Finland ranks as least corrupt
(CNN) -- Finland has again been ranked the world's cleanest country in an annual corruption index, while Bangladesh has retained its position at the bottom.
Finland, which scored 9.7 out of a possible 10, was followed by Iceland on 9.6, Denmark and New Zealand on 9.5, Singapore on 9.4 and Sweden on 9.3. The six were the only countries out of 133 surveyed to score above 9.0.
The most corrupt countries were Bangladesh with 1.3, Nigeria on 1.4, Haiti on 1.5, Myanmar and Paraguay on 1.6, and Angola, Azerbaijan, Cameroon, Georgia and Tajikistan on 1.8.
The corruption index, released annually since 1995 by the Berlin-based group Transparency International (TI), reflects perceived levels of corruption among politicians and public offices, drawing on responses from businesspeople, risk analysts and academics. TI defines corruption as abuse of public office for private gain.
TI chairman Peter Eigen said the 2003 index showed that 70 percent of the countries surveyed scored less than five out of 10, while half the developing countries scored less than three out of 10.
"The whole world recognizes that corruption impoverishes people all over the world... We cannot and we must not drop our guard," Eigen said at the London release of the survey on Tuesday.
The world's biggest economy, the United States, ranked 18th, level with Ireland on 7.5. The United Kingdom ranked 11th, level with Canada and Luxembourg on 8.7.
Among the world's other big economies, Germany was 16th on 7.7, Japan was 21st on 7.0, France was 23rd on 6.9 and China ranked 66th with 3.4.
After New Zealand and Singapore, the cleanest Asia Pacific economies were Australia at No. 8 on 8.8, Hong Kong at No. 14 on 8.0 and Taiwan at No. 30 on 5.7.
South Korea, Asia's fourth-largest economy, ranked 50th on 4.3, while the other Asian giant, India, ranked 83rd on 2.8.
Eigen said improvements were seen in Austria, Belgium, Colombia, France, Germany, Ireland, Malaysia, Norway and Tunisia, compared to 2002. But the situation worsened in Argentina, Belarus, Chile, Canada, Israel, Luxembourg, Poland, the United States and Zimbabwe.
Laurence Cockcroft, chairman of TI (UK), said it was not only poor countries where corruption thrived. He said levels of corruption were "worryingly high" in European countries such as Greece and Italy.
The same was true in potentially oil-rich countries such as Nigeria, Angola, Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Libya, Venezuela and Iraq. Iraq ranked 113th with 2.2, a score based mostly on data prior to the U.S.-led war that ousted Saddam Hussein.
The Berlin-based TI group urged rich nations to back governments of poor countries tackling corruption problems. Eigen said private businesses had to fulfil their obligations under the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention -- namely, to stop bribing public officials.
He said donor countries and international institutions should take a firmer line, stopping financial support to corrupt governments and blacklisting international companies caught paying bribes.