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Why are Muslim majority countries more corrupt?

Summary

22 June 2010

Transparency International is a global non-governmental organisation which fights corruption. It was founded in 1993. As a sign of its importance when Jermyn Brooks, chairman of Price Waterhouse Europe retired in the mid-1990s, he chose to become a director of Transparency International.

Each year Transparency International publishes its Corruption Perceptions Index which measures the perceived level of public sector corruption in the 178 countries around the world. This index is held in great respect by the media, international organisations and governments.

For many years I have been loosely conscious that Muslim majority countries clustered in the bottom half of the index; the lower a country ranks the greater the perceived level of public sector corruption.  When writing this page, I decided to look at the matter systematically.

The Transparency International 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index

I have copied below the 2010 index and highlighted those countries which are members of The Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC). The members of the OIC do not all have majority Muslim populations; in some cases the country has a significant Muslim minority but has chosen to join the OIC to reflect the wishes of its citizens. However the 57 member countries of the OIC are the most readily available indicator of the "Muslim World."

In the table below only 55 countries are highlighted. The reason is that two members of the OIC, Suriname and Palestine are not included in the Transparency International table.

Rank Country CPI 2010 Score
1 Denmark 9.3
2 New Zealand 9.3
3 Singapore 9.3
4 Finland 9.2
5 Sweden 9.2
6 Canada 8.9
7 Netherlands 8.8
8 Australia 8.7
9 Switzerland 8.7
10 Norway 8.6
11 Iceland 8.5
12 Luxembourg 8.5
13 Hong Kong 8.4
14 Ireland 8.0
15 Austria 7.9
16 Germany 7.9
17 Barbados 7.8
18 Japan 7.8
19 Qatar 7.7
20 United Kingdom 7.6
21 Chile 7.2
22 Belgium 7.1
23 United States 7.1
24 Uruguay 6.9
25 France 6.8
26 Estonia 6.5
27 Slovenia 6.4
28 Cyprus 6.3
29 United Arab Emirates 6.3
30 Israel 6.1
31 Spain 6.1
32 Portugal 6.0
33 Botswana 5.8
34 Puerto Rico 5.8
35 Taiwan 5.8
36 Bhutan 5.7
37 Malta 5.6
38 Brunei 5.5
39 Korea (South) 5.4
40 Mauritius 5.4
41 Costa Rica 5.3
42 Oman 5.3
43 Poland 5.3
44 Dominica 5.2
45 Cape Verde 5.1
46 Lithuania 5.0
47 Macau 5.0
48 Bahrain 4.9
49 Seychelles 4.8
50 Hungary 4.7
51 Jordan 4.7
52 Saudi Arabia 4.7
53 Czech Republic 4.6
54 Kuwait 4.5
55 South Africa 4.5
56 Malaysia 4.4
57 Namibia 4.4
58 Turkey 4.4
59 Latvia 4.3
60 Slovakia 4.3
61 Tunisia 4.3
62 Croatia 4.1
63 FYR Macedonia 4.1
64 Ghana 4.1
65 Samoa 4.1
66 Rwanda 4.0
67 Italy 3.9
68 Georgia 3.8
69 Brazil 3.7
70 Cuba 3.7
71 Montenegro 3.7
72 Romania 3.7
73 Bulgaria 3.6
74 El Salvador 3.6
75 Panama 3.6
76 Trinidad and Tobago 3.6
77 Vanuatu 3.6
78 China 3.5
79 Colombia 3.5
80 Greece 3.5
81 Lesotho 3.5
82 Peru 3.5
83 Serbia 3.5
84 Thailand 3.5
85 Malawi 3.4
86 Morocco 3.4
87 Albania 3.3
88 India 3.3
89 Jamaica 3.3
90 Liberia 3.3
91 Bosnia and Herzegovina 3.2
92 Djibouti 3.2
93 Gambia 3.2
94 Guatemala 3.2
95 Kiribati 3.2
96 Sri Lanka 3.2
97 Swaziland 3.2
98 Burkina Faso 3.1
99 Egypt 3.1
100 Mexico 3.1
101 Dominican Republic 3.0
102 Sao Tome and Principe 3.0
103 Tonga 3.0
104 Zambia 3.0
105 Algeria 2.9
106 Argentina 2.9
107 Kazakhstan 2.9
108 Moldova 2.9
109 Senegal 2.9
110 Benin 2.8
111 Bolivia 2.8
112 Gabon 2.8
113 Indonesia 2.8
114 Kosovo 2.8
115 Solomon Islands 2.8
116 Ethiopia 2.7
117 Guyana 2.7
118 Mali 2.7
119 Mongolia 2.7
120 Mozambique 2.7
121 Tanzania 2.7
122 Vietnam 2.7
123 Armenia 2.6
124 Eritrea 2.6
125 Madagascar 2.6
126 Niger 2.6
127 Belarus 2.5
128 Ecuador 2.5
129 Lebanon 2.5
130 Nicaragua 2.5
131 Syria 2.5
132 Timor-Leste 2.5
133 Uganda 2.5
134 Azerbaijan 2.4
135 Bangladesh 2.4
136 Honduras 2.4
137 Nigeria 2.4
138 Philippines 2.4
139 Sierra Leone 2.4
140 Togo 2.4
141 Ukraine 2.4
142 Zimbabwe 2.4
143 Maldives 2.3
144 Mauritania 2.3
145 Pakistan 2.3
146 Cameroon 2.2
147 Côte d´Ivoire 2.2
148 Haiti 2.2
149 Iran 2.2
150 Libya 2.2
151 Nepal 2.2
152 Paraguay 2.2
153 Yemen 2.2
154 Cambodia 2.1
155 Central African Republic 2.1
156 Comoros 2.1
157 Congo-Brazzaville 2.1
158 Guinea-Bissau 2.1
159 Kenya 2.1
160 Laos 2.1
161 Papua New Guinea 2.1
162 Russia 2.1
163 Tajikistan 2.1
164 Democratic Republic of Congo 2.0
165 Guinea 2.0
166 Kyrgyzstan 2.0
167 Venezuela 2.0
168 Angola 1.9
169 Equatorial Guinea 1.9
170 Burundi 1.8
171 Chad 1.7
172 Sudan 1.6
173 Turkmenistan 1.6
174 Uzbekistan 1.6
175 Iraq 1.5
176 Afghanistan 1.4
177 Myanmar 1.4
178 Somalia 1.1

Why are OIC countries placed low in the table?

One relevant factor is that poorer countries generally have lower rankings in this table than richer countries. However that is not universally true; for example Russia is listed at 162 despite being relatively wealthy. Many OIC members are poor countries.

However, looking at the OIC countries, a number (primarily oil producing countries) have relatively high levels of income per capita while still ranking relatively low on the corruption table. Overall, I believe that income levels are not the sole explanation for the low ranking of OIC countries. There must be another reason apart from income why OIC countries are lowly ranked. In my view the explanation derives from philosophies of governance.

Governance philosophies

This short page can only touch briefly upon philosophies of governance.

Ever since the rise of Christianity, monarchs and emperors in Christian majority countries have sought to link their power with divine authority and the religious hierarchies. This is commonly referred to as "the divine right of kings." Over the last 600 years societies in Christian majority countries have steadily whittled away or removed any concept of divine authority from their rulers. Instead the almost universal governance model is that the ruler derives his authority solely from the people and can be removed by the people. Furthermore the detailed governance structures are predicated on the assumption that people who are given power are prone to misbehave and therefore need to be watched closely with appropriate checks and balances. This is best summarised by Lord Acton's dictum "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

As an illustration, Barack Obama as president of the United States of America may be the most powerful man in the world but he has no ability to raise his own salary. There are also many mechanisms in place to prevent him employing his relatives at the expense of the United States taxpayer!

There has been relatively little development of the theory of governance by Muslims in view of the general stagnation of Islamic thought for about 500 years. As an illustration, when Umer Chapra wanted to write about government he had to rely upon the works of Ibn Khaldun written many centuries ago. Furthermore many Muslims still look back to the time of the Prophet (pbuh) and the rightly guided caliphs (the first four caliphs after the Prophet (pbuh)) for ideas about how government should be organised. Unfortunately the governance model they derive is to seek a morally perfect individual and then give him (never her!) absolute power. This model underlies the concept of the Supreme Leader in Iran. Unfortunately this Islamic governance model must lead inevitably to bad government as morally perfect individuals rarely exist, and as Lord Acton pointed out even good people are corrupted by power.

OIC countries will only improve their corruption performance when they recognise that the purpose of any system of government is to enable the people to choose their leaders, to limit the power of those leaders, to monitor the performance of those leaders and to remove them when the people wish.

 

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