The anti-corruption organization Transparency International says graft and fraud are holding back development and keeping people poor. The nonprofit group has issued its annual corruption perception report.

The head of Transparency International says politicians in many countries continue to take kickbacks at every opportunity.

Michael Hershman, a cofounder of Transparency, says the war against corruption is being lost. "The battle is engaged, but we have not made the progress we have wanted to see," he said. "And in that respect we have been losing the war."

Mr. Hershman told a Washington press conference that to win the battle cultures that tolerate corruption must be changed, government contracts must be transparent and open to review, and there must be tougher enforcement of existing laws.

Mr. Hershman says revelations of widespread corporate fraud in the United States have had a devastating global impact. "But I do want to say, and this is extremely important to understand, there is no country in the world that is better at uncovering improper practices, legislating against them, and enforcing them than this country [the United States]," said Michael Hershman.

The countries judged to be least corrupt are among the world's richest; Finland, Denmark, New Zealand, Iceland, and Singapore. Those judged most corrupt include Bangladesh, Nigeria, Paraguay, Madagascar, Angola, and Kenya.

The managing director of Transparency in the United States is Nancy Boswell. "Some of the things that Transparency International will say are key to fighting corruption will be a free and independent media, civil society participation, an independent judiciary, prosecutors that can actually bring cases against important people," she said. "All of those are elements of building integrity in to the system."

Transparency International, founded nine years ago, is based in Berlin and has a network of chapters operating in 80 countries.