Costa Rica is one of the least corrupt countries in Latin America. But try telling that to Ticos.
Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Costa Rica third best in Latin America, after Uruguay and Chile, but a series of corruption scandals during the current administration have tainted Ticos’ perceptions of corruption in their country.
The anti-corruption organization’s annual index ranks countries on how corrupt a country’s public sector is perceived to be.
From sweetheart deals for public works projects to the president flying on a private plane owned by someone with alleged drug cartel links, Costa Rica has seen its share of scandals in government that increase the perception of corruption in recent years.
Twenty percent of respondents said that corruption was the main problem facing the country, more than citizen insecurity and unemployment, according to the United Nations Development Program’s 2013 Human Development Index.
After expressing her pride in Costa Rica’s leadership in transparency in Latin America, and the country’s ranking of 49th out of 177 globally, President Laura Chinchilla acknowledged that there were mistakes during her administration that hurt the government’s image.
“We have also continued to make progress with serious problems in some public works projects that we have discovered or were brought to our attention,” she said in a statement.
Corruption observers may view Costa Rica in a relatively positive light, but it’s a harder sell for Ticos, who tend to believe their country is more corrupt than it may actually be, according to survey data from the 2012 Latin American Public Opinion Project.
LAPOP noted that perceptions of corruption did not line up with numbers reported for people who said they were the victims of corruption. Over 70 percent of Costa Ricans surveyed said that there were high levels of corruption in Costa Rica. Just over 20 percent, however, reported that they were the victims of corruption.
This isn’t the first case of a Costa Rican Cassandra.
The same survey noted that Costa Ricans’ perceptions of corruption, along with insecurity, did not necessarily match up with the data. In the case of crime, LAPOP noted that perceptions of high levels of insecurity in San José did not match the actual number of reported crimes.
Residents in San José opined that their city was more dangerous than Tegucigalpa, Honduras, the country currently with the infamous title of world’s highest homicide rate, and on par with San Salvador, El Salvador.
LAPOP reported in 2012 that perceived corruption in Costa Rica was one of the reasons that Ticos’ support for the current political system and “political tolerance” hit their lowest levels on record since the Vanderbilt University-based program first started collecting data in Costa Rica in 1978.
LAPOP noted that support for the democratic system tends to “significantly” decrease by those who have been the victims of corruption. Presidential performance and crime were also among the top reasons for dissatisfaction with the political system, according to the survey.
The survey also suggested that media coverage of corruption could also contribute to an exaggerated sense of abuse in government.
Haiti got the worst rating in the Western Hemisphere, coming in at 163rd, and the report bashed Guatemala (123) for backsliding more than any other country in the region. There was a three-way tie for the ignoble title of “most corrupt” country in the world between Afghanistan, North Korea and Somalia.
Canada was the least corrupt country in the Americas and Denmark took the title of most transparent country in the world.
Check out this interactive map from Transparency International to see all the countries surveyed.