By Channel NewsAsia's Catherine Drew | Posted: 27 September 2007 1801 hrs

LONDON: The global anti-corruption group Transparency International has released its annual report, which grades 180 countries for their perceived levels of corruption.

The report concluded that the divide between developing and wealthy nations remained sharp.

Singapore came in joint fourth place with Sweden while Finland dominated the chart.

However the outlook for the region was mixed, with Myanmar coming joint last, and the Philippines, Cambodia and Bangladesh also near the bottom.

This year's report says persistent corruption in low income countries needs to be tackled internationally, and draws a strong link between poverty and corruption.

Huguette Labelle, Chair of the Transparency International, said: “There is no question that countries like Singapore, New Zealand and Australia have to play an increasing role in the region by supporting those countries that require a lot of assistance.”

Transparency International says the main responsibility for fighting corruption must rest with developing countries themselves but the developed nations also have a major role to play.

Dr Cobus De Swardt, Managing Director of Transparency International, said: “We cannot have a situation where the north continues to point a finger at corrupt countries in the south or Africa in particular when its companies as well as financial markets from those countries continue to facilitate money laundering."

At the bottom of the list jointly are Somalia and Myanmar. Transparency international officials say the current demonstrations led by the monks in Myanmar are a textbook example of what happens when a country's civilians protest against corruption and repression.

Dr Cobus De Swardt said: “The events that we see unfolding now (show that) corruption is most definitely one of the important aspects as you continue to see the wealth of that country being located in the hands of the few and the system being maintained through processes that are not accountable, that are not open, and transparent and that benefit the few."

He added that while much work still has to be done, Transparency International is heartened by some of the aspects of the report as well as global efforts to recover monies taken out of the countries by corrupt leaders and businessmen.

The index is important for private and public sector inward investment opportunities. -CNA/vm