Problems with Transparency International corruption perception index

Posted by Elaine Byrne

Transparency International published its annual corruption perception index (CPI) this week. As this map shows, Ireland ranks very favourably in comparative terms. Since 1995 Ireland has more or less ranked in the top twenty least corrupt countries in the world.

The CPI has been credited widely with putting the issue of corruption on the global policy agenda and raising international awareness about the phenomenon. Nonetheless, the CPI has been the focus of much criticism regarding its methodology (Arndt and Oman 2006; Galtung 2006).

Details and analysis of these criticisms can be found in my World Bank report on corruption and perception which was published earlier this year (see pp. 18-22).

For instance, perception-based corruption indexes may influence the actual perception of corruption because of the media attention they receive, thus raising the possibilities that the indexes influence the very same perceptions on which they are based. This circularity reinforces perceptions of corruption, creating a vicious cycle between perception and fact. Therefore, the perception of corruption does not always reflect the reality or complexity of the actual level or experience of corruption within a country.

Growing concerns about the CPI
There is growing concern among anti-corruption agencies and the international community that perception-based indexes are not accurate measures. The best perception-based surveys do not always account for indirect effects of subjective factors, and their margins of error are large when compared with actual corruption (Bertrand and Mullainathan 2001).

A 2006 report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development notes that at least one donor stopped funding a country because of its standing in the CPI (Arndt and Oman 2006, p. 48). That same report also notes that the dominance of perception indexes may be contributing to the emergence of a “corruption trap.” As development aid is increasingly made conditional on the implementation of reforms, those countries with the least resources to implement “good governance” stand to suffer most from the withdrawal of precisely the support they need to stand any realistic chance of tackling corruption. In this way, perception-based indexes can become entirely counterproductive.

Examples of Inconsistent Perception

Such indexes do not reveal the real context of a situation, and may even be counterproductive to a nation’s efforts to develop its economy and improve its citizens’ standards of living. An inverse effect may occur under which countries are discouraged from undertaking serious anti-corruption measures because their attempts at reform are neither revealed nor regarded as successful by an improved score in the CPI. Perception indexes can punish rather than reward solid reform. The complexity of understanding how to interpret these indexes places the responsibility on anti-corruption agencies to explain index ratings to the media.

Since 2002, Transparency International has supplemented the CPI with the Global Corruption Barometer, a series of individual-level, national probability surveys assessing general public attitudes toward and experience of corruption in personal, business, and political life; educational and legal systems; medical services; police, registry, and permit services; utilities services; and tax revenue offices.

It is significant that this survey distinguishes between the perception and the experience of corruption, and may be more reflective of the “echo-chamber” effect in which perceptions of corruption can be shaped by entrenched historical stereotypes or media reports regarded as fact by the population surveyed.

When the CPI and the Global Corruption Barometer are compared with one another, it is obvious that perception and experience of corruption are not the same things. Studies have shown that “the ‘distance’ between opinions and experiences varies haphazardly from country to country” (Abramo 2008, p. 6). Table 1 in the World Bank Report illustrates this point by showing the scores on perceived corruption (CPI column) and experienced corruption (Global Corruption Barometer column) for Turkey and the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom is rated number 11 in the 2006 perception-based CPI, and Turkey is rated number 60.

Apparently, there is a huge gap in the perception of corruption in the two countries, with Turkey being perceived as significantly more corrupt than the United Kingdom. However, when it comes to the experience-based questions on the Global Corruption Barometer, there is little reason to distinguish between the two countries. In both states, 98 percent of the respondents stated that they had not paid any bribe in the past 12 months. In terms of corruption actually experienced, Turkey and the United Kingdom appear to have equally low levels of corruption. The incompatibility of corruption perception with the experience of corruption points to the shortcomings of the perception methodology used.

More information can be found here.

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2 thoughts on “Problems with Transparency International corruption perception index

  1. Pingback: Byrne on TI Corruption Perception Index – The Story

  2. Pingback: Irish public sector pay and low corruption levels - Page 11

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