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Corruption worsens under populist leaders - watchdog

People who turn to populist politicians promising to upset the status quo and end corruption may be feeding the problem, a watchdog group has warned.

Transparency International's annual Corruption Perceptions Index for 2016 said that in countries with populist or autocratic leaders "instead of tackling crony capitalism, those leaders usually install even worse forms of corrupt systems".

The group's board chairman, Jose Ugaz, cited Hungary and Turkey, whose scores have worsened in recent years under leaders with authoritarian leanings, while Argentina, which ousted a populist government, has improved in the rankings, he said.

Based on expert opinions of public sector corruption, the annual report rated Denmark and New Zealand as the least-corrupt countries, followed by Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, and Norway.

Somalia was ranked most corrupt, followed by South Sudan, North Korea and Syria.

Rounding out the top 10 least corrupt were Singapore, the Netherlands, Canada, and the tie-placing trio of Germany, Luxembourg and the United Kingdom in the No 10 spot.

The United States was placed 18th, down from 16th in 2015.

Transparency International research director Finn Heinrich said the organisation was taking a wait-and-see approach to Donald Trump's presidency, but already had "serious concerns".

"Donald Trump came on board as the people in Hungary and Turkey, on an anti-corruption ticket. He said, 'We're going to drain this swamp'," Mr Heinrich said.

"But if you look at his action so far, there is nepotism. The people in his cabinet have many conflicts of interest.

"They are not people who stand for transparency."

The index scores countries on a range of factors, such as whether government officials are held to account or go unpunished for corruption, the perceived prevalence of bribery and whether public institutions respond to people's needs.

Nearly 70% of the 176 countries scored below 50 on the 100-point scale, with a zero meaning a country is perceived to be highly corrupt and 100 indicating it is perceived to be very clean.

"This year, more countries declined in the index than improved, showing the need for urgent action," the report said.

The country that dropped most sharply in the rankings was Qatar, which has faced criticism over alleged human rights abuses involving migrant construction workers since it was chosen to host the 2022 World Cup.

It plunged 10 points, falling to 31st on the list from 22nd last year.

Still, Mr Heinrich said Qatar's government had in the past shown itself "willing and keen" to fight corruption and Transparency would appeal for more fundamental reforms to ensure better freedom of speech and more media freedom, among other things.

"You can't fight corruption without having accountability and transparency in the entire public process," he said.

Afghanistan, a perennial fixture near the bottom of the list, improved the most in 2016.

Its score on the Transparency International index rose four points, but was still ranked 169th, just ahead of Libya, Sudan and Yemen.

AP

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