The government of Malawi has criticized the latest findings of the Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International. The report says corruption has grown in Malawi over the past three years.  The new, 2007 edition of the annual report looked at perceptions of public sector corruption in 180 countries. The group scored countries on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 indicating high levels of perceived corruption and 10 indicating low levels. Malawi?s score? A relatively high 2.7  Lameck Masina reports from Blantyre.
The Corruption Perception Index indicates that Malawi has dropped 28 places, from 90 in 2004 to 118 in 2007. But President Bingu wa Mutharika categorically disputes the rankings.
He says since he came into power in 2004, his government has been making considerable gains in the war against corruption.
?During the last two or three years," he said, "the Anti-Corruption Bureau has investigated over 900 cases and made over 12 successful prosecutions, but the Transparency International chose to pick up figures that are inaccurate for their own reason that I don?t know.?
The index touched a raw nerve by basing its findings from 2004, the very same year President Mutharika declared war against corruption.
To fight the problem, Mr. Mutharika arrested most high-level politicians of the opposition United Democratic Front (UDF). These included former president Bakili Muluzi; the former mayor of the city of Blantyre, John Chikakwiya; the former chief executive of the national bus line, Humphrey Mvula; and former finance minister Friday Jumbe.
His critics cried foul. They accused him of targeting only UDF politicians. To prove them wrong, President Mutharika also had one of his own cabinet officials arrested, Education Minister Yusufu Mwawa.
But of those indicted, only two, Chikakwiya and Mwawa, have been convicted.
It?s for this reason that Mr. Mutharika describes the rankings as baseless and says he will continue to fight.
?My stand against corruption has not changed," he said. "It is still there. We are still fighting. Transparency International wrongly and I repeat -- wrongly -- rated Malawi. They used figures from 2003, 2002. They did not care to talk to the government to get latest figures.?
It was not Mr. Mutharika alone who faulted the rankings. Several Malawians who took part in an Internet forum described the report as wrong.
They said Transparency International should have announced that Malawi?s corruption level was steady, not worsening, because the country has scored a rating of 2.7 two years in a row. To these bloggers, the rating implies Malawi is on track in fighting corruption. For others, a low ? and stagnant ? rating of 2.7 indicates that the government is failing to make headway against corruption.
An opinion in Malawi?s independent Sunday Times newspaper says it is wrong to claim that the corruption levels are worsening, considering the efforts that the government has made in the past three years.
It says researchers from Transparency International should realize that in Malawi today, fat cats are being pursued, arrested and prosecuted. It says, unlike the situation in earlier administrations, it is no longer possible for government officials to siphon off government money and get away with it.
Transparency International ranks Myanmar, also known as Burma, alongside Somalia as the most corrupt countries. They are followed by Iraq.
Scores in the 2007 Corruption Perception Index are significantly higher in several African countries. These include Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa and Swaziland. Analysts say the results reflect the progress against corruption in Africa and show that political will and reform can lower perceived levels of corruption.
Among non-African countries with perceived improvements are Costa Rica, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Italy and Romania.
Denmark has edged up to share the top score of 9.4 with perennially top-ranked Finland and New Zealand.
Malawi?s main donor, Great Britain, has backed the latest rankings.
The British high commissioner to Malawi, Richard Wildash, told a local newspaper, The Nation, that while he appreciates President Mutharika?s political will to root out corruption, Transparency International is a credible organization, whose views should be taken seriously.
But President Mutharika questions the group?s credibility.
?And I am challenging it," he said. "I am going to write to the president of Transparency International asking him to come here so we discuss issues [and] so he can see for himself whether we haven?t made progress in fighting corruption.?
Economists fear the findings could scare away the investors. Observers say they?re also likely to hurt the ruling party?s campaign efforts in the 2009 elections. The opposition has already started using the findings to accuse President Mutharika?s government of being corrupt.