Everyone knows that the Scandinavian countries have great welfare systems, low levels of corruption and highly responsive governments. Just as everyone knows that Singapore and Hong Kong have incredibly efficient bureaucracies and do a great job attracting business from around the world. But there are some other sparkling examples of good governance scattered throughout the world and in places you might never expect to look. Here are 10 countries that may not come to mind immediately when you think of a well run nation but which certainly deserve the accolade.
Botswana is located in the heart of southern Africa, a region that has been a bastion of instability since the end of colonial rule. Angola has experienced a protracted civil war, Robert Mugabe has single-handedly ruined Zimbabwe’s economy, and South Africa has suffered egregious racial discrimination for decades. Meanwhile, Botswana has enjoyed a largely peaceful and democratic post-colonial period. It has forged strategic partnerships with international mining firms such as De Beers to benefit its economy and has taken great strides in alleviating poverty. Between 1966 and 1999 Botswana had the world’s highest average growth rate at around 9%. It ranks 30th in both the Corruption Perception Index and the Economic Freedom Index, far higher than any of its neighbors.
The Baltic state emerged from years of economic stagnation and political repression during the Cold War and after a slow start has started to turn the corner. Estonia grew at a rate of 2.4% last year, when much of Europe was mired in recession. It ranks 21st in the World Bank’s Doing Business report with an impressive 7th place in trading across borders and 14th in ease of property registration. At 32nd in the Corruption Perception Index it easily beat the other Baltic States (Lithuania is 48th and Latvia is in a tie for 54th).
Uruguay has been no exception to the authoritarian and violent history of much of South America. However, after transitioning to democracy in the late 1980s Uruguay has outshined many of its regional competitors in rule of law, transparency and the administration of justice. The World Justice Project gives Uruguay some of the highest scores across all factors for its region. The same report shows Uruguay tied for low corruption rates with countries like the United States and Belgium.
Chile has always been a bit of a standout in Latin America. It too suffered from dictatorial rule during the Cold War but has since proven to have a robust democracy. Its two most recent presidents, Michelle Bachelet and Sebastian Pinera, were competent leaders who successfully steered Chile away from the worst of the 2008 global financial crisis. Chile takes second place for Latin America in most of the World Justice Project’s rankings, coming in just short of Uruguay which takes the region’s top honours. Chile is the easiest place to do business in Latin America, according to the World Bank.
The only Asian country to crack the top 10 is Malaysia. Though often maligned for irregularities in its domestic political structure, Malaysia’s bureaucracy is fairly efficient and its governance sound, particularly for a country whose GDP is floating at around 10,000 USD per capita. Malaysia has 96% primary school enrollment and an average life expectancy of 74 years, a full year above the Asia Pacific average. It ranks an impressive 12th in the Ease of Doing Business report.
A recent prisoner abuse scandal highlights a clear lack of command and control and rule of law in Georgia. The nation also lost large parts of its territory, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, to Russian invasion. Nonetheless, once the scandal was brought to light it was widely condemned and the government mobilized quickly to deal with it. The Russian invasion should be seen as a failing of the international community, more than a failing of Georgia who can hardly be expected to defend themselves against their immensely more powerful northern neighbor. On the positive side, Georgia recently experienced a peaceful transition of power and seems to have a fairly effective democratic system. Georgia’s most impressive accomplishments can be found in the Doing Business report, where Georgia ranks 9th overall. The World Bank credits Georgia with the world’s best property registration system, its 3rd best construction permit system, and its 7th best new business registration system. Starting a new company requires just two procedures and two days, far outshining most OECD countries.
Slovenia is another nation that stagnated for decades under communism, but it has wasted no time in emerging from its shadows. Slovenia entered NATO in 2004, became the first former communist state to enter the Eurozone in 2007 and joined the OECD in 2010. Slovenia ranks high across many of the World Justice Project indicators, making it a regional leader in fighting corruption, providing public safety and promoting government transparency. Slovenia still has a ways to go in lowering its 14% poverty rate and restarting its weakened economy after the financial crisis. Nonetheless, it has made highly impressive strides in the last two decades and should be noted for it.
Iceland is perhaps a more conventional choice, given its traditional grouping with western European powers and high GDP per capita. Yet a recent banking crisis, international bailout and political stagnation have given many observers reason to doubt the competency of this small island nation’s government. However, international governance watchers would be remiss to overlook that Iceland still ranks 11th in the Corruption Perceptions Index and 14th in the Doing Business report, and after a severe recession in 2009-2010 Iceland has returned to strong and consistent economic growth.
Mauritius is a country that might leave many scratching their heads trying to find it on a map. It is a small island, with a population of just 1.2 million, off the east coast of Madagascar. At 19th, Mauritius leads all African countries in the Doing Business report with its tax collection system considered the 12th best in the world. Mauritius has also been highly strategic in its international treaty making and has secured excellent investment and trade deals with highly favorable terms. In fact, Mauritius is the main provider of FDI to India because multinationals will use the so-called “Mauritius Route” to take advantage of the country’s excellent investment agreement with Delhi.
Barbados is more likely to spark images of relaxing beach vacations than competent technocrats ensuring a well-functioning government. Yet Barbados ranks as the world’s 15th least corrupt government and 31st in easing cross-border trade. The World Bank ranks Barbados in the 89th percentile for government accountability and the 82nd percentile for rule of law. The Bank also gives the country very high marks for political stability and the absence of violence.