Anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International says the African Union and regional institutions must do more to encourage good governance in East Africa. Many countries, including Burundi, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, and Uganda are at or near the bottom of the organization's latest Corruption Perception Index released on Tuesday.  VOA Correspondent Alisha Ryu has more from our East Africa Bureau in Nairobi.

Calling the results of the survey for East and Horn of African countries "grim," Transparency International's executive director in Kenya, Job Ogonda says the time has come for the African Union and the East African Community to create anti-corruption bodies, which are solely accountable to the people and have the power to curb abuses.

"If I, as a Kenyan, do not trust in my government to uphold good governance and accountability, then I have to be able to appeal to the African Union or the East African Community.  That means institutions within the African Union, such as the African Union Convention against Corruption, need to have teeth and they need to begin biting.  Right now, there is an advisory council that has been set up within the African Union.  That advisory council needs to scrutinize the reports that have been submitted by countries that are signatories to the convention.  They also need to tender the same reports during the general meeting of the African Union and demand an explanation or action."

War-ravaged Somalia topped Transparency International's index as the most corrupt out of 180 countries surveyed.  But other countries in the region did not fare much better.   Djibouti, Rwanda and Tanzania were the region's best by placing 102nd.

Existing anti-corruption agencies, such as Kenya's Anti-Corruption Commission and Uganda's Inspector General of Government have been widely criticized for lacking independence because they are funded by their respective governments, where power largely rests in the hands of a few elite politicians.

Ogonda notes that Uganda, for example, dropped 15 places in the Corruption Perception Index, from 111 last year to 126 this year, on the belief that the government of President Yoweri Museveni has been weakening the office of the Inspector General of Government.     

"The office of the IGG, it is largely toothless.  Parliament has also been largely disempowered from its oversight role.  As a result of that, institutions such as the National Social Security Fund is beginning to engage in shenanigans, where they buy property for the politically-connected for inflated prices, passing on tax money or citizen savings to politically-connected people," he said.

Kenya's ranking of 147 was little changed from last year, placing it just barely ahead of Zimbabwe.

Ogonda says the formation of a coalition government in Kenya earlier this year has done little to stem rampant corruption in the form of bribery, kickbacks, and embezzlements in the public sector. "You find that all institutions of government are working not in the interest of citizens but in the interest of either individuals or a narrow group of people.    When politics is arranged like that, how then do you expect the civil service to deliver services to the citizens?"

Last week, the President of the East African Association of Anti-corruption Authorities Edward Hoseah suggested that the best way for existing institutions to combat corruption is to work closely with the local media.

He did not say how this would work in countries where governments are under equal pressure to allow more media freedom.