Measuring corruption: why it is important

by Finn Heinrich | Published: 01:05, Feb 23,2017


IN 1995 Transparency International published the first Corruption Perceptions Index ranking countries on how corrupt experts thought the public sector in a given country was. This was a revolutionary idea and a strong advocacy tool for bringing the topic of corruption into daily political discourse at a time when people preferred not to mention corruption publicly.
Transparency International used the CPI to show the devastating effects corruption has on the most vulnerable and it allowed TI to propose tangible measures to tackle it. Today there is a United Nations Convention against Corruption as a result of advocacy that TI and others have done over the years to show how corruption is a major social problem and that it can be fought. Corruption is no longer a taboo topic.
In a recent article in New Age (‘The problem with TI’s Corruption Index’ by Joseph Thomas), the CPI and our organisation were criticised as political tools, primarily because of the sources of funding that TI receives.
For the record, TI is a non-partisan, non-political, non-governmental organisation whose mission is to rid the world of corruption and promote transparency. Our core values are transparency, accountability, integrity, solidarity, courage, justice and democracy. We carry out our mission through more than 100 chapters around the world who are part of the TI movement.
The role of the Transparency International Secretariat is to support the TI movement through research and advocacy. The CPI is our most high profile tool but the TI Secretariat also produces many other tools and research. There’s the Global Corruption Barometer, a survey of ordinary people’s views on corruption around the world. We have researched corporate transparency and integrity in sport. We have developed tools for monitoring public and private sector procurement processes and political party finances and much more.
As is clear on our website, we are independent from the organisations that fund us. We receive money from governments, foundations, the private sector and individuals. It is this mix that allows us to be independent. We have more than 40 different sources of funding from around the globe.
We do not allow donors to influence our work and this is part of any agreement we sign. We carry out due diligence on our donors and we are not afraid to end agreements. We totally reject the charge that we are biased because of conflicts of interest.
The data in the CPI is collected from 13 different sources including the World Bank and the African Development Bank. The beauty of the CPI is that we aggregate this data to produce a single number. This simple reference has become a global benchmark and focuses the world’s attention on the issue of corruption.
TI is still publishing the CPI because it remains relevant today. We understand that corruption is by its nature secret so there is no way to measure it 100 per cent accurately. But experts who follow a country’s economic and political trajectory and assess all available data sources are able to assess the overall degree of corruption in a valid and reliable manner. Therefore, the CPI is the seen as among the best global indicators of corruption and embraced by research experts, policy-makers and the media.
Countries that fare below expectations often cite the CPI as a spur for change. Thus, the CPI opens up valuable room for citizens and civil society to engage their government on how to improve their fight against corruption. In doing so, it truly helps in achieving our common goal of more just and equitable societies.

Finn Heinrich is research director at Transparency International Secretariat.

More about:

Want stories like this in your inbox?

Sign up to exclusive daily email