South Sudan is perceived as one of the most corrupt countries in the world, according to Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), which was released Wednesday.
Only four countries rank worse than South Sudan, which was 171st out of 175 countries in the CPI. South Sudan is perceived as slightly less corrupt than Iraq, slightly more corrupt than Afghanistan, and ranks two places above neighboring Sudan.
Transparency International spoke with businessmen and country experts in all 175 countries to determine where they ranked in terms of perceptions of how widespread graft is, Santhosh Srinavasan, the lead researcher on the CPI, told South Sudan in Focus.
"It could be, for example, experts based in the World Bank in South Sudan or business executives who have operations in South Sudan and are interacting with government as part of those business operations," Srinavasan said.
"The CPI captures the perceptions of these people," he said.
When Transparency International gets push-back from governments that receive bad marks for perceived corruption, the criticism is usually driven by the way the index is compiled, Srinavasan said.
Governments complain that "... 'this is the perception of experts' and that the index carries a foreign, elite bias," he said.
Indeed, South Sudan Information Minister Michael Makuei dismissed Transparency International's index as "mere opinions expressed by people."
"They don't substantiate them, they come and conduct research without the involvement of the person concerned, they don't even submit the report to that person so he can respond to it," Makuei said.
"I really doubt the credibility of that report," he said.
Makuei questioned what he called "the random selection" of people who are interviewed for the index.
"Out of, say, 100, if you interview 10 -- these 10 may have their own intentions, their own opinion, and they are ready to say whatever. The other 90, if you had talked to them, maybe they would reverse the whole thing," he said.
But Srinavasan said research has shown that "CPI scores are often highly correlated with bribery rates and the experts' perceptions of countries are also highly correlated with the general public's perceptions of corruption levels in that government."
Fifteen out of 100 points
More than two thirds of the countries in the 2014 CPI scored below 50, on a scale from 0 -- highly corrupt -- to 100 (perceived to be very clean). Denmark came out on top this year with a score of 92 while North Korea and Somalia share last place, scoring just eight points each. South Sudan scored 15 points.
Transparency International says a poor score likely indicates "...widespread bribery, lack of punishment for corruption and public institutions that don’t respond to citizens’ needs."
The global corruption watchdog says countries at the bottom of the index - like South Sudan - need to take radical steps to fight corruption. It warns that "...bribes and backroom deals don’t just steal resources from the most vulnerable, but also undermine justice and economic development and destroy trust in the government."
'Absolute trust' in South Sudan government
But Makuei insisted that South Sudanese have "absolute trust" in the government of President Salva Kiir and rejected the premise that corruption has caused economic growth and development in South Sudan to stall.
"If you say the government is not enjoying any trust -- this is absolute rubbish," he railed.
He said South Sudan's economic and social woes "... may not necessarily be because of corruption. It could be because of inexperience... misplacement of funds, spending the funds on other issues, and so forth."
"The fact that there is a poor educational system, no proper health services does not necessarily mean corruption," he said.