Is Worldwide Corruption on the Rise?

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People seem to think so.

Right on time for International Anti-Corruption Day, the 2010 Global Corruption Barometer has been released. Some 90,000 people in 86 countries were surveyed for the Transparency International (TI) report that gauges public opinion on shady dealings.

(See how corruption is holding Asia back.)

And public perceptions are pretty pessimistic. According to TI, nearly six out of 10 people say corruption has increased in their country over the past three years … which the global financial crisis probably had a little something to do with. The rate is higher among Europeans (73%) and North Americans (67%)… though people there also reported paying fewer bribes than residents of other regions.

Globally, one out of four people surveyed said they paid a bribe in the last year. And it seems the police were usually the ones taking them. Respondents, however, do not consider the police the most crooked institution: that dishonor belongs to political parties (which about 80% regard as corrupt). And it’s religious institutions that saw the biggest jump in perceived corruption: while only 28% of people considered them corrupt in 2004, 53% do so now.

(See the top 10 world news stories of 2010.)

The prevalence of bribery varies greatly around the world.  89% of Liberians surveyed reported paying bribes — a higher proportion than any other population. Apparently, however, there is nothing rotten in the state of Denmark. It was the only nation that did not report any bribery (meanwhile, just 1% of respondents in both Norway and the UK said they’d paid a bribe. In the U.S., it was 5%).

Significantly, people with lower-incomes report paying more bribes—not just to the police, but also to providers of such basics as medical services, utilities, and education. As TI notes, “The 2010 Barometer shows again that poorer people around the globe are more frequently penalized by bribery.” When it comes to bribing the judiciary, though, a higher percentage of those with higher-incomes say they’ve done it.

TI’s report explored the motivations behind bribery by asking respondents the purpose of the latest bribe they’d paid. In sub-Saharan Africa, 67% did so to “avoid a problem with authorities.” In the Middle East and North Africa, 48% said they paid bribes to “speed things up.” And in North America and Europe, 10% and 12%, respectively, said they “don’t remember.” It’s only slightly less disturbing than the fact that 59% of the respondents from those regions said they “don’t know.” (via BBC)