History may well record that 2011 was a significant year in human civilization as internet-based tools were used by the masses to successfully organize themselves and overthrow corrupt governments in the Arab Spring uprisings.

The internet is beginning to make a difference in ways we could not possibly have foreseen just a few years ago, and with the spread of information, education and social media organizational tools, it is seems that corruption, nepotism and bribery are no longer inevitable.

What is corruption?

"Corruption" is defined by Transparency International (TI) as "the abuse of entrusted power for private gain" and its mission is "to create change towards a world free of corruption."

Each year TI creates a report entitled the "Corruption Perceptions Index" which scores the world's nations out of ten for their public sector honesty and the results of the just-released 2011 report indicate that the integrity of people in authority in nearly all of the world's countries, is still sadly lacking.

Firstly, for those who have not come across the report previously, the 2011 CPI draws on 17 data sources from 13 institutions gathered between December 2009 and September 2011. All sources used provide a score for a set of countries/territories and measure perceptions of corruption in the public sector using published methodology.

The CPI is not a verdict on the levels of corruption of societies - it is an assessment of administrative and political corruption only. As the CPI FAQs suggest, "citizens of those countries that score at the lower end of the CPI have shown the same concern about and condemnation of corruption as the public in countries that perform strongly."

The report is based on "perceptions", but it is far more accurate and scientific than that vague term would normally suggest. Corruption is illegal and is hence difficult to assess on the basis of hard empirical data. The methodology used in compiling comparable country data for the report involves capturing perceptions of those in a position to offer expert assessments of public sector corruption in a given country.

Progression and regression We spent some time looking through the 2011 report and comparing the results with previous annual CPI reports which now date back more than 15 years (2010 CPI Report, 2009 CPI Report and prior).

The 2011 Transparency International CPI is the most comprehensive yet, with detailed data on 182 countries and territories, being double the number of countries covered in the 2001 CPI report. As TI grows and gathers momentum, the report is becoming more comprehensive and accurate with each year.

Though Transparency International maintains that the CPI ranking is not designed to allow for country scores to be compared over time, we've assembled the statistics based on country scores, partly because it creates fascinating fodder for thought, and partially because when you assess the trends the data shows, you can see which countries are moving towards transparency, and those that are moving away from it.

Though it may not be entirely accurate accurate according to TI, the organization has used such methodology in previous years to compare a country's progress from year-to-year, and by assembling a ten year history, some trends are evident.

The below table shows the top 20 from the 2011 report and their decade-long history.

You can check through the tables we have assembled for all countries ranked over the last decade here - from the top 20 through 21st to 40th place, 41st to 60th, 61st to 80th, 86th to 100th, 112th to 129th, 134th to 143rd, and 152nd to 182nd place.

More than meets the eye

The 2011 report scored only six countries at 9.0 or better and for the last ten years, the top rankings nearly always constitute the usual suspects - New Zealand, Singapore and the Scandinavian countries.

Beyond the top ten, the ratings quickly diminish. Just 49 of the 186 countries assessed in the 2011 CPI scored better than 5.0. One of the common mistakes people make in reading this report is in taking more notice of a country's ranking than it's actual score. It is a country's score which most accurately indicates its level of public sector corruption, while rank only indicates a country's position relative to other countries in the index. As most of the world's countries public sectors appear to be rotten, the rankings alone make many countries (the United States and United Kingdom in particular), look far more honest and transparent than they actually are.

Indeed, as the report is synthesized from data from 17 different surveys that look at factors such as enforcement of anti-corruption laws, access to information and conflicts of interest, not all of the world's countries are listed in the report as there is not enough data available to reliably assess them. There are more than 200 sovereign nations in the world, and the 2011 CPI only ranks 183 of them.

Hence a country's rank can change as new countries enter the index or others drop out. North Korea entered the rankings for the first time this year, debuting in equal last place alongside Somalia, and a long way behind third last Myanmar.

The other debutant was the Bahamas, which entered the rankings at the other end of the table in 21st place, ahead of the United States, France, U.A.E., Spain, Israel and South Korea. So not all of the not-yet listed countries can be assumed to have more-corrupt public sectors.

The biggest drop in ranking this year was experienced by the world's second most populous nation. India dropped from 87th place to 95th place even though its rating dropped just two points from 3.3 to 3.1.

Global perspective

It's also interesting to look at the rankings of the world's most populous countries which with few exceptions, have public sectors which serve themselves rather than the people they supposedly represent.

Following the lead created by the above table, we prepared the following table based on the populations of the assessed countries in 2011 CPI and came to the horrific realization that Planet Earth remains a highly inequitable place.

This table shows that 5.6 billion human beings live in countries which achieved a 2011 CPI rating of 4.0 or less - a fail in any terms - and hence more than 80% of all people are living under essentially corrupt governments.

This coming Friday, December 9, 2011, is World Anti-Corruption Day, designed to raise awareness of corruption and of the role of the United Nations Convention against Corruption in combating and preventing it.

Corruption is destructive to civilized society and has dire global consequences. It traps billions of human beings in poverty and breeds social, economic and political unrest.

Borrowing heavily from a TI summary, corruption is both a cause of poverty, and a barrier to overcoming it. It is one of the most serious obstacles to reducing poverty. Corruption denies poor people the basic means of survival, forcing them to spend more of their income on bribes. Human rights are denied where corruption is rife, because a fair trial comes with a hefty price tag where courts are corrupted.

Corruption undermines democracy and the rule of law. Corruption distorts national and international trade. Corruption jeopardizes sound governance and ethics in the private sector. Corruption threatens domestic and international security and the sustainability of natural resources. Those with less power are particularly disadvantaged in corrupt systems, which typically reinforce gender discrimination.

Corruption compounds political exclusion: if votes can be bought, there is little incentive to change the system that sustains poverty.

Corruption hurts everyone.

Mary Robinson, the former UN High Comissioner for Human Rights summarizes the current situation quite nicely: "There is no longer any doubt of the linkages between corruption, poverty and human rights abuses. An open and transparent state will provide for fuller realization of economic, social and political rights. There will be fewer secrets, less discrimination, and more equal access to public services like education and health care, as well as to fair treatment by the police and judiciary. Let us join together to fight corruption. It is a battle that can be won."

Doing something about it

If you wish to do your part in making the world a fairer place, may we suggest you forward these links to your friends and local politicians and enjoin them in discussion.

You can download a short version of the 2011 CPI report, the 2011 information graphics, and press releases in the most common languages.

For information on how you can assist the anti-corruption movement to make the world more equitable, see the Transparency International support page.

Finally, if you'd like to get the report in app form for your iPhone, and challenge your own perceptions as to the honesty of our governments with an iPhone game, go here for the 2011 report.

You can also follow Transparency International on Facebook.

Business leaders too might also take the opportunity to denounce corruption and prohibit against it. Commercial pressures are the most likely measures to achieve any lasting justice, so all companies should adopt anti-corruption policies in line with the United Nations Convention and put in place the necessary checks to strengthen integrity and transparency.

Four of every five human beings still live under corrupt governance.

Please do your part.