On International Anticorruption Day: are we winning against corruption?

2017 was a mixed year for anticorruption. On
one hand, Brazil proved to the world that countries can put an
end to the culture of impunity, which still exists in so many, and
France moved decisively out of the hypocrisy so often associated with developed
countries of late by
tackling conflict of interest for its politicians.

Demand for good governance has increased
in many countries around the world, from South Africa to
Romania, but we have also seen authorities and the publics turning
a blind eye in countries where corrupt behavior was disclosed.

There were no crowds in the street to protest
the systematic tax evasion of elites in developed countries following Paradise Papers:
no public outcry in reaction to the diesel
cartel revelations in Germany. Donald Trump has
positioned himself as an enemy of the
ethics that underlie  institutional infrastructure,
which served the US executive so well after
Watergate, opening a battle against public integrity that other presidents in
less democratic contexts, like Turkey’s Erdogan, seem already to
have won, bending judicial independence to suit their needs.

When news is mixed, we can turn to stats to
see what they can tell us to answer the question if 2017 was a good year for
the global crusade against corruption or just one more year.

The world notoriously lacks an
instrument to measure corruption across countries and over time.
Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI), an
aggregate of expert opinions, has served the world well for raising
awareness of the problem, but after twenty years and quite a few
recalibrations, the United Arab Emirates (UAE, ranked
24) appear less
corrupt than both
Slovenia (ranked 31) and Israel (ranked 28), while Qatar (ranked 31) is
perceived to be less corrupt than both Spain (ranked 41) and the Czech
Republic (ranked 47). Rwanda (ranked 50), its president
having been elected with 99% of votes and investigating opposing
candidates for electoral corruption,[1]
outranks South Korea (ranked 52) and Brazil (rank 79), two countries that just
impeached their presidents for corruption following huge popular
protests. Additionally, Belarus, a country where culture of impunity reigns, has
progressed according to CPI four times as much as
Romania, which arrested 18 ministers for corruption in
just four years. In its turn, Romania is
perceived as less corrupt than Italy, although most of its
arrested ministers were as promptly granted early pardon for academic works
undertaken in jail.[2]

Figure 1. The map of global public integrity 2017

lead Legend: Index for Public Integrity 2017, www.integrity-index.org. Source: ERCAS, www.againstcorruption.eu.Perceptions aside, social science has built a
consistent body of empirical literature assessing causes and consequences of
corruption, which may help us get a clearer
picture. A summary can be found in the Index for Public Integrity[1]
(IPI, see map in Figure 1), an
objective six-component construct that brings together
the interactions between the most powerful
determinants, as well as deterrents, of a society’s capacity to control
corruption (www.integrity-index.org). The index correlates with CPI at nearly
ninety per cent (see Figure 2), but Qatar, Italy and Rwanda fall
into a more rightful place, with all the oddities
reported above corrected. It also transparently shows
why some countries do better or worse, and also what has changed or not over
the years. Now in its second year after being launched in a
smaller, EU-28 version during the EU 2015 Dutch Presidency, IPI has grown to
109 countries and covers two years in full, although some of its components go
further back in time.

Legend: Significant association between IPI and CPI showing very high correlation with 87% of variation across countries explained. Source: ERCAS,www.againstcorruption.eu

The index ranges from 1 (worst) to 10 (best),
and so do all its components. Countries can be automatically compared on all
components against their region and income group, allowing at a
glance to see if they over- or
underperform their peers. In 2017, the world scored on the average 6.64, up
from 6.57 in 2015, which is less than impressive. The biggest positive changes (well under half a
point though) were recorded in reducing administrative burden (red tape) and building
e-citizenship (which computes access to Internet and number of Facebook
accounts nationally and explains by itself most of the demand for good
governance in any given country). Judicial independence and fiscal transparency
have not significantly changed, and on
freedom of the press and trade red tape, two essential components, the world on the average even slid back a little.
The progress cases are Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Brazil, Tajikistan and Cambodia, although none of them made it to the upper part of
the chart where one can reasonably state
that control of corruption is working well;
and the countries that regressed the most are Hungary, Zambia and
Zimbabwe (the most recent news have yet to offer a restart on control of
corruption in the latter). As one can see,
change can be encountered in every direction across continents and different income
groups both (see Figure 1).

A single year may be the wrong time
unit to study changes in control of corruption, whose features are built into
the political culture and are therefore very resilient.
Examining the long-term trends of causal determinants, we may
find out more about global trends and understand why so few success cases
exist, despite the generalization of the topic.

The existence of a free and non-corrupt press, for
instance, is an essential component of corruption control, but this has been
regressing for 13
years in a row, according to Freedom of the Press 2017, Freedom House’s annual report on
media freedom around the world. Fiscal transparency and reduction of red tape
(time to register and pay taxes for a business) have registered some progress
in this interval (for instance in Macedonia), but it has been
insufficient to compensate press freedom losses (few sustainable progress cases
exist on freedom of the press).

The Internet has expanded,
creating more and more e-citizens, but far from the fast pace needed to build a
critical mass in poor countries. As to judicial independence, progress in some
cases is offset by decline in others, and anticorruption often weakens the
judiciary further, instead
of strengthening it, due to furious battles for its control that ensue
anticorruption campaigns (cases range from Italy after mani pulite to the Ukraine or recently in Romania).
The evolution of the judicial independence
component of the index, for instance, shows that countries which seem to
be champions in change (like Brazil or Romania)
still struggle to rise above
five on the scale, while countries with
strong public demand for anticorruption (like
India or South Africa) are regressing.

IPI Component Judicial Independence, ranked 1-10, with 10 best. Source: Global Competitiveness Report Survey 2008-2017.The consequences of stagnation on control of corruption
cannot be greater. The failure of governments to create merit-based
systems in their societies subverts innovation (Figure 5), the most sustainable
source of economic growth, and state capacity (figure 4), which leads to
political instability and distrust in government. Societies with the
greatest corruption scores fall victim to en masse desertion.
People flee countries where advancement in both the public
and the private realms depends
on connections rather than work, seeking instead
merit-based societies where their talents
will find recognition.[1]
Indeed, half the brain drain in the world can
be traced to the absence of merit-based
systems in one’s society, a factor as powerful as poverty itself (see Figure 5). 

To conclude, most of the tough work in control
of corruption is still in front of us.

For 2018 to be a better year, anticorruption
supporters would do well to remember that all
these elements put together create the balance represented by control of
corruption in a society, and unless significant progress is achieved in all
these significant areas we shall not see much progress again in 2018.

While red tape reduction and trade freedom
have their own promoters, who may not always realize that by advancing their
causes they contribute so significantly to control of corruption, freedom of
the press is an area often neglected by international donors, where help is greatly
needed, not just in terms of diplomatic pressure (which
remains indispensable) but as foreign investment in the media and other such
interventions, which can make an essential
difference to the media systems of captured poor countries. Anticorruption strategies need to
be based on evidence to a much greater
degree if it is to make any progress.



[3] Mungiu-Pippidi,
Alina, and Ramin Dadašov. “Measuring Control of Corruption by a New Index
of Public Integrity.” European Journal on Criminal Policy and
 22.3 (2016): 415-438.

See http://www.nature.com/news/corruption-good-governance-powers-innovation-1.16927
for a fuller argument on this.