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South Asia Scores Poorly on Corruption Index

Several nations in South Asia are again near the bottom of the list in a widely respected annual survey of worldwide perceptions about public sector corruption. VOA's Steve Herman reports from New Delhi.

Those who live and do business in South Asia may find it no surprise that the region includes countries viewed as among the most corrupt in the world.

Berlin-based Transparency International has released its annual report on perceptions of corruption.

The survey ranks military-ruled Burma as tied with the lawless East African country of Somalia as the world's most corrupt states.

Of 180 nations considered, Bangladesh ranks 162nd and Pakistan is 138th, seven spots below Nepal.

Transparency International's index is based on surveys of experts in international organizations and the business community.

Bhutan has slipped compared to previous years, but it is best in the region at 46th. India is tied with China and six other countries at number 72 and ahead of Sri Lanka, which is 94th.

India last year ranked 70th but only 163 countries were included in that survey.

Alexandra Wrage, the president of Trace International, an association of corporations committed to anti-bribery work around the globe, says she sees cause for optimism in parts of South Asia.

"Using India as an example, there is widespread dissatisfaction with the pace of increased transparency," said Wrage. "And as a result of that we are seeing progress. In countries like Myanmar, where the public has a less organized voice, then we see less progress. And in fact, they are dead last on the perceptions index."

The countries considered the cleanest in terms of public sector wrongdoing are New Zealand, Denmark, and Finland. The United States ranks 20th, between France and Belgium.

But experts say many richer countries seen as the least corrupt share blame for the endemic corruption in the developing world.

Trace International's Wrage says multi-national corporations frequently complain they are forced to pay bribes by corrupt public officials in South Asia and other developing regions.

"If you speak to governments, of course, they will say 'we are trying to clean up our system internally and bring greater transparency' and here come the multi-nationals with briefcases full of cash," she added.

In its annual report, Transparency International is calling for low-scoring countries to strengthen accountability in public institutions. It is also asking top-ranking nations to take action, particularly when it comes to corruption in the private sector, both at home and abroad.