Estonia has increased its total score and maintained its position at 18 on the 2019 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) released on Thursday by Transparency International, going against a global trend of "stagnation" or "backsliding".
Estonia is placed at 18 out of 180 countries on the CPI with a total score of 74 out of a possible 100, while the average score for western Europe and the EU was 66. Last year, Estonia was also placed at 18 but had a score of 73 out of 100.
The CPI measures the level of corruption in the public sector and in policy-making, as perceived by external experts and the business community. Results are reported on a scale of 0 to 100, with 0 being a high level and 100 being a low level of corruption.
More than two-thirds of countries included in the ranking – along with many of the world's most advanced economies – are stagnating or showing signs of backsliding in their anti-corruption efforts, Transparency International said in a statement.
The average score for the 2019 report is 43 points, with two-thirds of the countries below 50 points. Since 2012, only 22 countries have made significant statistical improvements, including Estonia which has increased by 10 places. Greece and Guyana are the other two countries which have made significant improvement. Twenty-one have significantly declined, including Australia, Canada and Nicaragua.
Commenting on the results, executive director of the Estonian Association for Corruption Carina Paju said: "The fact that Estonia ranks in the top 20 reflects the efficiency of the work done. However, the difference with the most corruption-free countries is noticeable, and in order to reach the top we have to work on changing legislation and social values. It is worth bearing in mind, in the context of money laundering cases gaining attention in the media, that the Corruption Perceptions Index does not reflect developments in the private sector."
Rule of law
Denmark and New Zealand topped the CPI both being awarded 87 out of 100. Finland was placed third, with Sweden, Singapore and Switzerland in fourth. Latvia saw it's score fall and ranks 41, while Lithuania increased its position rising to 35. Russia ranks 137 with 28 points.
Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary all fell further down the list.
Paju said: "Estonia's result indicates our institutions are still independent. However, international experience shows that rule of law and separation of powers are not just words but the fragile foundations of democracy. In countries where the independence and apolitical nature of law enforcement agencies and officials has been under attack, the risk of corruption is also increasing. Poland, for example, has fallen from 36th place to 41st place, and Hungary from 64 to 70.
"Signs of danger to the rule of law must be taken very seriously. However, recent references have been made to the bias of the judiciary and investigative bodies, with insufficient evidence and justification. This, however, undermines trust in the state and should be avoided in any case."
Paju continued that protection of and for whistleblowers will enter into law soon as Estonia will have to apply a European Union directive on the same subject. She said the organisation stood by legislation and want to ensure that whistleblowers' rights are fully guaranteed.
A comparative analysis of the CPI shows that, in countries where the V-Dem (Varieties for Democracy) analysis is inclusive and transparent, the CPI scores an average of 61 points. In countries where legislation is limited and different stakeholders are not consulted, the index scores only 32 points on average.
"The more extensive and accessible the process of legislative involvement is, the better it will be to control corruption. It is time for Estonia to develop an interagency stakeholder regime that would define the boundaries of lobbying and contribute to more systematic and active engagement throughout the process. it must work within ethical boundaries. It is essential for the CVE that the meetings are publicized and that decisions are clearly and comprehensibly reasoned," the association's chief executive commented.
Funding of political parties
The index also shows the more independent the financing of political parties and election campaigns from narrow business interests, the more states are able to fight corruption. 60 percent of countries that have seen significant improvements since 2012 have also been working to strengthen their party funding regulations.
Paju said: "Funding of political parties in Estonia is certainly transparent in international comparison. However, as early as 2015, the ODIHR Election Observation Report pointed out that the mandate of the Political Parties Financing Surveillance Committee (ERJK) should be strengthened. The Commission does not currently have the power to investigate possible infringements independently - cases need to be referred to the police, which extends both the investigation period and proves to be a problem in enforcing decisions. Additionally, third parties are not required to provide campaign costs.
"A clearer definition of lobbying and disclosure of stakeholder meetings would also help to create links between narrow private interests that influence policies and political donations. Buying politics or influencing private interests through donations, like undermining the rule of law, undermines democracy and trust in the state. Policies must be designed in the public interest and cannot have a place in the business interests of the individual."
The CPI is a cumulative score of up to 13 independent surveys and expert assessments. For full results and regional analysis of the Corruption Perceptions Index 2019, can be viewed here.
Editor: Helen Wright