North Korea was perceived to have the most corrupt public service last year along with Somalia, while neighboring South Korea was ranked 37th least corrupt, a report by Transparency International showed.
North Korea scored an abysmal 8 points out of 100, the same as 2014, while South Korea scored 56, a one-point improvement from the year before.
Despite the negligible rise in its score, South Korea rose six places on the list of 168 countries and territories that were assessed.
While North Korea’s ranking was predictable given its opaque and repressive political system, South Korea also ranked poorly relative to its democratic peers. Its rank placed it 27th among the 34 nations of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, and behind Asian peers Singapore, Japan, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.
Denmark topped the list, followed by New Zealand and Finland.
TI’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index measures perceived corruption using data and surveys from a range of sources including the World Bank, World Economic Forum, Economic Intelligence Unit, Freedom House, and World Justice Project. The NGO looks at perceptions out of a belief that actual corruption is impossible to measure, especially in countries where it is rife.
“In addition to conflict and war, poor governance, weak public institutions like police and the judiciary, and a lack of independence in the media characterize the lowest ranked countries,” the anti-corruption body said in a press release.
Last year, South Korea was rocked by scandal after a construction tycoon, Sung Wan-jong, named politicians including the prime minister and a regional governor as recipients of his bribes. On Friday, the former prime minister, Lee Wan-koo, was sentenced to 8 months in jail, suspended for two years, for taking about $27,000 from the businessman. Dozens of people, including military officials, politicians, and businessmen, were also indicted last year on corruption charges related to military contracts.
“All Republic of Korea (South Korea’s official name) governments bang on about reform, but nothing seems to change — as witnessed by last year’s scandals on defense procurement and Sung Wan-jong’s little list,” said Aidan Foster-Carter, a longtime commentator on Korean affairs based in the United Kingdom. “If Park can’t address this, her successor must.”
Political corruption scandals have been numerous throughout South Korea’s short democratic history. In 2012, it emerged that the National Intelligence Service, the state spy agency, had directed its agents to post comments online in support of the election of current President Park Geun-hye.
The world of business has fared no better, and the top brass of many of the country’s biggest companies have been prosecuted for embezzlement, tax evasion, or fraud. The country’s most famous businessman and richest man, Samsung Group chairman Lee Kun-hee,was twice convicted of economic crimes only to receive a presidential pardon each time.