Corruption remains rife in many of the world's poorest countries and seems to be worsening in several key industrialised states as well, a new report has said.
The annual Corruption Perception Index (CPI), published by anti-corruption group Transparency International (TI), puts Bangladesh, Nigeria and Haiti at the bottom of the 133-country list.
At the top of the list - which measures the perception of corruption among both locals and expatriates - countries such as Finland, Denmark, Iceland, and New Zealand remain the cleanest places to do business.
TI chairman Peter Eigen told BBC News Online that the failure to improve among the lowest ranked was "disappointing".
He was also disappointed to see that perceptions of countries including the US, Israel, Luxembourg and even Canada had deteriorated over the past year.
US DROPS DOWN LIST
2003: ranked 18th with score of 7.5
2002: ranked 16th with score of 7.7
Score of 10 indicates highly clean, score of 0 indicates highly corrupt
The UK was ranked 11th equal. Its score, 8.7, was unchanged from 2002.
The CPI scores countries out of 10, with higher scores indicating a cleaner image.
More than 70% of the countries listed - and 90% of developing countries - had a score lower than five, Dr Eigen said.
Corruption was "pervasive" in Bangladesh, Nigeria, Haiti, Panama, Burma, Tajikistan, Georgia, Cameroon, Azerbaijan, Angola, Kenya and Indonesia, TI said.
Despite the disappointment of continuing corruption, Dr Eigen said the CPI was achieving the aim of raising awareness about the problem.
"People now understand how prevalent - and how damaging - it is," he said. "We have built a massive global coalition."
The coalition's effects, he said, could be seen in the campaigns to force companies in oil and mining to publish the money they pay governments for licences, to stop the money being stolen by government and business elites.
TI, he said, was careful not to get too much into the ethics of corruption, preferring to concentrate on the practical aspects.
On the one hand it damages economic development and keeps people poor, he said, as many of the poorest countries remain corrupt with little help from outside to reform.
113: DR Congo, Ecuador, Iraq, Sierra Leone, Uganda
118: Cote d'Ivoire, Kyrgyzstan, Libya, Papua New Guinea
122: Indonesia, Kenya
124: Angola, Azerbaijan, Cameroon, Georgia, Tajikistan
129: Burma, Paraguay
(Ranking on the Corruption Perception Index 2003 out of 133 countries)
And that presents a direct threat to the security of richer countries - in whose interest it is to alleviate poverty and stamp out corruption.
"Millions are left in misery and poverty, and that provides the breeding ground for hopelessness and for planting the seeds of terrorism," he said.
"Fighting corruption is also fighting terrorism. As (former Czech President) Vaclav Havel said in October 2001, without corruption the attacks of 9/11 could not have taken place."
'Out with the old'
Among the "pervasive" cases is Kenya, which is at 122 on the list of 133.
The new government of President Mwai Kibaki, which came to power in December last year after two decades of one-party rule, has promised to take action against the nation's dismal reputation for corruption - and has placed the head of TI's Kenya chapter, John Githongo, in charge of the cleanup.
Dr Eigen said the stubbornly low position was normal in countries which had made a point of trying to improve their act, such as Argentina, which occupies position 92.
"Things have to get worse before they get better," he said.
Kenya's efforts, however, have returned it to the good books of organisations such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
FOR BETTER OR WORSE
Austria, Belgium, Colombia, France, Germany, Ireland, Malaysia, Norway, Tunisia
Argentina, Belarus, Chile, Canada, Israel, Luxembourg, Poland, US, Zimbabwe
But these powerful bodies need to offer more support in the fight against corruption, Dr Eigen said.
"The president (of the Bank), James Wolfensohn, is our hero," said Dr Eigen. "But the rest of the Bank is turning round only slowly.
"The same is true of huge multinational corporations who for decades have systematically condoned corruption to get contracts.
"Even if their bosses are on board, it takes a long time for people on the ground to realise their old, corrupt ways of dealmaking are obsolete."