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Mexico Plummets in Annual Corruption Rankings

by Shannon K. O'Neil
January 26, 2017

Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto (R) gestures as Mexico's Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong applauds during the XXXVIII Session of the National Council of Public Security at the National Palace in Mexico City, August 21, 2015. A Mexican government auditor on Friday exonerated Pena Nieto and his finance minister from any wrongdoing over purchases of homes from public contractors, but opposition lawmakers poured scorn over the bid to lay the scandal to rest (Reuters/Edgard Garrido). Mexico's President Enrique Pena Nieto (R) gestures as Mexico's Interior Minister Miguel Angel Osorio Chong applauds during the XXXVIII Session of the National Council of Public Security at the National Palace in Mexico City, August 21, 2015. A Mexican government auditor on Friday exonerated Pena Nieto and his finance minister from any wrongdoing over purchases of homes from public contractors, but opposition lawmakers poured scorn over the bid to lay the scandal to rest (Reuters/Edgard Garrido).

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Transparency International yesterday released its annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) that ranks 176 countries on a scale from zero (highly corrupt) to one-hundred (very clean), based on the opinions of citizens and experts.

As in years’ past, Nordic countries fared best. Denmark topped the list (tied with New Zealand), followed by Finland, Sweden, and Switzerland. Ranked worst were Yemen, Syria, North Korea, South Sudan, and Somalia.

Regionally, Europe stagnated compared to last year, sub-Saharan Africa progressed unevenly, and Middle Eastern and North African countries saw sharp declines. Most Asia Pacific nations continued to post failing grades (scoring forty points or less).

Latin America’s fight against corruption, witnessed in the region’s ongoing headlines and rising number of domestic cases, generally hurt perceptions.

Mexico took the biggest hit. Continued revelations of flagrant wrongdoing by numerous governors and other public officials—followed by few investigations or prosecutions—led the nation to plummet twenty-eight places to 123, alongside Honduras and Sierra Leone.

After two years of declines, Brazil’s score stabilized, even as the Lava Jato investigations expanded and deepened. This year’s further arrests, prosecutions, and convictions seemed to give some confidence that law enforcement might change things. Argentina’s score improved to its highest in five years, reflecting widespread sentiments that Macri’s government will be cleaner than that of his predecessor, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Scores for Honduras and Guatemala, both suffering from their own corruption scandals, remained roughly even, though their rankings fell relative to others.

Though many criticize the index for measuring perceptions rather than realities, the survey remains one of the best indicators of global and regional corruption trends. And as my colleague Matthew Taylor points out, it draws the attention of policymakers, law enforcement and the public—those that will need to come up with actions and solutions if their countries are to change.

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