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Singapore moves up 1 spot, claims 6th place among least corrupt countries

SINGAPORE has inched up a spot in an annual ranking of countries deemed the least corrupt in the world.

The city-state ranked No 6 on graft watchdog Transparency International's (TI) 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index, up from the seventh position in 2016.

Singapore scored 84 points on the latest index, unchanged from the previous year. The score runs from zero, for highly corrupt, to 100, for very clean.

The top-ranked countries for 2017 were New Zealand with 89 points, and Denmark with 88 points. They were followed closely by Finland, Norway, and Switzerland, which all chalked up 85 points.

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Also in the Top 10 were Sweden, which tied with Singapore at 84 points, as well as Canada, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and the UK which all scored 82 points.

Closer to home, Australia and Hong Kong tied at 77 points each, securing the 13th place alongside Iceland.

This year, the index also found that more than two-thirds of the countries polled scored below 50, with an average score of 43.

According to TI, 2017's index highlights that the majority of the countries are making little, or no progress in ending corruption, with further analysis showing that journalists and activists in corrupt countries risk their lives every day in an effort to speak out.

Within the Asia-Pacific region, no country scored a perfect 100, with New Zealand and Singapore experiencing their share of scandals over the past year, TI said.

Notwithstanding that Indonesia still has a long way to go in its fight against corruption, it has climbed up the index from 32 to 37 points over the last five years.

Meanwhile, other countries such as South Korea remained fairly stable in their scores over the past six years. Notably, Seoul saw high-profile corruption scandals which led to the impeachment of former president Park Geun-hye, and the incarceration of her aides.

Regrettably though, results from the 2017 index show that corruption is still rife in many places, TI said. In some countries within the region, journalists, activists or law enforcement officers are threatened, and in the worst case scenario, even murdered.

TI noted that the Philippines, India and Maldives are among the worst regional offenders in this respect, scoring high for corruption and journalist deaths with fewer press freedoms. According to statistics by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 15 reporters working on corruption stories in these countries were murdered over the last six years.

During the same period, more than nine out of 10 journalists were killed in countries that score 45, or less on the Corruption Perceptions Index. This means that, on average, one journalist is killed every week in a country that is highly corrupt, data by TI and the CPJ shows.

Said TI's managing director, Patricia Moreira: "No activist or reporter should have to fear for their lives when speaking out against corruption. Given current crackdowns on both civil society and the media worldwide, we need to do more to protect those who speak up."

To this end, TI suggests that improvements can be made only if there is a strong political will for change, and a comprehensive strategy, as opposed to isolated actions.

"High levels of corruption also correlate with weak rule of law, lack of access to information, governmental control over social media, and reduced citizens' participation. In fact, what is at stake is the very essence of democracy and freedom," said TI's chair Delia Ferreira Rubio.

In a statement released on Thursday, TI listed that effective strategies include: putting in place legal frameworks and institutions that will prevent corruption from happening in the first place; reducing impunity for the corrupt; improving space for the civil society to speak out (including non-governmental organisations); as well as improving integrity and values through education.

The Corruption Perceptions Index ranks 180 countries and territories by their perceived levels of public sector corruption according to experts and businesspeople.