Qatar has moved above the UAE to claim the title of the Middle East's least corrupt country, according to the latest edition of Transparency International's Corruption Perception Index.
Qatar was ranked 22nd globally out of 168 countries worldwide, up four places from its position last year, with the UAE in joint 23rd position.
Berlin-based Transparency International ranked countries according to their levels of public sector corruption, as judged by around a dozen world institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, Economist Intelligence Unit and the Asian Bank.
Denmark took the top spot in this year’s index ahead of neighbours Finland and Sweden, while North Korea and Somalia came in joint bottom place.
Three of the bottom 10 countries in this year’s index are from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region – Iraq, Libya and Sudan.
The ongoing devastating conflicts in these and other countries, such as Syria and Yemen, inevitably mean that any efforts to strengthen institutions and the state have taken a back seat, said the index.
"Yet security will only succeed long-term if governments make a genuine break with cronyism and build trust with citizens. This will require a huge change in political will," Transparency International added in a statement.
The rise of ISIS and the ensuing fight against terrorism have been used by many governments as an excuse to crack down on civil liberties and civil society, the organisation said in the report.
The report said Kuwait, Jordan and Saudi Arabia all improved slightly on last year’s performance. For Saudi Arabia it’s the third year in a row where upward movement has been seen.
"Falling oil prices and a costly military intervention in Yemen have only strengthened the country’s austerity resolve, and there’s political recognition that solid structures and a clean business environment are needed to attract foreign investment. There’s also been some opening up with the increased participation of women in political life. The obvious and glaring issue remains the surge in executions in recent years as part of a wider crackdown on civil society and internal dissent," the report said.
Most countries have maintained the same score, and some - Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Syria and Tunisia - have deteriorated slightly.
The report added: "Political corruption in particular remains a huge challenge. The rise of ISIS and the ensuing fight against terrorism have been used by many governments as an excuse to crack down on civil liberties and civil society. Far from helping, such an approach means that entrenched corrupt networks go unchallenged, often serving as yet further financial fodder for terrorism."
Globally, some countries have improved in recent years – Greece, Senegal and the UK are among those that have seen a significant increase in scores since 2012.
Others, including Australia, Brazil, Libya, Spain and Turkey, have deteriorated.
Five of the 10 most corrupt countries also rank among the 10 least peaceful places in the world.