Myanmar was named the world's most corrupt nation, along with Somalia, by a watchdog group on Wednesday - ratcheting up the pressure on the Southeast Asian country's military regime as it faces the biggest anti-government protests in nearly two decades. Transparency International's 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index scored 180 countries based on the degree to which corruption is perceived among public officials and politicians. Myanmar, also known as Burma, and Somalia received the lowest score of 1.4 out of 10. They were followed by Iraq, which scored 1.5.
"Myanmar is a very good example of that intersection between corruption, poverty and repression," the agency's international chairwoman, Huguette Labelle, told a news conference in London where the report was released.
"Eventually there is an explosion because people reach a state where they do take it in their hands, the attempt to change the situation," she said, referring to the eight days of anti-government marches led by monks across Myanmar. Corruption, repression and mismanagement by Myanmar's junta - which seized power in 1988 - have been widely blamed for turning what was once a jewel of Southeast Asia into one of its most miserable places.
"It has a very corrupt judiciary, the police force is also very corrupt and importantly anti-corruption efforts in the past have been applied arbitrarily ... to the benefit of the ruling elite," Transparency International's managing director Cobus de Swardt told reporters.
Myanmar scored the same as Somalia, a country that has been ravaged by violence and anarchy since warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991 and then turned on one another. The current, U.N.-backed government was formed in 2004, but has struggled to assert any real control.
The index shows a continuing failure to tackle corruption in Iraq, the agency said. Iraq's score fell to 1.5 from 1.9 last year. The country's reconstruction makes it necessary to move quickly, de Swardt acknowledged, but the system for awarding contracts - much of it outside Iraqis' control - is widely seen as inherently corrupt and risks undermining the country's future development. "The principles that are put in place now are not about the democratic principles of accountability to a population and greater transparency," de Swardt said.
Faring the best in the survey were Denmark, Finland and New Zealand, all tying for first place with scores of 9.4. The agency's scale is based on the perceptions of the degree of corruption by businesspeople and country analysts. Countries are ranked out of 10, and any score below 5 indicates "serious" perceived levels of corruption, while scores below 3 reflect "rampant" corruption, the agency said.