BERLIN - Public-sector corruption is still a major problem around the world but more countries are improving than worsening and the United States and United Kingdom have reached their best rankings ever, an anti-corruption watchdog said Wednesday.
Denmark remained at the top of Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index, a closely watched global barometer, for the second consecutive year as the country perceived as least corrupt. It scored 91 points out of a possible 100 while North Korea and Somalia remained at the bottom with unchanged scores of 8.
The index is based on expert opinions of public sector corruption, looking at a range of factors like whether governmental leaders are held to account or go unpunished for corruption, the perceived prevalence of bribery, and whether public institutions respond to citizens' needs.
The U.S. rose one spot this year to 16th place with a score of 76, tying with Austria. The U.K. rose three spots to place 10th, with a score of 81 that tied it with Germany and Luxembourg. The other top spots, from second to ninth, were occupied by Finland, Sweden, New Zealand, Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, Singapore and Canada.
Despite so many countries in the top 10, Transparency said there was still a lot of room for improvement in Europe and Central Asia, which it grouped as one region, saying "in low-scorers Hungary, Poland and Turkey, politicians and their cronies are increasingly hijacking state institutions to shore up power."
"It's even grimmer further down the index," the organization continued. "In Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Uzbekistan and others, governments are restricting, if not totally stifling, civil society and free media."
Russia sat in 119th place, tied with Azerbaijan, Guyana and Sierra Leone, although its score improved from 27 in 2014 to 29 in 2015, bringing its ranking on the list up from 136th place.
Brazil, in the midst of a massive corruption scandal at the state-owned oil company Petrobras, posted the biggest decline, falling 5 points to a score of 38 and dropping 7 positions to 76th place.
Transparency noted that in places like Guatemala, Sri Lanka and Ghana, citizen activists have "worked hard to drive out the corrupt."
"The 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index clearly shows that corruption remains a blight around the world," said Transparency head Jose Ugaz. "But 2015 was also a year when people again took to the streets to protest corruption -- people across the globe sent a strong signal to those in power: it is time to tackle grand corruption."
Overall, two-thirds of the 168 countries studied scored below 50 and the global average was 43.
Still, Transparency said it was a good sign that 64 countries improved their score while only 53 declined. The rest were unchanged.
Below are the five least and five most corrupt countries, according to Transparency International:
4. New Zealand
163. South Sudan (tied with Angola)
167. Somalia (tied)
167. North Korea (tied)
Click here for the full list.