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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2673

Global Integrity: Unregulated Money in Politics Is Greatest Corruption Threat Globally

By P. Radhakrishnan

Tracking governance and corruption trends is a global imperative. But doing that is easier said. Important among the prerequisites to it is the availability of huge amounts of relevant and reliable sensitive data and the huge amount of material and human resources required for the task. Seen against this formidable obstacle, Global Integrity, an international, non-profit, non-partisan organization, has been a very important global trend-setter.

Among other things, its "Integrity Indicators" approach to assessing key national anti-corruption mechanisms has been described by the World Bank as "a 'best practice' methodology for governance indicators." These indicators are: (1) Civil Society, Public Information and Media; (2) Elections; (3) Government Accountability; (4) Administration and Civil Service; (5) Oversight and Regulation; and (6) Anti-Corruption and Rule of Law.

Global Integrity’s work is unique in that it relies on the contributions of local in-country experts and seeks to assess the opposite of corruption (good governance and anti-corruption mechanisms) rather than corruption itself.

Global Integrity’s flagship annual report is the Global Integrity Report, itself made up of individual Country Assessments. The number of countries covered by the Report has increased from 25 in 2005 to 43 in 2006 to 55 in 2007, including China for the first time, to 57 in 2008, including first ever reports on Iraq and Somalia.

The Global Integrity Report: 2008 released in February 2009, is a bottom-up assessment of what's working, what's failed and why in anti-corruption efforts worldwide.

An important innovation in it is its new Grand Corruption Watch List, introduced as part of the 2008 report. The list includes Angola, Belarus, Cambodia, China, Georgia, Iraq, Montenegro, Morocco, Nicaragua, Serbia, Somalia, the West Bank, and Yemen, all countries viewed at serious risk for high-level corruption. The Watch List identifies countries where the lack of effective conflicts of interest regulations, unregulated flows of money into the political process, and poor oversight over large state-owned enterprises combine to pose a systemic risk of large-scale theft of public resources.

Of the 57 countries covered by the 2008 Report the Global Integrity Index scores are not available for nine (Albania, D.R. Congo, Fiji, Guatemala, India, Solomon Islands, Tanzania, Tunisia, and Zimbabwe). However, as six of these countries were rated by earlier reports their governance-corruption status for the year 2008 can be inferred: the overall rating in 2006 was Very Weak for D.R. Congo and Tanzania; Weak for Fiji, Guatemala, and Zimbabwe (also in Tanzania in 2007); and Moderate for India (2007, 2006).

Of the remaining 48 countries the overall rating is Very Weak for 17 (Angola, Cambodia, Cameroon, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Georgia, Iraq, Kenya, Kuwait, Montenegro, Morocco, Nicaragua, Russia, Somalia, West Bank, Yemen); Weak for 15 (Argentina, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ecuador, Ghana, Indonesia, Jordan, Kyrgyz Republic, Moldova, Nepal, Nigeria, Serbia, Turkey); Moderate for 12 (Canada, Chile, Colombia, Hungary, Italy, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Macedonia (FYROM), Pakistan, Philippines, South Africa, Uganda); and Strong for four (Bulgaria, Japan, Poland, Romania).

Rather than measure perceptions of corruption, the 2008 Report assesses the accountability mechanisms and transparency measures in place (or not) to prevent corruption through more than 300 "Integrity Indicators." Gaps in those safeguards suggest where corruption is more likely to occur.

Key findings of the report include:

Regardless of income levels, the #1 corruption threat facing a majority of countries is the unregulated flow of money into the political process. “For the third straight year, poor transparency around the financing of political parties and candidates was the weakest element of most countries’ anti-corruption frameworks,” said Global Integrity Managing Director, Nathaniel Heller. “If we’re serious about rolling back corruption and abuse of power in both the developed and developing worlds, more effective safeguards to curb the influence of money in politics are desperately needed. The Rod Blagojevichs of the world are just the tip of the iceberg.”

The most significant anti-corruption performance lag in much of the Arab world is poor access to government information. While the countries in the Middle East and North Africa assessed in the 2008 Report struggle to match global medians on many factors, their comprehensive lack of effective access to government information is virtually double those countries’ deficit on any other issue assessed by Global Integrity.

Several key countries experienced gains or backsliding since 2007. Despite the conventional wisdom which says that changes in governance and anti-corruption performance take many years to manifest themselves, several key countries show improvement or backsliding from previous years, including China, Kenya, and Russia. Important anti-corruption improvements were noted in Bangladesh and Nigeria; in China, a more positive assessment was linked to the introduction of a new regulation granting citizens access to government information. Noticeable decliners included Bosnia and Herzegovina and Ecuador; Georgia also slipped for the second straight year and continues to struggle consolidating democratic gains since the 2003 Rose Revolution.

Corruption and transparency challenges appear to be worsening on the Horn of Africa, threatening to exacerbate tensions in an already-fragile security situation. Drops in performance in Kenya and Ethiopia, combined with Somalia’s ignominious honor of boasting the worst-ever overall Global Integrity country score, do not bode well for establishing the kinds of checks and balances in all three countries that could promote good governance and improve stability.

Five years after the US-led invasion, Iraq faces very serious challenges to its governance and anti-corruption system. The country currently does not have the capacity to support good governance mechanisms and processes, and the government is too weak to enforce most regulations. Many appointments in the Ministry of Education, for example, are based on patronage despite laws preventing nepotism and patronage in the civil service. There is also some evidence of voting irregularity, with "several reports describing how the Iraqi military and interior ministry forces used their influence and authority to sway voters and influence the vote." Although some legal measures overseeing the public procurement process do exist, there is no law governing conflicts of interest for public procurement officials. Additionally, the average citizen cannot gain access to government records due to the lack of a formal access to information mechanism or law.

Eastern and Central Europe continues to perform relatively well on the Global Integrity Index despite widespread perceptions of weak anti-corruption mechanisms in the region.

Although elections are seemingly the linchpin of Western governance reform efforts around the world, there is little evidence to suggest they are strongly related to improved government accountability.

In politically charged environments, governments are more likely to place greater restrictions on the formation of broadcast media outlets than on print media organizations.

Civil society organizations (CSOs) play an important role in curbing corruption in post-conflict countries where government institutions are weak. In key African countries where Global Integrity applied special indicators to assess the effectiveness of civil society organizations (CSOs), African governments were more willing to cooperate with CSOs on issues related to public service delivery (i.e. health and education) than on transparency and government accountability issues.

Poor ratings for government accountability across all countries — in the executive as well as the legislative and judicial branches — suggest that governments are hindering governance reform efforts in their own countries.

"This report should be a roadmap for change and a wake-up call to policy makers, investors, and aid donors around the globe," said Global Integrity's International Director, Marianne Camerer. "It's also a take-action toolkit for public officials and citizens who want to fight corruption and increase government accountability." Well said, Marianne Camerer; but we need to sensitize the stake-holders in many of the countries, though there are indications that the Global Integrity is working on it as well.

The report is first and foremost a Must Read for those Marianne Camerer has mentioned, besides many others concerned about a better world, which is a first step for drawing up the highways and bye-ways of the roadmap and sounding the wake-up call. Towards this the report should be made available to various interest groups as hard copies in simple, straight language. The World Bank, UNDP and other development-donor agencies may hopefully pitch in.

P. Radhakrishnan is Professor, Sociology, Madras Institute of Development Studies, Chennai, India. His official home page is: [http://www.mids.ac.in/prk.htm ]

- Asian Tribune -

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