What makes New Zealand, Denmark, Finland, Sweden and others “cleaner” than most countries?

By Marie Chêne
Senior Research Coordinator
Transparency International

New Zealand, Denmark, Finland and Sweden have been consistently ranked at the top of the Corruption Perceptions Index and are perceived to be the least corrupt of all the countries surveyed.

They are not perfect – still falling short of the target 10 out of 10 on the index – but many still want to know about how these countries have managed to contain corruption.

Beside law enforcement, there is a broad consensus that fighting corruption involves public participation and transparency mechanisms such as disclosure of information.

Preliminary findings from upcoming country studies for Finland, Denmark and Sweden indicate that this “integrity system” function relatively well in these countries.

But what makes their “national integrity systems” more effective?

Beside a strong commitment to anti-corruption by political leaders, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and to a certain extent New Zealand all share a common set of characteristics that are typically correlated with lower levels of corruption.

Recent studies show that freedom of the press is positively correlated with control of corruption in well established democracies. Finland, Denmark, Sweden and New Zealand all have high GDP per capita, low inequality rates, literacy rates close to 100 %, and prioritise human right issues (e.g. gender equality, freedom of information).

Crucially, they all perform well in terms of government openness and effectiveness.

This does not fully explain the good performance in fighting corruption. A hundred years ago, before their transition to good governance, Denmark and Sweden were not the darlings of the anti-corruption world. For example, the Swedish principle of public access to official documents is one of the oldest established in the world, dates back to 1766.

Well performing countries typically have a long tradition of government openness, civic activism and social trust, with strong transparency and accountability mechanism in place allowing citizens to monitor their politicians and hold them accountable for their actions and decisions.

So what works?

•disclosure of budget information closes the door to waste and misappropriation of public funds. Therefore, countries should seek to promote information disclosure as well as enhance citizens’ participation throughout the budget process. The Open Budget Index shows that Sweden allows citizens to assess how their government is managing public funds.

•Codes of conduct for public servants. Denmark obliges Ministers to monthly publish information on their spending travel and gifts

•Legal framework criminalising a wide range of corruption related abuses and an independent and efficient judiciary.

The good news is that many countries can copy the transparency/accountability route to good governance. A recent study looking at the Finnish case concludes that, contrary to the Singapore’s top down approach to anti-corruption, which is economically unsustainable for most countries, this bottom-up model based on public trust, transparency and social capital is affordable, transferable and adaptable to very different political contexts.

It is important to point out that these countries still face challenges e.g protective legislation for whistleblowers, corruption risk in public procurement, effective political (party) finance regulation etc.

Keep your eyes posted for more in 2012.

  1. #1 by yhsiew on Thursday, 26 January 2012 - 10:56 pm

    The per capita incomes of New Zealand, Denmark, Finland and Sweden are rather high. When their citizens are well fed, well clothed, they hardly need to resort to criminal activities such as corruption, graft and bribery to make ends meet or improve their standard of living.

  2. #2 by raven77 on Friday, 27 January 2012 - 12:28 am

    These countries have a decent value based education system….we dont…

  3. #3 by boh-liao on Friday, 27 January 2012 - 1:27 am

    They are NOT governed by Muslims, UmnoB Muslims who r corrupt

  4. #4 by gofortruth on Friday, 27 January 2012 - 1:31 am

    If and only if our MACC is truly independent & can work diligently without bias & fear. As it is now MACC is not serving the nation, it only works according to instructions coming from corrupted UMNO!!!

  5. #5 by boh-liao on Friday, 27 January 2012 - 2:05 am

    No need 2 look at best practices in nations so far away, look at our neighbour OK what
    Learn fr d Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) of d little red dot – WITHOUT fear n favor – it had arrested d former chiefs of SCDF and CNB under d Prevention of Corruption Act (PCA), NO play play 1

    HOW 2 stop corruption when AH CHEAT KOR is our PM n Finance Minister?

  6. #6 by downunder on Friday, 27 January 2012 - 3:01 am

    NZ is among the lowest in OECD countries in term of per capita incoem. But NZ has trully independent judiciary and police force and most importantly a trully democratically elected proportional representation parliament. No votes are wasted even if the votes go to opposition, they
    are still represented in the Parliament as opposed to the Malaysia first past the post regime.

  7. #7 by dagen on Friday, 27 January 2012 - 8:12 am

    There are no umno in these countries. Dat’s why.

    Anyway, I believe that the people (whoever they are) who compiled the corruption index thingy had failed to take into account one important factor. Ketuanan right. The birth right of umnoputras to steal, rob and plunder. These should properly not be considered corruption. They are proper exercise of a person’s birth right. I am sure if this peculiar right was taken into account then malaysia as a country too would rank somewhere up there alongside finland nz etc etc.


  8. #8 by k1980 on Friday, 27 January 2012 - 8:47 am


    The two bodyguards, Chief Inspector Azilah Hadri and Corporal Sirul Azhar Umar, were to be paid RM50,000 to RM00,000 to kill Altantuya, according to a confession by Sirul which was never produced in court.

    The defence lawyer has only to find out WHO paid the money above and the real murderer is FOUND!

  9. #9 by Winston on Friday, 27 January 2012 - 9:26 am

    I think that a few things must be in place before a country
    can have a corruption free atmosphere and a government
    that’s beneficial.
    The first is that the people must be aware of their rights.
    And they must make sure that nobody, but nobody can usurp
    these rights.
    The second is that they must have, as leaders, people who are
    willing to work for the interests of the country and its people.
    As the saying goes, “It takes only a few good men and women”
    to bring about a world class country.
    Those countries that have these traits have all become great.
    Singapore is a classic case in point.
    It is very fortunate that at the right moment, they have a
    world class leader who has the country and its people at
    Malaysia, on the other hand have just the opposite!
    So, in a way, you can call it fate.
    Perhaps, now as more and more people realise what good
    governance is all about, eventually change will happen.
    But at great costs, unlike those countries that have such leaders
    at the right time and the right place.

  10. #10 by Jeffrey on Friday, 27 January 2012 - 9:33 am

    I guess there could be many factors for eg. a setting of not too big a population with sizable middle class and no wide gap between the few very rich and the many poor, which peoples are comparatively well educated and governed by norms of rights recognition (of self & others) – though the most important element is the widespread belief based on experience that the law and the reward versus punishment system in society will be applied without fear or favour. Once people think that the rigours of the laws in general and anti-corruption laws in particular may be bent and will exempt or be circumvented by the rich, the politically powerful and connected or the ones favoured due to other extraneous reasons like race creed and religion or connections or even bribe, then more and more will care less of the laws/restrictions and try to wedge themselves into the favoured classes which are either above the law or could ameliorate its rigorous application.

  11. #11 by Jeffrey on Friday, 27 January 2012 - 9:46 am

    Continuing from preceding post: in any society marked by wide power differentials along lines of a person’s politics, race religion, creed, socio-economic status, even the investigators of corruption know the unwritten rules and norms and become selective in their task. Neither can the higher ups with the power to top down make them do their job when the higher ups are themselves bereft of moral authority being mired in present or past act where someone somewhere has something to hold on and implicate them. This a vicious cycle.

  12. #12 by sheriff singh on Friday, 27 January 2012 - 10:36 am

    Clean air, plenty of sunshine, few people, big, beautiful countries.

  13. #13 by sheriff singh on Friday, 27 January 2012 - 10:38 am

    No stress.

  14. #14 by Chinesian on Friday, 27 January 2012 - 11:18 am

    I can’t imagine the little red dot could even grab the 5th spot and thus superceding Norway. The difference in score is just a mere 0.2. From the past surveys, the Scandinavian bloc is ranked one right after another without a gap in between.

    This tells us the colossal magnitude of corruption happening in our country which can only become worse. If challenged on this, again our hare-brained policymakers would pull out the Malaysia-Big-but-Singapore-Small excuse out of their posterior. Wait a minute, Sweden and Norway are definitely larger than Malaysia in terms of landmass. Oops, maybe they would say that the population is smaller. Okay fine. What about US and Canada that are way ahead? Both countries have a larger population than Malaysia. What excuse would they come out with then? I wonder.

  15. #15 by Chinesian on Friday, 27 January 2012 - 11:23 am

    Correction: If challenged on this, again our hare-brained policymakers would pull out the Malaysia-Big-but-Singapore-Small excuse from* their posterior.

    They might even be capable of pulling Anwar’s DNA out of Saifool’s anus (or their own) as proof to make an appeal against Anwar’s acquittal.

  16. #16 by cemerlang on Friday, 27 January 2012 - 12:56 pm

    Basic human needs include food, water. In this day and age, everyone has to buy food and pay for the water bill. Meaning you need money to acquire even the most basic needs. While you are eating your 50 sen nasi lemak, you see someone across the table eating economy rice; 1 rice, 2 meat or vegetables. The natural thought is that economy rice is better and which costs RM 2.50. Which is RM 2 more. How do you get that RM 2 ? Of course you will laugh. But imagine if you translate that into RM 50,000 and RM 2,000,000 ?

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