This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.
Transparency International is out with its 2009 report on corruption around the world. The nongovernmental organization has released its Corruption Perceptions Index each year since 1998.
This year the country seen as least corrupt is New Zealand. New Zealand shared first place last year with Denmark and Sweden. This year Denmark is ranked second, and Sweden shares third place with Singapore.
At the bottom of the list, ranked last for the third year, is Somalia.
The order of the list is based on how corrupt a country's government is considered by a number of international organizations. These include the World Bank, the World Economic Forum and the Asian and African development banks.
Transparency International, based in Berlin, works to fight corruption and increase public awareness. Its yearly report has grown to a list of 180 countries.
The group says unstable countries damaged by war and ongoing conflict continue to be those most affected by corruption. Those countries include Afghanistan and Iraq, two nations that receive billions of dollars in international aid.
Iraq moved up two places this year and is now ranked fourth from the bottom, along with Sudan. But Afghanistan fell three places to just above Somalia, meaning Afghanistan is seen as the second most corrupt country.
Transparency International says people have to pay bribes to receive basic services. A lack of government enforcement against corruption is blamed for helping the Taliban gain supporters.
The United States has approved close to 40 billion dollars in aid for Afghanistan over the past eight years of war. President Obama is preparing to announce his new war plan on Tuesday. The plan is expected to include thousands of additional American troops.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai began a second term last week after an election in which widespread cheating was found. He is under increased international pressure to fight corruption.
Last week his government announced new efforts to investigate top officials. A group of current and former cabinet ministers are reportedly under investigation.
In this year's corruption report, the United States dropped one place, to 19th from 18th last year. Yet the score actually improved by two-tenths of a point. Transparency International says there are many concerns about supervision of the American financial industry.
Many of the countries at the bottom of the list are in sub-Saharan Africa. Patrick Berg is a program coordinator for Transparency International.
PATRICK BERG: "Where you find poverty, corruption usually hits people the hardest. In some of the more affluent countries, corruption may be a major problem. But it does not keep people from getting health care or clean water to their houses."
But he says some countries -- including Botswana, Mauritius and Cape Verde -- have worked hard to improve their governance. As a result, they have improved their standing on the list.
And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake. I'm Steve Ember.