2020 Corruption Perceptions Index – What is the South African Story?

By Steuart Pennington

Annually Transparency International produces a Corruption Perceptions Index (the methodology is outlined below). The report is comprehensive.

Below I have summarized the most important numbers for easy reading, while SA ranks in the top 40% of least corrupt countries at 69 /180 (we have been as high as 50 /180) our ranking has declined over the past 10 years and we are more ‘corrupt’ than we are ‘clean’.

When comparing population size and GDP we rank in the top 35 countries of the world, we should do the same regarding corruption. As David Lewis from Corruption Watch points out below, our handling of the COVID – 10 PPE shows up the incompetence of the State vs the determination of Civil Society to expose it – that’s a good sign.

Furthermore, the ranking of our BRICS partners is no room for comfort, we hang out with some dodgy players!

I have also added some conclusions and recommendations from Corruption Watch

Issue Measured      
Number of countries surveyed = 180 100 Score = Very Clean 0 Score = Highly Corrupt Average Score across 180 countries = 43
Highest Score Denmark = 88 Lowest Score South Sudan = 12
Scores above 50 59 / 180 Countries Scores below 50 121 / 180 Countries
SA Score 2020 44 / 100 SA Ranking 2020 69 / 180
SA Score 2019 43 / 100 SA Ranking 2019 77 / 180
Highest Scoring Region Europe Av. 66 / 100 Lowest Scoring Region Sub – Saharan Africa 32 / 100
Highest Scoring in Sub-S Africa Botswana 60 /100

Ranking 35 / 180

Lowest Scoring in Sub S Africa South Sudan 12 /100

Ranking 180 /180

BRICS Ranking;         China 78 / 180 India 86 / 180 Brazil 94 / 180 Russia 129 / 180

Impact of Covid-19

Corruption Watch points out phemelok@corruptionwatch.org.za. “The conditions imposed by the novel coronavirus on countries around the world, including the necessity for emergency procurement processes, brought with them integrity challenges. In South Africa, lack of transparency in public spending has characterised the response to the coronavirus, along with diversion of funds allocated specifically for managing the pandemic, and self-enrichment of people in power.

Many countries, including those with higher scores on the index, have experienced their share of corruption during the pandemic, which has shown itself to be as much a corruption crisis as a health and economic one.

The structural gaps in national health care systems have been brought into sharp relief across the region as a result of Covid-19[1], along with corruption risks in relation to public procurement and misuse of emergency funds. In South Africa and other countries in the region, the economic shocks allude to the fact that these countries were ill equipped to handle the pandemic. The imposition of strict lockdowns to curb transmission, coupled with emerging evidence of fraud, corruption and price fixing, sparked unrest and calls for temporary relief measures to assist citizens during the public health emergency. There is no doubt that pervasive corruption has played a significant role in hampering the ability of many SSA countries to respond effectively to the pandemic and deliver services to their populations.


The recommendations in the CPI this year are particularly pertinent to the impact of Covid-19 on countries around the world, whether at the top or the bottom of the index, although those with less robust democracies and adherence to the rule of law are obviously more at risk.

The report points to how essential it is for countries to strengthen their oversight institutions to ensure that resources can cater for those most in need, while also making sufficient funds and resources available to these institutions, allowing them the independence to perform their duties without interference.

The CPI stresses that it is equally critical to prioritise open and transparent contracting, to eliminate theft and mismanagement of funds, identify conflicts of interest, and allow for fair pricing. It also advocates for the publishing of relevant data to guarantee access to information, an area that Corruption Watch is currently heavily invested in, for example open contracting systems in the health sector that allow the public access to contracts and services that affect their lives. The aim is to provide easy, accessible, timely and meaningful information that includes insight into public spending and resource distribution, of particular relevance in emergency situations.

“As for South Africa’s ability to emerge from its stagnant position in the future, there are some signs that with the right attitude and commitment, and real changes to policies and processes, the opportunities for corruption could be reduced,” says Lewis.

“The increased efforts of civil society to uncover corruption during the pandemic and to push for greater transparency in emergency procurement has the potential to turn things around, provided there is political will to disclose decisions that are in the public interest,” he concludes


The CPI aggregates data from a number of different sources that provide perceptions among business-people and country experts of the level of corruption in the public sector. The following steps are taken to calculate the CPI:

  1. Select data sources. Each data source used to construct the CPI must fulfill the following criteria to qualify as a valid source:
  • +  Quantifies risks or perceptions of corruption in the public sector
  • +  Is based on a reliable and valid methodology
  • +  Comes from a reputable organisation
  • +  Allows for sufficient variation of scores to distinguish between countries
  • +  Ranks a substantial number of countries

+ Considers only the assessments of country experts or businesspeople

+ Is regularly updated.

The CPI 2020 is calculated using 13 divergent data sources from 12 different institutions that capture perceptions of corruption within the past two years.

  1. Standardise data sources
    to a scale of 0-100.
    This standardisation is done by subtracting the mean of each source in the baseline year from each country score, then dividing by the standard deviation of that source in the baseline year. This subtraction and division using the baseline year parameters ensures that the CPI scores are comparable year on year since 2012. After this procedure,

the standardised scores are transformed to the CPI scale by multiplying them with the value of the CPI standard deviation in 2012 (20) and adding the mean of the CPI in 2012 (45), so that the dataset fits the CPI’s 0-100 scale.

  1. Calculate the average. For a country or territory to be included in the CPI, a minimum of three sources must assess that country. A country’s CPI score is then calculated as the average of all standardised scores available for that country. Scores are rounded to whole numbers.
  2. Report the measure of uncertainty. The CPI score is accompanied by a standard error and confidence interval. This captures the variation across the data sources available for a country or territory.