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11 February 20215 minute read

Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 – a Middle East and North Africa perspective

On 28 January 2021 Transparency International launched the 2020 edition of its Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), which ranks 180 countries and territories by their perceived levels of public sector corruption, according to experts and business people. The CPI is a helpful tool for businesses and public sector organisations to use in assessing the corruption risk level of the public sector in a particular jurisdiction.

A novel and significant factor impacting this year's results is the COVID-19 pandemic, which, according to Transparency International, “is not just a health and economic crisis, but a corruption crisis as well, with countless lives lost due to the insidious effects of corruption undermining a fair and equitable global response.”1

We set out some of the key points, including the impact of COVID-19 upon corruption risks, of this year's report from a Middle East and Africa perspective below.


The CPI uses a scale of zero (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean) to rank countries by their perceived levels of public sector corruption.

The highest placed Middle Eastern country this year was the United Arab Emirates (UAE), with 71 points and a ranking of 21 out of the 180 countries measured. Qatar was also a well ranked in 30th place with 63 points.2 Perhaps unsurprisingly, Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Iran continue to achieve low rankings. As in previous years, African countries continue in general to be ranked in the lower half of the index, the Seychelles and Botswana ranking highest in 27th and 35th respectively. The lowest ranked African countries are Sudan, South Sudan and Somalia.3

There were no significant changes to Middle Eastern and African countries’ rankings from 2019 to 2020; although interestingly, the CPI lists Lebanon as country to watch due to it having passed new laws to strengthen its judiciary; address issues of 'dirty money'; and improve access to information. These new legislative developments, coupled with the establishment of a National Anti-Corruption Commission and adoption of Anti-Corruption Strategy, present opportunities in the country to promote anti-corruption.4

Impact of COVID-19

Transparency International also highlighted the effect of the COVID-19 upon levels of corruption:

The large sums of money required to deal with emergencies, the need for urgency in disbursing aid or economic stimulus packages and the risk of undue influence over policy responses form a perfect storm for corruption as they can increase opportunities for it to occur, while weakening the mechanisms in place to prevent it.5

Transparency International's analysis highlights that:

  • corruption diverts funds from essential services such as healthcare, leaving countries around the world vulnerable and under-prepared to deal with public health crises;
  • a lack of transparency in the allocation of resources – a practice positively associated with corruption – weakens the efficiency of crisis responses;
  • countries that perform poorly in controlling corruption tend to breach human rights and democratic norms in their management of the COVID-19 pandemic.6

In relation to the Middle East and Africa, Transparency International notes that the Gulf Cooperation Council countries have the resources to combat COVID-19 and invest in healthcare. The CPI report also notes that “moving forward, some of the biggest challenges in the region, particularly during the COVID-19 recovery, are issues of transparency and equitable access to COVID-19 treatments and vaccines”.7


Overall, when viewing the CPI as a whole, 2020 has not seen any significant changes in the rankings for Middle Eastern or African countries, although a number of Middle Eastern countries have a score which is above average when compared with the rest of the world. We anticipate that when the 2021 CPI is released, a number of countries will have moved up the rankings as there are concerted efforts in a number of jurisdictions to improve the effectiveness of anti-corruption legislation.

It should be borne in mind that the CPI only relates to perceived risks within the public sector and does not assess private sector bribery and bribery risk. It is therefore important for companies to be aware of such risks when conducting business both domestically and abroad, particularly considering the increasing prevalence of anti-bribery and corruption legislation with extraterritorial effect. Corruption risks may also be heightened currently as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, making it essential for companies to have in place comprehensive compliance frameworks which are informed by up-to-date risk assessments.

1 Transparency International, Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 Report, page 4.
2 Transparency International, Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 Report, page 18.
3 Transparency International, Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 Report, page 20.
4 Transparency International, Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 Report, page 19.
5 Transparency International, Why Fighting Corruption Matters in Time of COVID-19, dated 18 January 2021
6 Ibid.
7 Transparency International, Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 Report, page 18.