By Harry Tamrazian in Prague
The anti-graft watchdog Transparency International has again not included Armenia in its annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) of 102 states, citing a lack of credible information from the country. But a representative of the Berlin-based group in Yerevan said Transparency is aware that bribery, favoritism and other corrupt practices are widespread in Armenia.
The closely watched findings of this year's CPI survey were released on Wednesday. According to them, over two thirds of the world's countries, including almost the whole of the former Soviet Union, are rife with corruption, which is keeping many of them in poverty. The non-governmental organization's 2002 rankings are based on 15 polls gathered by nine institutions. To qualify for the index, a country must rank on at least three different surveys.
"If there are not enough data and surveys available for a country, it can not be included in the CPI," a spokeswoman for Transparency International, Karina Saddler, told RFE/RL from Berlin. "So this fact does not mean that Armenia is not a corrupt country."
In Transparency's 2000 corruption survey, Armenia was 76th on the list of 90 countries surveyed. The lowest of them is considered the most corrupt. Armenia was not rated last year for the same stated reason.
The Transparency representative in Yerevan, Amalia Kostanian, said she thinks that Armenia would have ended up in the third lowest part of the rankings if it had been covered by the 2002 survey. Kostanian suggested that another reasons why it was excluded from the corruption index is that Western watchdogs tend to concentrate on countries where graft has reached an "alarming" scale.
As last year, Bangladesh was rated as the most corrupt nation in the world, followed in ascending order by Nigeria, Paraguay, Madagascar, Angola, Kenya, Indonesia and Azerbaijan. The latter is in the 95th place and has the CPI score of 2.0 points, 0 representing the most corrupt and 10 the least corrupt state. Neighboring Georgia shares the 85th place with Ukraine.
The vast majority of other post-Soviet states, including Russia, are also placed in the bottom of the list.
Once again, rich countries were perceived as the least corrupt, with the Transparency list topped by Finland with a score of 9.7, followed by Denmark, New Zealand, Iceland, Singapore and Sweden. The United States came in 16th.
Transparency International's chairman Peter Eigen was quoted by news agencies as saying that politicians around the world "continue to take kickbacks at every opportunity." "Corruption is perceived to be dangerously high in poor parts of the world, but also in many countries whose firms invest in developing nations," he said.
In Armenia, repeated crackdowns on corruption announced by successive governments have so far led to nowhere. In May 2001, the Armenian government received a $345,000 grant from the World Bank to draw up a comprehensive program to eradicate corrupt practices, which are seen as a serious obstacle to the country's economic development. The document has yet to be made public.
Anush Petrosian, a member of an expert group working on it, told RFE/RL that the biggest achievement so far has been the fact that "the government has begun speaking about corruption aloud."