updated 12/9/2004 1:13:06 PM ET 2004-12-09T18:13:06

Political parties are the public institutions most marred by corruption, according to a new global survey released Thursday by an international watchdog group to mark the United Nations’ first International Anti-Corruption Day.

People in Ecuador perceive their political system as the most corrupt, and Ukrainians and Romanians — both stung by recent allegations of election fraud — aren’t far behind, according to Berlin-based Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer, which surveyed more than 50,000 people in 64 countries.

Daniel Lebegue, the president of TI France, called on governments, businesses, educators and journalists to make a commitment to reducing graft and corruption and increasing transparency.

A call to arms
“The fight against corruption is everyone’s fight,” Lebegue said. “Beyond the reinforcement of rules of law on an international level, we must enlarge the coalition of actors who are committed to the prevention and repression of financial delinquency: governments, businesses, educators, associations and citizens.”

Political parties, chosen by respondents in 36 countries, came out on top as the most corrupt institutions. Second place went to parliaments, with police and court systems tying for third.

TI chapters around the world were pressuring governments and parliaments Thursday to ratify the U.N. Convention against Corruption. The convention was signed in December 2003, but only 12 of the 30 nations required to ratify it before it can take effect have done so.

“International Anti-Corruption Day is an excellent opportunity for governments all over the world to prove that they take the fight against corruption seriously,” said Cobus de Swardt, head of international programs for TI.

“We invite them all to sign and ratify the United Nations convention and to take into consideration the clear message sent by public opinion in the world: Corruption strongly affects the life of every person,” he said. “It is time to act.”

The survey made a distinction between large-scale or political corruption and petty or administrative corruption. Both were considered “significant obstacles” by about 80 percent of those surveyed.

Large-scale corruption a concern
Large-scale corruption — misdeeds committed by political leaders and major corporations — was deemed a major problem by 57 percent of respondents. Petty corruption — defined as present in people’s daily lives, such as the payment of bribes — was judged serious by 45 percent.

Petty corruption generally was not a major concern in developed countries except for France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain. But in five developing countries surveyed — Cameroon, Kenya, Lithuania, Moldova and Nigeria — at least one in three people said a member of their household had paid a bribe in the last 12 months.

People tend to view the impact of corruption on political life as a more grave concern than its impact on personal or family life or on the business environment, the survey suggested.

In Western Europe, more than half of the respondents said they believe corruption has a large impact on political life but showed “dramatically little concern” about its impact on business. Exceptions were Italy and Greece, where nearly half of those surveyed thought corruption affected business dealings.

Media don't fare well in survey
In much of Western Europe, as well as in the United States and Canada, the media were ranked among the top three institutions most affected by corruption.

Forty-five percent of respondents said they expect the level of corruption to rise in the next three years. Only 17 percent said they expect it to decrease.

The findings — gathered between June and September 2004 — are in line with the findings of a similar survey conducted last year, TI said.

The Global Corruption Barometer is an international survey of the general public carried out by the Gallup International polling firm. It differs from TI’s annual Corruption Perception Index, which ranks countries worldwide based on the opinions of businessmen and analysts.

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