Navigating the crooked highways of global public sector corruption
IN some countries, business owners can go on their way -- happy in the knowledge that government officials won't be hitting them up for bribes or throwing them in jail on trumped-up charges.
But in other parts of the world, public sector corruption is a fact of life.
Hoping to shine a light on this widespread problem, Transparency International, a non-governmental organisation that serves as a watchdog for corporate and political corruption, has published its Corruption Perceptions Index for 2013.
Recently we had the best countries in the world in which to do business.
That came just a few days after details on the best and worst countries for corruption.
The index ranks countries around the world by perceived levels of government corruption, with a score of 100 signalling an absence of official corruption and a score of 0 indicating a country that is hopelessly corrupt.
Of the 177 countries and territories listed on the index, less than one-third managed to break 50.
As No 127, Nicaragua would say, that's no bueno.
So in what countries can you trust public officials and what places should you avoid?
To start with, the Nordic countries are a safe bet for business, with Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Norway all among the least corrupt nations.
Rounding out the top five are New Zealand, tied for first with Denmark with a score of 91, and Singapore, tied with Norway for No 5.
Ireland has improved its ranking, moving from 25th in 2012 to 21st this year.
Spain slumped 10 places to a rank of 40 in the global index after a spate of scandals in its ruling centre-right party and the royal family, Transparency International said.
The country's five-year economic slump, which has forced it to adopt tight austerity laws, exposed how cosy relations between politicians and construction magnates fed a disastrous housing bubble.
So what of the United States?
The world's largest economy sits at Number 19, with a score of 73, while its fellow Anglophones to the north and south, Canada and Australia, are tied for ninth place with scores of 81.
Both have dropped since last year.
In 2012, Canada scored an 84 and Australia an 85.
The UK is ranked No 14.
Mexico, another US neighbour is listed as far more corrupt than Canada -- with a score of 34 which ranks it at 106 of 177.
At the positively wretched end of the scale it's no surprise to see Yemen, Sudan, Syria and other Middle Eastern and African countries.
But some of their scores look almost handsome when placed beside the worst of the lot: Tied for last place are Afghanistan, North Korea and Somalia, all having scored a measly eight on the index.