Transparency International (TI) recently released its Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 (CPI Index) which ranks 180 countries/territories according to perceptions of public sector corruption in each country. The report described 2020 as “one of the worst years in recent history” with most countries making little or no progress towards fighting corruption and two-thirds receiving scores below 50 (out of 100). Australia dropped 8 points to 77 points to come in at 11th place on the Index. In contrast, New Zealand once again came in was equal first (i.e. most transparent/least corrupt) with Denmark.
Corruption spike in the healthcare sector
The COVID-19 pandemic featured heavily in the report with a spike in corruption in the healthcare sector reported in a number of countries, particularly those with limited or no access to free medical services. Examples of healthcare sector corruption associated with the COVID-19 response included:
- Bribery for COVID-19 tests and medical care;
- Misappropriation of aid distributions;
- Lack of transparency around public expenditure; and
- Police corruption (in particular around border control and quarantine).
In a separate publication, Citizens Report COVID-19 Corruption, TI reported cases of corrupt conduct in countries that came within the Corrupt/Highly Corrupt categories in the index. In one case, healthcare workers were forced to work without pay for three months or more despite the government’s claims that it had spent more than USD$27 million on efforts to fight COVID-19. In another country, the government chose to source ventilators for use in hospitals from a manufacturer whose CEO was reportedly a close associate of the country’s President. The manufacturer was found to have overcharged for the ventilators which separately were the subject of investigations following fires in hospital wards that led to patient deaths.
Combatting COVID-19 response corruption
To combat corruption across the COVID-19 response, TI recommends that governments:
- Publish clear guidelines and criteria around qualification for aid programs
- Publish clear and public guidelines covering management of the COVID-19 response in a healthcare and police/enforcement setting
- Be transparent and accountable to citizens with respect to financial and other aid distributions.
- Have accessible and safe avenues for citizens to report corruption
- Thoroughly investigate and discipline public officers who engage in corrupt conduct