Friday, February 10, 2006

The Most Corrupt Countries

The Most Corrupt Countries -
One of the "stans"--the Asian republics of the former Soviet Union--four of which are in the top 30 most-corrupt nations. The U.S. State Department reports that "Turkmenistan has laws to combat corruption, but they are ineffective, and corruption is rampant." That's probably an understatement. President Saparmyrat Niyazov has run this central Asian nation--the most corrupt of the "stans"--with an iron fist since he first took over the Turkmen Communist Party in the Soviet era. He is personally believed to choose his country's investment partners with one eye on how generous they might be.

Myanmar is one of the most savage military dictatorships still in power, and one of the most closed societies. Its leadership exists largely to enrich itself by whatever means possible. The simple act of having a telephone installed requires a bribe, and the system appears to be institutionalized, with little interest by the military leadership to change matters, since it also helps perpetuate its hold on power. Smuggling of everything from drugs to jade is rife across the porous borders with China and Thailand.

Not much seems to have changed in one of the two Latin-American members of the most corrupt nations list--even since the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004. In January alone, from the mayor's office in Port-au-Prince to the prime minister, there have been allegations of a "rice scandal"--a not-for-profit food organization told to turn over 15 containers of rice to the deputy mayor.

Under its current president, Nigeria is making a determined effort to clean up its act. President Olusegun Obasanjo has surrounded himself with a dozen senior government officials who are firmly opposed to the corruption that remains rampant. The president has begun issuing a monthly list of the amounts doled out to each of 33 states and more than 600 municipalities, so the funds can be monitored at the grassroots level. So far, it hasn't had much impact.

One of the world's smallest oil powers, it is also among the most corrupt. During a recent U.S. government probe of Washington-based Riggs Bank, it was alleged that President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, his wife and son were apparently treating themselves to planes, big houses and shopping sprees in the U.S. Millions of dollars in cash were being lugged around Washington in suitcases--much of it from the enormous oil reserves Western companies are tapping. International monitors believe that 20% of oil revenue is going straight into Nguema's pockets.

Another African nation bisected by a violent civil war; corruption is never far from the presidential palace. Its long-standing president, Houphouet Boigny, built the world's largest cathedral (with 7,000 seats), modeled after St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican. It sits largely empty now. The U.S. trade representative's office says with deadpan understatement, "Many U.S. companies view corruption as an obstacle to investment in the Cote d'Ivoire. Corruption has the greatest impact on judicial proceedings, contract awards, customs and tax issues."

Another of the major African oil nations, and another top member of the most corrupt list. Though the major Western oil companies doing business there are closely monitored, that still has not prevented much of the government from profiting on sweetheart arms deals. Western monitors charge that weapons are paid for by oil money, with a portion of every contract kicked back to the top government leaders.

The scene in this post-Soviet "stan" is set by the U.S. State Department, which reports, "Rampant illicit trafficking of Afghan opium and heroin through Tajikistan remains a serious long-term threat to Tajikistan’s stability and development, fostering corruption, violent crime, HIV/AIDS and economic distortions." And that only scratches the surface here, international monitors report.

In this Islamic nation divided by a bitter civil war, human rights activists say the government condones enslavement of its own people, allowing government-supported troops to buy, sell and torture rebels and their families in the south; officials insist it is "abduction, not slavery" and the spoils of war. Its oil production (now at 500,000 barrels per day) and sale of its national oil company to China is expected to increase resources for a war designed to preserve the government's access to the perks of power.

Scarcely a nation, rather a small corner of Africa run by a collection of warlords with no central government, this is a country where the only way to get anything done is to attach oneself to a local gangster and hope he wins.

Nicanor Duarte Frutos, an ex-journalist, has taken over a nation that for four decades was in the grip of pro-Nazi leader Alfred Stroessner. After his overthrow, power remained in the hands of the corrupt, military-backed Colorado Party, which the U.S. accused of involvement in smuggling, money laundering, cocaine trafficking and supporting terrorism. Two years ago, Frutos came to power pledging an anti-corruption campaign. He's fired nine Supreme Court justices, shuttered 50 corrupt businesses and sought to halt smuggling. But the jury is still out on his chances.

With terrorism going hand in hand with corruption, this frontline nation in the war on terror has become quite committed to attacking corruption, especially since President Pervez Musharraf came to power. Terrorism is still closely linked to corruption since, as one international observer points out, "corruption makes the lives of people like that very much easier." Though Pakistan has suffered from both blights for a very long time, recently some senior government officials and business executives have been convicted as awareness of the problem rises.

Kenya has made some gestures toward eradicating corruption. But they are little more than gestures. Three years ago, President Mwai Kibaki pledged a major push to wipe out corruption. Last year, former anti-corruption tsar John Githongo fled to London with a list of the most corrupt ministers in the cabinet and charged that corruption had siphoned some $500 million out of the nation's economy since Kibaki came to power. Recently, the head of the anti-corruption bureau questioned four cabinet ministers but took no action. Last week, the World Bank awarded Kenya $25 million to fight corruption.

The successors to one of Africa's most corrupt politicians, President Mobutu Sese-Seko, are mining gold, uranium and especially coltan, a rare mineral that's in every cell phone chip. One container's worth fetches $1 million on the world market, and most of this goes straight into the pockets of the smugglers, who pay locals a few pennies to mine it. President Joseph Kabila succeeded his father Laurent after he was assassinated by a body guard. Bribery, kidnapping, rape and murder persist in this toxic stewpot of a nation, which seethes with perpetual violence.

What may turn out to be the single most piggish use of philanthropic funds has placed Chad at the top of the list of the world's most corrupt nations. Proceeds from a project, funded in part by the World Bank, to build an oil pipeline through Chad and Cameroon were to have helped feed the desperately poor people of these nations. Instead, some $30 million was diverted to buy arms to keep in power the government of President Idriss Deby. This is turning out to be the first real challenge for new World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz.

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The fifth straight year that Bangladesh has topped the most corrupt countries list. The government continues to pay lip service to fighting corruption but has shown no real consistency in doing so. It failed to sign the United Nations convention against corruption. Corrupt practices continue at every level of the government and judiciary--wherever citizens or businesses interact with the government. Senior public officials, ministers, even the nation's head of state continue to put their hands in the till.

Source: Transparency International

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