Despite efforts to tackle corruption around the world, progress is still frustratingly slow, according to the latest report from Transparency International.

Its annual Corruption Perception Index reveals some alarming trends. It shows public service corruption is still a huge problem for two-thirds of the world's economies.

The report uses a scale of zero to 100 to rank countries: zero is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean. Syria, South Sudan and Somalia rank lowest with scores of 14, 12 and 9 respectively. New Zealand comes out on top but with a score of 89.

The best performing region is Western Europe with an average score of 66, while the worst performing regions are sub-Saharan Africa and Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

What we see happening in the US is the growing awareness of the influence of money and politics, of the capacity of powerful interests to influence politics through campaign donations ... through lobbying. So there's growing awareness about the influence and the negative effect that this has on politics and through that on the lives of everyday people - so this is definitely one of the reasons of concern in the US right now.

Max Heywood, money laundering expert, Transparency International

Max Heywood, a money laundering expert at Transparency International, says "the index we published shows that out of 180 countries around the world, two-thirds of them are below the midpoint of the scale, so scoring below 50 points. This means that they have severe to quite considerable corruption risks in these countries. What this means is that the promises the governments have been making in the last years - signing up to different commitments, signing up to international agreements - are not really being put into place yet."

Explaining why the US is ranked 18th on the corruption index, Heywood says, "What we see happening in the US is the growing awareness of the influence of money and politics, of the capacity of powerful interests to influence politics through campaign donations, through supporting different types of political advertising through lobbying. So, there's growing awareness about the influence and the negative effect that this has on politics and through that on the lives of everyday people - so this is definitely one of the reasons of concern in the US right now."

The index also shows that one journalist is killed every week in a highly corrupt country.

One of the issues Heywood's organisation is looking at across the board is "the link between growing corruption or growing perceptions of corruption is the lack of civil liberties, the lack of a free press. We see this in several countries around the world where there's been a backslide because free press and free media are essential to hold governments to account. And without journalists asking questions and looking at data and informing the public about what governments are doing on their behalf, it's very difficult to get control of corruption."

With regards to the Middle East, "This is a region out of the 21 countries that we've covered, 19 are below the 50 point midscale, so well below other countries in other regions in the rankings. This is again linked to the capacity of elites and powerful interests to take decisions which are not in the interest of the general population. And at the same time, crack down or lack of freedom for the press, for civil society to actually ask questions of those in power."

"So, when you look at those two things combined, it's not surprising the perceptions of public corruption in the region have not improved at all and in some cases, have actually gone backwards," says Heywood.

Touching on the effect of the Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers, "For us, the Panama Papers and the Paradise Papers were actually really positive developments because it showed the power of the media and large data to illustrate at a very high scale what is going on and how corruption is actually working. It is no longer something that is seen as abstract or people are powerless to do something about this. There have been hundreds of investigations that came out of the Panama Papers and people who are on trial right now, so again, thanks to the power of the media, and the power of civil society, we're seeing how this could actually help turn the tide ... We really hope journalists will continue to do their jobs, and be allowed to do their jobs, and to work with the data that's becoming increasingly available to hold governments and the powerful to account."

Also on this episode of Counting the Cost:

Venezuela-Colombia border: The number of Venezuelans escaping economic hardship to neighbouring Colombia keeps rising - despite tighter border controls. Alessandro Rampietti reports from Cucuta, on the Colombia-Venezuela border.

Venezuela's cryptocurrency, the petro: This week, Venezuela became the first ever government in history to launch its own cryptocurrency called the petro. Its price is tied to the country's oil reserves. Yet at this stage, it's still very unclear what technology or exchange will be used or how it will be managed. With $150bn in external debt, quadruple-digit inflation and shortages of everything from food to medicine, Venezuela's economy is in meltdown. President Nicolas Maduro hopes it will help the nearly bankrupt country sidestep economic sanctions and increase imports of vitally needed goods.

Adres Abadia, senior international economist from Pantheon Macroeconomics, offers his take.

Energy dynamics: This week, an Israeli energy company announced a $15bn deal to export natural gas to Egypt. Cyprus, too, said it was nearing a supply agreement. So what's this all about? Egypt, once it becomes self-sufficient in gas, wants to transform itself into an energy export hub on Europe's doorstep. Israel, too, wants to transform itself into a gas exporter. But this is a region rife with political uncertainty.

Artificial intelligence: Twenty-six of the world's leading experts in emerging technologies are warning of the dangers of artificial intelligence. They say cybercrime will grow and drones will be misused during the next decade, as Emma Hayward reports from Cambridge, UK.

South Africa's economic challenge: South Africa's new President Cyril Ramaposa says tough measures are necessary to repair the economy. And his first budget published this week contains some unpopular changes. Value-added tax will go up to 15 percent for the first time in more than 20 years, reports Fahmida Miller from Johannesburg.

John Ashbourne, Africa economist at Capital Economics, gives us his take.

Laos dam: The first dam on the lower Mekong River in Southeast Asia may start generating electricity earlier than expected. The controversial Don Sahong dam is in Laos and the communist government says it needs the project to improve the country's economy. But many who rely on the river say not enough research has been done on the environmental impact. Wayne Hay reports from Khong District in southern Laos.

Source: Al Jazeera News