making income and asset declarations, and the participation of civil society in anticorruption efforts.
"It will be interesting to see how this will materialize in real life because this country doesn’t have any freedoms like political or civic liberties; it doesn’t have independent media…and these things are very important for qualitative anticorruption work," Savitskaya said.
Corruption is currently one of the leading topics in Moldova, which is embroiled in a political crisis due to the disappearance of more than $1 billion from state banks and numerous reports of corruption among the country’s political leaders and oligarchs.
TI’s office in the Moldovan capital, Chisinau, said in a statement that "as never before, the link between corruption and state capture has become visible."
It added that there has been a delay in the approval of several laws addressing "the system of integrity and the failure in taking a prompt action against those responsible for overseeing the security of the banking sector."
Corruption Perceptions Index (Scroll Over The Map For Each Country's Score. Source: Transparency International)
Turning to the Caucasus, Savitskaya said "Georgia (ranked 48th on the CPI) as usual is the champion, it is the best performer of all in the whole region."
She added that there has been no change in Azerbaijan’s score and that Armenia had actually gone down from 2014 to 2015.
Savitskaya pointed out that "in most of the countries of the former Soviet Union – Belarus, Moldova, and [those in] Central Asia – there exists this nexus, this link between political parties and businesses is so strong [and] which causes huge political corruption."
The Transparency International report says that "a failure to tackle corruption is feeding ongoing vicious conflicts" in Afghanistan (186th) and Pakistan (117th).
It points out that the setting up of anticorruption commissions in these countries and others in the region is a good first step, but such efforts are often undermined by “political interference and inadequate resources.”
Iran is in a stagnant position (130th) and Iraq checks in as one of the 10 worst countries on the Corruption Perception Index (161st).
Mass public demonstrations in several Iraqi cities in 2015 resulted in pledges by Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi to reduce government largesse and to implement several other reforms, but the actions thus far seem to have not satisfied the people or some important religious leaders.
A minimum of three opinion polls among residents of a country on their perception of public corruption is needed for Transparency International to secure a "score" for a country on the Corruption Perception Index.
As the report points out, no country came close to achieving a perfect score, and it lists a string of corruption scandals that occurred in Denmark -- considered the world’s least corrupt country -- and fellow upstanding countries Finland, Sweden, and Norway.
The report says the way to fight corruption is to attack graft within politics and to reform a country's financial sector.
But it points out that these things are impossible unless a country's civil society and the media are "genuinely free" -- preconditions that are unfortunately missing in many of the countries in RFE/RL's broadcasting regions.