Curbing Corruption – The Corruption Perception Index

Not unexpectedly, the Government has taken issue with the ranking accorded Guyana in the Transparency International (TI) Index for 2008 announced late last month. Of a total of 180 countries surveyed, Guyana was ranked 126 with a score of 2.6 out of 10, the worst score of all the countries in the English-speaking Caribbean. In describing as flawed the methodology through which the organisation comes up with its information, Cabinet spokesman Dr. Roger Luncheon gives the unmistakable impression that he may not have adequately informed himself of the extensive processes employed by TI in the compilation of the Index. Dr. Luncheon offered nothing more for his conclusion than that the report could be the product of the interviewees as “persons of an anti-government stance or who are not employed by government”.

One may regard this as suggesting that the persons employed by the Government including those who run the drivers’ licence process, the ubiquitous traffic cop or the incorrigible customs officer as the paragons of honesty, defenders of the moral soul and supporters of the government, a view that is unlikely to be shared by an overwhelming majority of Guyanese. In fact the very definition of corruption used in the TI and other international indices is an assessment of the persons “employed by the government”, including all its political appointees – high, low and in-between. Effectively dismissing the report and all those who share its conclusions in varying degrees, Dr. Luncheon complacently noted that Government continues its work in the same mode. That attitude of “we don’t care” perhaps explains why Guyana has actually slipped three places over the previous year and why, despite the country being the most heavily taxed in the region, there is not more to show for those taxes.

The corruption index measures the perceived levels of corruption among public officials and politicians based on different expert and business surveys by responsible and well-placed organisations. That system would not allow and would quickly eliminate the Jean-Louis type who according to a letter in Stabroek News of Thursday October 9, obtained his information from an “obvious lady of the night”. A columnist is not allowed to speculate on the basis for the conclusion about the lady.

The rest of this and next week’s column will explain how the Index is constructed and why and how the attitude of the Government reflected by the cavalier attitude of Dr. Luncheon not only contributes to the perception of corruption but quite likely to actual corruption in Guyana. Those persons who are perceived as engaged in corruption would no doubt find comfort in Dr. Luncheon’s comments as an endorsement of their conduct and an invitation to continue their unacceptable behaviour. We will look at the performance of the relevant political structure, the propriety, accountability and transparency of public spending, procurement, executive behaviour, the capacity and independence of the oversight mechanisms established to identify, punish and prevent corruption such as the Audit Office, the Public Accounts Committee as well as the contribution of civil society. Let us briefly look at the organisation itself.

The organisation
TI is a non-partisan, non-governmental organisation based in Germany. It has chapters in some 100 hundred countries but it does not undertake investigations on single cases of corruption or expose individual cases. It is interesting to note that efforts to set up a group in Guyana were unsuccessful and met with a resigned apathy that nothing will change – so much for the vaunted civil society. TI is financed from private sources and by international and regional institutions. It is best known for the CPI but it also publishes an annual Global Corruption Report, a Global Corruption Barometer and a Bribe Payers Index.

TI has objectives that should be shared by any Government committed to transparency and accountability including:

•  Improving access to and the disclosure of public information,

• Enabling citizens, legislatures, journalists and investigators to ‘follow the money’;

• Cleaning up public procurement and sanctioning violators,

• Maximising development resources and ensuring better public services;

• Strengthening institutions of oversight and engaging civil society,

• Enabling parliament, auditors and civil society to demand accountability;

• Harmonising donor activity to prevent abuse.

Despite its recent origin – about fifteen years – TI is credited for its contribution in putting the topic of corruption on the world’s agenda. International Institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund now view corruption as one of the main obstacles for development, whereas prior to the 1990s this topic was not broadly discussed. TI also played a vital role in the introduction of the United Nations Convention against Corruption and the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention.

The Index
The Index is not compiled by some individual or group dropping into the country and speaking with a few disgruntled individuals and feeding that information into some computer that has a bias against Guyana.

Nor does the report measure the extent of corruption among the population as a whole. As the website of TI pointedly notes while the Index identifies Somalia at the very bottom of the ladder in 2008, that does not mean that Somalia is the ‘world’s most corrupt country’ or that Somalians are the ‘most corrupt people’. All it takes for a country to be very corrupt is a few powerful politicians and officials perpetrating corruption on the rest of the population. But that is small comfort to Guyanese who are mocked by their Caribbean brethren as the most corrupt people in the Commonwealth Caribbean.

All sources measure the overall extent of corruption (frequency and/or size of bribes) in the public and political sectors. Evaluation of the extent of corruption in countries is done by country experts, non resident and residents. In the CPI 2008, these were: Asian Development Bank, African Development Bank, Bertelsmann Transformation Index, Country Policy and Institutional Assessment (CPIA), Economist Intelligence Unit, Freedom House, Global Insight and Merchant International Group. Additional sources are resident business leaders evaluating their own country. The exact definition of “corruption” may vary but they all agree touch directly or indirectly on the misuse of public power for private benefit, for example bribing of public officials, kickbacks in public procurement, or embezzlement of public funds while some including the Asian Development Bank, the CPIA and the World Bank ask for ineffective audits, conflicts of interest, policies being biased towards narrow interests, policies distorted by corruption, and public resources diverted to private gain.

To be assessed and included in the Index required that a country have at least three surveys and assessments. Indonesia and India, now among the fastest growing countries in the world, had the largest number with ten while a small number had just three. It is tempting to state that Guyana’s low rating results from having only four surveys and assessments but that is also true of all the CARICOM countries which received much more favourable ratings, and of scores of other countries some of which received lower and others higher ratings. St. Lucia, St. Vincent and Dominica rated 21 and 28 and 33 respectively had three such surveys and assessments while Barbados rated 22 had four, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago both rated 72 had four each and Jamaica rated 96 had six. While the CPI has been tested and found by both scholars and analysts as a reliable measurement tool of perceptions of corruption, that reliability differs across countries. The higher the number of sources and smaller the differences in the evaluations provided by the sources, the greater the reliability in terms of the countries’ score and ranking.

Perception and reality
It also means that if all the surveys and assessments were conducted using the same interviewees, errors can indeed creep in and no doubt some of that does take place. But that is also true of the other countries in the Caribbean some of which are infinitely smaller than Guyana. In any case perception does matter and as the cliché goes, perception becomes reality. For the Guyanese that perception is reinforced when it supports empirical evidence and reckless disregard by those in authority.

While investors would include a country assessment in making their investment decisions, that assessment includes a strategy for dealing with public officials who have a reputation – deserved or not – as being corrupt. Careful investors including those who are bound by home country laws on bribes paid to officials abroad are usually reluctant to become involved in countries perceived as corrupt. We lose those investments to start with. For the determined who consider Guyana as a destination anyway, a cost for corruption including bribes and kickbacks is factored in which can result in the investment also being ruled out.

At a practical level, corruption has a direct cost. Some commentators estimate that procurement costs may be higher than they should be in the range of 10% to 20% as bids are inflated to take account of bribes and contributions to political causes. Where the corruption takes place in the revenue collecting agencies the amount of tax lost is absolute and direct so that those who bring in suitcases of commercial material paying not to the state but to corrupt customs officers, the effect is direct and total. Then there is the metaphysical and what corruption does to the soul of the nation and the impact on the morality of the people but that is perhaps outside the scope of this Page.

To be continued

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