The UAE and Saudi are the only GCC countries to have improved their ranking in an annual worldwide corruption perceptions survey that found little improvement in most Middle East nations.
Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index 2013, which measures corruption in the public sector on a 100-point scale, found 84 percent of Middle East and North African countries scored below 50.
The average regional score was 37, compared to the global average of 43.
However, the survey ranked the UAE 26, up from 27 last year, with a score of 69. Saudi also improved, with its score of 46 moving it three places up the table to 63.
Other GCC countries such as Oman stayed even with a ranking of 61, while Bahrain fell four places to 57 and Kuwait dropped three places to 69.
Conflict-wracked countries like Syria and Yemen significantly declined to the bottom of the world ranks for perceived levels of corruption, with rankings of 168 and 167 respectively.
Other Middle Eastern countries to have fallen down the rankings include Tunisia (77), Egypt (114), Iran (144), Iraq (171), Libya (172), Syria (168) and Lebanon (127).
The Corruption Perceptions Index is based on experts’ opinions of public sector corruption. Factors that contribute to a score include information systems and rules governing the behaviour of those in public positions, accountability across the public sector and effective public institutions.
Denmark and New Zealand tied for first place with scores of 91. Afghanistan, North Korea and Somalia this year made up the worst performers, scoring just 8 points each.
Christoph Wilcke, director of the MENA program at Transparency International, said conflict-wracked countries like Syria and Yemen significantly declined. “In addition, countries believed to be on a trajectory toward greater transparency have largely stalled and only a few countries marginally managed to improve their standing,” he said.
He said the Bahraini government proposed a draconian NGO (Non-Governmental Organisations) law; while Egyptian, Jordanian and other countries’ NGO laws continue to restrict NGO registration, freedom to operate, and international funding and cooperation.
“The promises of a region in which governments value diversity of opinion and include civil society in their governance largely ring hollow. When governments shut out the public, it comes as no surprise that opportunities for meaningful scrutiny and accountability diminish, and corruption risks in the public sector increase,” he said.
Huguette Labelle, chair of Transparency International, said: “The Corruption Perceptions Index 2013 demonstrates that all countries still face the threat of corruption at all levels of government, from the issuing of local permits to the enforcement of laws and regulations.”
He added: "The top performers clearly reveal how transparency supports accountability and can stop corruption," said Labelle. "Still, the better performers face issues like state capture, campaign finance and the oversight of big public contracts which remain major corruption risks."