The UAE is the least corrupt country in the Mena region, an international corruption index has shown.
According to the global corruption potential league table complied by Transparency International, New Zealand is the world's least corrupt country and Somalia as the most corrupt.
With countries given scores based on data on bribery, the use of public office for public gain, nepotism in the civil service and the protection by law of journalists and whistleblowers, among other things, countries are given a score on a scale that runs from 0 (extremely corrupt) to 100 (completely clean).
The UAE was ranked joint-21 out of 180 countries with a score of 71, sharing the spot with Estonia.
The country scored higher than a number of European countries including France (70), Spain (57) and Portugal (63).
The relatively high ranking does not come as a surprise, said Dr Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a professor of political science at UAE University.
“Ranking globally at 21 should not come as a surprise because it is consistent with our record; for the past fifteen years the UAE has always been first or second in the region in this annual report,” he said.
The UAE has also maintained a steady score ranging between 66 and 71 since 2012.
“I think the fact that we are in this category is a testimony that there is zero tolerance for corruption in this country just as there is zero tolerance for extremism.”
Scoring higher than some European countries does not come as a surprise either, “France, Spain, Poland … many of these countries have always been in a lower ranking, so that is really not a big deal.”
“Some European countries suffer corruption just like any third world country, especially Italy and Spain.”
Nonetheless, according to Dr Abdulla, “the UAE can do better than 21st place.”
The first challenge, he said, is to sustain this ranking. “It is not easy, even at 21st, because we can go back and forth and we don’t want to drop.”’
Tougher action against corruption and stronger media coverage would be the way moving forward.
“We need to be very tough on corruption: legally, politically, socially – these things have to be as tight as possible.”
“We need to move from being in the 30 best countries to the ten best countries, and I don’t see any reason why Singapore is better than us, which is ranked sixth, and Hong Kong, which ranked tenth.”
Dr Abdulla believes the main source of corruption in the UAE comes from the construction sector.
“We need to tackle corruption in the construction sector and it needs to be addressed publicly in the press,” he said.
“Any case of corruption should not be dealt with in a hidden way, but in a public way.”
The report cited press and civil society as main factors contributing to how corrupt a country is.
“The freer the media, the better we are in ranking. So whenever there is a corruption case, let the media in.”
News agencies should also be chasing and investigating cases of corruption.
“And it is about time we have civil society in the UAE, a transparency association and I don’t think we have one yet,” he said.
Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Switzerland were also at the top of the table, while the UK came joint-eighth and the US joint-16.
Joining Sudan at the bottom of the list were a number of war torn countries, including South Sudan, Syria and Afghanistan.