Qatar has out-performed both Britain and the United States in this year's Corruption Perceptions Index published by Transparency International. The tiny Gulf state is ranked 19th worldwide – one place ahead of the UK and four places ahead of the US.
Elsewhere among the Arab counrties the picture is very mixed. Somalia again comes bottom in the global list. Iraq and Sudan are also near the bottom, at 175 and 172 (out of 178) respectively.
The annual survey is based on perceptions of corruption and does not attempt the far more difficult task of measuring actual levels of corruption. It relies on the assessments of experts and business people – "those who are most directly confronted with the realities of corruption in a country" – and it focuses specifically on perceptions of corruption among public officials and politicians.
Qatar's ranking as the least corrupt of the Arab states raises the question of whether there is anything that other countries in the region can learn from it.
One key factor is that petty corruption appears to be less widespread than elsewhere. A survey by Freedom House in 2004 attributed this to the fact that state employees are well paid (Qatar can afford to pay them well), and many of them are foreigners who would risk deportation if they were caught making improper financial gains.
Besides, that, Freedom House said Qatar is "generally free from excessive bureaucratic regulation, registration requirements, and other controls that would increase opportunities for corruption".
However, that report – and a more recent one by the Carnegie Endowment – suggested that high-level corruption is more widespread. Freedom House also highlighted a general lack of transparency:
"There is no effective process to promote integrity and to prevent, detect, and punish the corruption of public officials. Asset declarations of public officials are not open to public and media scrutiny or verification.
"Since the government does not rely on taxes for revenue, but rather on the direct sale of oil and gas, there are no effective internal audit systems to ensure the accountability of revenue collection. No independent auditing body exists outside the executive."
Arab countries in the corruption league table
Posted by Brian Whitaker, 29 October 2010.