Argentina has dropped down 18 positions in the rankings of an annual global corruption report, with NGO Transparency International (TI) warning that the fight against graft in Latin America has “stagnated” over the last decade.
The unfavourable news for the government emerges from the latest edition of TI’s Corruption Perceptions Index, published on Tuesday at the NGO’s Berlin headquarters.
Since 1995, TI has ranked 180 countries and territories on a scale from zero (very corrupt) to 100 (very clean). This year, it placed Argentina 96th on its global list, cutting its score by four points to 39, below the global average of 43. In 2020, the country ranked in 78th place.
The drop down was explained by a number of notable episodes in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic such as the government’s stabs at court reform, the so-called ‘VIP vaccine’ scandal, photos of the first lady’s birthday party in Olivos presidential residence during a period of strict quarantine and questions raised over the lack of transparency in the purchase of vaccines, said the report.
“Interference in the judiciary by political authorities’ [risks] jeopardising the country’s independence and creating an impression of impunity. 2021 was also characterised by abuses of power during the pandemic: the discretionary vaccination scheme (VIP vaccination) for public officials and their cronies, non-transparent procurement and contracting, and unethical behaviour by government officials,” it concluded.
Pablo Secchi, the executive director of Poder Ciudadano, TI’s local chapter, said “a sustained fall in the perception of public-sector corruption in our country may be observed.”
“This result is influenced by different motives,” he said, listing the attempts to reform the justice system and especially the attorney-general’s office.
Secchi also highlighted “the irregular and discretionary distribution of vaccines by the government” that concluded with the ouster of Ginés González García as Health minister and the “private presidential party while the citizenry’s circulation and meetings were being restricted.”
The country’s worst performance in the rankings was in 2015, with only 32 points out of the 100 and ranking 107th among the then 168 countries, closer to the bottom of the table than today, while the best score for Argentina was in 2019 when it climbed 19 positions, obtaining its best performance since 2012 with 45 points and ranking 66th (30 places higher than this latest index).
Transparency International praised anti-corruption efforts in Denmark, Finland and New Zealand (ranking them on 88 points), while voicing concern over the state of affairs in Somalia and Syria (with 13 points each) and South Sudan (11 points).
The NGO chair’s warned that the fight against graft in Latin American had been “totally stagnant” in an interview this week, arguing that alarming setbacks in Venezuela and Central American nations were undermining democracy and human rights.
“Corrupt leaders target activists and consolidate their power, while press rights, freedom of expression and freedom of association are under attack,” said Delia Ferreira Rubio, chair of Transparency International.
Venezuela ranked at the bottom of the list, with just 14 points, prompting the report to denounce “grand corruption causes serious violations of social rights, including education, health and food”.
In its summary, TI criticised a number of presidents in the region, such as Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil or Nayib Bukele in El Salvador, saying they were using the fight against corruption as a campaign banner to attract an electorate disappointed with traditional politicians. Despite their claims, these leaders “have made no progress in their fight against corruption and have taken anti-democratic” and “regressive” measures, it warned.
“The more democracy and more effective enjoyment of fundamental rights, the more difficult it is for corruption to flourish,” Luciana Torchuaro, head of Latin America for the organisation, told the AFP news agency in an interview.
The best-ranking country in Latin America was Uruguay is 73rd place, which TI described as “an example of stability and solidity.”
The Corruption Perceptions Index, published annually, has been criticised by some on the left for an alleged political bias, while academics have expressed concerns about the simplification of a complex phenomenon into a rankings table.