19 Jun 2023

Transparency in the Time of War – a Survey for 143 countries

Alina Mungiu-Pippidi

In 2021, we measured for the first time by direct observation the state of transparency for accountability in the new T-index (computer-mediated government transparency) for 129 countries. The methodology and the first results appeared in Regulation and Governance in 2022 and a new webpage created a fully transparent index, where every item could be traced back to the original webpage in one click, and readers had a feedback button to signal errors. We hoped thus to bring a contribution to a new generation of transparent government indices, sheltered from both gaming and undue influence and crowdsourced by governments, media and civil society.

This new 2023 report covers 143 countries and a very different world from the pilot project we ran in 2021, as global trends of democracy backsliding and violence have become all too visible. And still, the public good of transparency is still there and citizens still need to hold their governments accountable even during wartime. Removing countries engaged in war from the T-index would be an artificial way to show the world better than it is: we do not aim for that and although we considered this option, we eliminated it in the end. As war, in one form or another, has become a part of the lives of more countries than the ones directly engaged in it in 2023, we will also show the performance of countries under war in this report, with the clear understanding that causes might be beyond their control. Beyond the loss of life and infrastructure, war destroys transparency built by many governments, sometimes even generations, and its consequences need to be seen as well.


Read our T-index 2023 report: TRANSPARENCY IN THE TIME OF WAR


From immemorial times, war has created an environment favouring propaganda, not transparency – and corruption, not public integrity. On the first day of the battle of the Somme, which began on July 1, 1916, 19,240 British men lost their lives in what remained the heaviest loss of human life in one day in the First World War. But the British media made headlines claiming that the Allies’ casualties were not heavy, as it operated under the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA), passed a week after Britain declared war on Germany. It was not even the direct censorship under DORA that did the most harm, but the direct participation of the chief media owners in a propaganda national machine, agreeing that during war transparency needs to be put on hold.

In 2023, not only Russia and Ukraine are at war, but significant parts of the world have become embattled. Authoritarian countries have long promoted acts to limit foreign influence in their public lives: these days democratic governments are following suit. Government propaganda, which is the opposite of government transparency, as it chiefly means misinformation and misrepresentation from official sources does never seem more justified and acceptable than during a conflict with the propaganda of an enemy. Digitalization has also proved a double-edged knife, as the same miraculous smartphone that we praised for making every citizen a watchdog of the government made every person a target. Public information can become a liability when used by a country’s enemies against it, and promoters of malware have increased in numbers and activity, turning the Internet into a battlefield.

This report surveys the current state of government transparency worldwide, offering a real transparency measure for 143 countries, based on a survey of both de facto (publication of information on the web) and de jure (legal commitments) transparency. It is the second full edition of the T-index, after the first 129-country survey (2022). The T-index fulfilment score (% of maximum transparency possible) measures – by facts and not by perceptions – the distance from where a country is and where it should be on real transparency for accountability, using the Sustainable Development Goal 16 and the United Nations Convention against Corruption criteria. The webpage www.corruptionrisk.org/transparency thus offers an assessment of the extent to which each country fulfils the transparency benchmarks and allows its comparison against its continent and the world.

The global average in total fulfilment is at 61%, with the world performing far better on commitments to transparency (77% on de jure) and worse on real transparency (54% on de facto).  With 80% total fulfilment and 73% de facto, the EU and North America lead in transparency, although the internal variation across this developed region is significant. With a de facto index of 36%, Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) does not even meet half of its de jure commitments, although it has progressed in the last year. The Middle East and North Africa region (MENA) has a smaller implementation gap (32 % de facto versus 52 % de jure), but the total fulfilment score is lower compared to SSA (38% versus 47%). MENA is the poorest performer in the world. ECA (Eastern Europe and Central Asia) is above the global average at 66%, followed by Asia-Pacific and Latin American and the Caribbean (LAC) at 62%.  The situation of every tool monitored can be observed in the figure. A full report can be downloaded from below.


T-Index 2023 – De facto by components

Legend: % represents the number of countries which fulfil the criteria fully or in part. N=143.


The cases of Ukraine and Russia show what a terrible challenge war brings to transparency. Ukraine, a global transparency leader prior to the war, has had to suspend many of its transparent practices. The report discusses at length the situation of Prozorro, Ukraine’s public procurement innovative monitoring platform. In the case of Russia, an earlier legacy of transparency has been gradually shrinking due to the expansion of areas controlled by the military establishment and the need to hide the financial and asset declarations of some officials targeted by sanctions. The report uses transparent sources to track the impact of war and sanctions on the oligarchies of Russia and Ukraine. The conclusion so far is that Ukrainian oligarchs have been far more hurt by the conflict than Russian ones: some of the latter have in fact profited due to the energy price rise and despite sanctions. But other documented profiteers of the war exist in industries such as energy and defense also in Western countries.

Finally, taking into consideration the freedom to access, coverage and functionalities of the webpages, the report flags some best examples of online tools which could serve as models for other countries.