Ireland in 16th place on least corrupt ranking
IRELAND HAS been ranked as the 16th least corrupt country in a global survey of perceived corruption levels, a rise of one place on last year's position.
Transparency International's (TI) annual Corruption Perceptions Index ranks 180 countries according to perceived levels of public sector corruption. It marks countries on a scale of zero to 10, with zero indicating high levels of corruption.
Denmark retains its 2007 ranking as the world's least least corrupt country, scoring 9.3, but shares it this year with Sweden and New Zealand. Ireland is ranked in 16th place with a score of 7.7, a rise from the 7.5 that placed it 17th last year.
For the second year running, Somalia, Burma and Iraq received the poorest marks, with Somalia scoring 1.0 and Burma and Iraq being given 1.3 points each.
The anti-corruption organisation said the improved ranking was particularly important for a small, open economy such as Ireland's because investors' decisions were influenced by a state's reputation for fair regulation and government transparency.
"The global financial crisis makes perceptions of corruption all the more significant for Ireland as countries' markets increasingly rely on investor trust. A continued gap in trust is going to cost our economy - in the long term it's going to cost us jobs," said Justin Keogan, chair of TI's Irish chapter.
A study funded by the Dublin Chamber of Commerce in 2005 estimated that Irish business was losing €2 billion every year through economic crime.
The global index, based on expert and investor surveys on corruption, shows that while Ireland's standing has improved marginally over the past year, Britain has suffered one of the biggest drops in the history of the benchmark, from 8.4 to 7.7 points.
Ireland's ranking suffered a similar fall six years ago as evidence emerged of payments to Charles Haughey and other politicians.
Britain's fall was attributed in part to a decision in 2006 to end an investigation into a defence contract with Saudi Arabia.
France's reputation also suffered because of investigations of former president Jacques Chirac and former prime minister Dominique de Villepin, as well as a slush-fund scandal, Transparency said. Its ranking slipped to 6.9 from 7.3.
Transparency's chair Huguette Labelle called the high levels of corruption in low-income countries a "humanitarian disaster".
"Stemming corruption requires strong oversight through parliaments, law enforcement, independent media and a vibrant civil society," Ms Labelle.
"When these institutions are weak, corruption spirals out of control with horrendous consequences for ordinary people . . ."
The Berlin-based group estimated that unchecked levels of corruption would add $50 billion - or nearly half of annual global development aid - to the cost of achieving the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals.
Perceptions of corruption: the index
Perceptions of corruption have risen in five of the nine developing countries that receive most of Ireland's bilateral aid, according to Transparency International.
The annual Corruption Perceptions Index, which measures states' reputations for honesty in the public sector, shows that among Irish Aid's nine partner countries, only one - Lesotho - made the top 100 countries where perceptions of corruption are lowest.
Uganda, which is due this year to receive €44 million - the largest proportion of Ireland's overseas development budget - fell from 2.8 points in 2007 to 2.6 this year.
Tanzania, allocated €40 million in Irish funding this year, fell from 3.2 to 3 points, while another sub-Saharan African country, Mozambique, dropped by the same amount to 2.6 points.
Of the nine countries, perceptions of graft are lowest in Lesotho (3.2 points).
Transparency International Ireland cautions against reading too much into declining scores, pointing out that they may not reflect a trend of increasing corruption but rather increasing awareness of the problem.
Overall, four recipient countries improved their standing. Ethiopia, which was granted €32 million in Irish Aid funding last year, rose from 2.4 to 2.6. Zambia, another partner country, saw its rating rise by the same amount to 2.8 points.
Two countries - Malawi and Vietnam - rose by one point each, to 2.8 and 2.7 respectively.
The lowest placed of Irish Aid's partner countries is Timor Leste, which was ranked in 145th place out of 180 countries, down from 2.6 points in 2007 to 2.2 this year. RUADHÁN Mac CORMAIC