Corruption and COVID-19: opacity is a health risk

February 02 2021
Mauren esquivel

February 2th 2021. Recently the organization International Transparency published the update of its global indicator on the state of corruption in the world (ICP); an index that classifies 180 countries and territories according to the perception of experts and businessmen, and that ranges from 0 to 100 points, where 0 is high corruption and 100 is low corruption. This year the countries with the highest scores are Denmark, New Zealand, Finland, Singapore, Sweden and Switzerland; while the countries with the highest levels of corruption are Venezuela, Yemen, Syria, Somalia and South Sudan. 

En Latin America the best positioned countries are Uruguay, Chile and Costa Rica, occupying positions 21, 25 and 42 respectively; At the bottom of the table, or the countries with the highest levels of corruption are Venezuela, Nicaragua and Honduras with positions 176, 159 and 157 out of 180 countries. Compared to last year, the region has practically become stagnant, without major improvements in the fight against corruption.

Table 1: ICP positions for Latin America.

Source: Own elaboration with data from Transparency International.

In normal times, the publication of these results would be sufficient, and would provide quantitative support for an analysis of the impacts of corruption on the efficiency of the economy, or the stability of institutions, or any other issue related to this practice of abuse of power. for your own benefit as sets Transparency International. But in a world ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic, in which we count more than 100 million infected and more than 2 million deaths, and that the second or third wave keep causing damage In most countries, the issue of corruption also becomes an issue of COVID-19 and the ability of countries to face a complex and long-lasting problem such as the pandemic.

The Transparency International team of researchers finds 3 factors where corruption has affected the performance of countries to address the pandemic:

Corruption diverts funds from essential services such as healthcare, leaving countries around the world vulnerable and ill-prepared to deal with the public health crisis.

The lack of transparency in the allocation of resources, a practice positively associated with corruption, weakens the efficiency of responses to crises.

Countries that perform poorly in controlling corruption tend to violate human rights and democratic norms in their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

These factors may have an impact on the indicators that we have available on the management of the pandemic, such as the incidence rate (accumulated cases per 1000 inhabitants), and lethality (percentage of deaths due to positive cases of COVID-19). When crossing the information on the corruption index with the information on COVID-19 health indicators for the 180 countries evaluated, it is found that if we divide the countries by levels of corruption (graph 1), it is found that the countries with the highest corruption (on average 24.05 ICP points) have a COVID-19 incidence rate per 1000 inhabitants of only 4.85; The countries in the group with medium-high levels of corruption (on average 38.8 ICP points) have an incidence rate of 16.09 per 1000 inhabitants. In contrast, countries with better levels of transparency and less corruption report more cases of COVID-19 incidence, with 30.85 per 1000 countries with low medium levels (55.7 points on average of the ICP), and 24.91 per 1000 for countries with the highest low corruption (on average 78.28 ICP points).

Graph 1: Incidence of COVID-19 by levels of corruption.

Source: Own calculations with data from Transparency International and Johns Hopkins University.

If we contrast the lethality (total deaths from COVID-19 with respect to the total number of reported cases) with the levels of corruption. The fatality from COVID-19 is found to decrease in line with the reduction in corruption. Countries with high levels of corruption report almost twice the fatality rate than countries with lower levels of corruption (Figure 2). These comparisons are of course subject to the quality of the data to which you have access and reports the Johns Hopkins University, so they are the official data, which for some countries does not necessarily mean the real data. However, it is contrasting that for a threat that requires mobilizing resources, making public purchases, and bringing a public service to a large number of the population, it is the least transparent and most corrupt countries that report the lowest incidence of cases and the highest fatality rates.

Graph 2: COVID-19 lethality by levels of corruption.

Source: Own calculations with data from Transparency International and Johns Hopkins University.

As it is an event that is happening at this time, it is necessary to continue collecting information and make an analysis at the end of it to finish evaluating these relationships, including the vaccination process. But just as mentioned International Transparency, the characteristics that the countries that best fight the pandemic will have in terms of management are those that have transparency and accountability policies, that have clear and efficient public procurement systems, with strong mechanisms to audit and supervise the institutions and their decisions during the emergency, as well as protecting the rights of citizens and maintaining a balance between sectors and powers within the social contract. And it is that, in concrete terms, today it is very clear that corruption costs lives; and that any construction of resilience to deal with future emergencies must have solid transparency and accountability mechanisms, conditions that in the region we still have much to improve.