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Stamp out bank secrecy: corruption watchdog

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Graft watchdog Transparency International hit out at rich countries over shady banking practices yesterday as it published its annual rankings naming and shaming the world’s most corrupt countries.
“Corrupt money must not find safe haven. It is time to put an end to excuses,” said the Berlin-based group’s head Huguette Labelle.
“Even industrialised countries cannot be complacent: the supply of bribery and the facilitation of corruption often involve businesses based in their countries,” the report said.
In the wake of the financial crisis, the Group of 20 (G20) industrialised countries turned up the heat on tax havens, targeting rich countries with long-held banking secrecy laws like Liechtenstein and Switzerland.
But Labelle said extra efforts were imperative, calling for more bilateral treaties on information exchange in order to “to fully end the secrecy regime.”
Overall, the 2009 corruption list is “of great concern,” the organisation said, with the majority of countries scoring under five in the ranking, which ranges from zero, highly corrupt and 10, which is very clean.
The bottom five – Somalia, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Sudan and Iraq – show that “countries which are perceived as the most corrupt are also those plagued by long-standing conflicts, which have torn apart their governance infrastructure,” TI said.
Nevertheless, six years after the US-led invasion and the chaos that followed, Iraq was perceived to be slightly cleaner, with its score rising to 1.5 points from 1.3 points. It also climbed two places in the list.
But Afghanistan, where countries forming a 100,000-strong international force are pressing President Hamid Karzai to stamp out graft eight years after the ouster of the Taliban, slid from 1.5 points in 2008 to 1.3 in 2009.
The most corrupt nation on Earth remained Somalia, the impoverished and war-torn Horn of Africa state that has been without a functioning government for two decades, notching up a score of 1.1 points.
“The international community must find efficient ways to help war-torn countries to develop and sustain their own institutions,” said Labelle.
But it was not just countries driven by conflict that saw their ratings slide. Italy, a member of the Group of Seven rich countries came in at 63rd on the list, from 55th last year.
Fellow EU member Greece fared even worse, at 71st, slipping from 57th.
Seemingly winning the fight against corruption were Liberia – whose score improved from 2.4 points to 3.1 points, shooting up 41 places on the list to 97th – and Gambia, which went from 158 on the list to 106.
Other significant improvements were registered by Norway, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Montenegro and Malawi.
The United States inched up from 7.3 points to 7.5 but dropped one place in the rankings to 19th. China’s rating was stable at 3.6 points but also fall seven places to 79th.
Russia continued to be very low down in the list, coming in at 146th place, although its score edged higher to 2.2 points from 2.1 points.
The five countries seen as least afflicted by corruption were New Zealand, Denmark, Singapore, Sweden – and Switzerland, the Alpine country seen as a bastion of bank secrecy.
New Zealand scored 9.4 points whereas Somalia scored 1.0 points.
The score is based on perceptions of the degree of corruption as seen by business people and country analysts.

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