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Both America and Great Britain are perceived as becoming more corrupt, according to a new world ranking by Transparency International.
The NGO's Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) annual report, published today, draws on expert and business surveys to score perceived public-sector corruption in 180 countries on a scale from zero ('highly corrupt') to ten ('highly clean').
The UK experienced a "significant decline" in its perceived transparency this year, the report noted, falling from 8.4 points in 2007 to 7.7, putting it in joint 16th place in the group with Ireland.
The report singled out the December 2006 decision by the Attorney General to discontinue the SFO's criminal investigation into the bribery allegations over BAE System's Al Yamamah arms contract with Saudi Arabia as particularly responsible for the decline.
"The decision to stop the criminal investigation raised acute concerns over the UK’s international obligation to combat corruption," it concluded.
The USA, Japan and Belgium all scored 7.3, putting them in joint 18th place. The US score has decreased slightly over the past few years, the report noted, and "its global ranking continues to be one of the lowest among the world’s leading industrialised countries."
Contributing factors may include a widespread sense that political finance is in need of reform, the organisation noted, with "lobbyists and special interest groups perceived to have an unfair hold on political decision-making."
"The persistence of corruption allegations at the federal, state and municipal level since then has also fuelled public concern," it continued.
Significant declines were also seen in the scores of Bulgaria, despite its recent admittance to the EU, and in Burundi, Maldives and Norway.
Huguette Labelle, chair of Transparency International said: "Even in more privileged countries, with enforcement disturbingly uneven, a tougher approach to tackling corruption is needed.”
Denmark, New Zealand and Sweden share the highest score, at 9.3, followed by Singapore at 9.2. The worst-scoring country was Somalia, at 1.0, which was only narrowly beaten by Iraq and Myanmar at 1.3, and Haiti at 1.4.
Australia and Canada both scored 8.7, putting the two countries in joint ninth place. Germany and Norway scored 7.9, putting them in joint 14th place; while France, Chile and Uruguay scored 6.9, making them joint 23rd.
China scored 3.6, placing it joint 72nd with Bulgaria, Macedonia, Mexico, Peru, Suriname, Swaziland and Trinidad & Tobago.
Brazil, Burkina Faso and Morocco share 80th place in the table on a score of 3.5, while India scored just 3.4, placing it 85th along with Albania and Madagascar. Russia scored 2.1, putting it joint 147th with Syria and Kenya.
Significant improvements were seen in Albania, Cyprus, Georgia, Mauritius, Nigeria, Oman, Qatar, South Korea, Tonga and Turkey, the report noted.