Corruption in the United States appears to be at its worst in nearly a decade, according to a new global report released Thursday by Transparency International. Proponents attribute the decline to falling confidence in democratic institutions and poor monitoring of pandemic-related financial aid.
In the annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), the United States fell from a high of 76 in 2015 to a low of 67 out of a maximum of 100 points. Corruption is inherently difficult to document and the index relies on various sources to measure the extent of perceived corruption in the public sector. The lower the score, the worse the corruption. Two thirds of the 180 countries and territories included in the 2020 index achieved fewer than 50 points, with an average of 43.
Scott Greytak, the advocacy director for the US office of Transparency International cited a wider “breakdown” of political institutions in the US as the main reason for the country’s rating decline. Gretyak noted that public confidence in the U.S. election was undermined by disinformation and record-breaking amounts of untraceable money in elections – especially in 2020, when twice as much was spent compared to 2016.
“Second, and increasingly important, are these series of really bombshell media exposés showing how much dirty money is flowing into the United States’ financial system,” he said, citing a joint research by BuzzFeed News and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists last year, which revealed how large banks knowingly allowed trillions of dollars in suspicious financial transactions to enable drug queens, kleptocrats and terrorists to move corrupt money around the world.
The 2020 index also showed how global corruption has affected countries’ ability to protect public health and their economies during the pandemic. In the United States, there have been repeated reports of loans granted to not-so-small businesses under the Payment Protection Program to support small businesses: beneficiaries include defense companies, the international fast-food chain Shake Shack, and the Los Angeles Lakers.
“COVID-19 is not just a health and economic crisis. It’s a corruption crisis. And one that we can’t manage right now, ”said Delia Ferreira Rubio, Chair of Transparency International. “The past year has tested governments like no other, and those with higher levels of corruption have faced the challenge less. But even those at the top of the CPI urgently need to address their role in perpetuating corruption at home and abroad. “
Health systems and drug procurement have long been vulnerable to corruption. The report found that the more corrupt a country or territory was, the less money was spent on health care, regardless of its level of economic development. “Although corruption varies in scope and extent from region to region, it has proven to be a universal obstacle to effectively fighting COVID-19,” the report said.
Since 2012, the earliest point of comparison under the Index’s current methodology, half of the countries and territories in the Index have stagnated with little or no improvement in anti-corruption efforts.
Another side effect of the pandemic is that authoritarian governments have used it as an excuse to silence critics, curtail civil liberties and increase surveillance. The report found that high levels of corruption were closely correlated with reliance on undemocratic methods of fighting the pandemic. The Philippines, which scored 34 out of 100, experienced one of the longest and strictest lockdowns at the start of the pandemic when President Rodrigo Duterte warned police would shoot “dead … people” who violated the restrictions.