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Measuring the opposite of corruption

In many countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, corruption is reluctantly accepted as part of the political workings of government, as an inevitable occurrence among those in power. However while everyone is well aware of its pervasiveness, the extent of corruption remains difficult to measure accurately, for it is hard to gauge what cannot be seen.

Considering this paradox, the independent NGO Global Integrity, initially under the auspices of the Center for Public Integrity, carried out a novel pilot program measuring governance and corruption in 25 countries, releasing its first Global Integrity Report in 2004. The report includes detailed Country Reports and a Public Integrity Index for each country.

Rather than trying to pinpoint acts of corruption per se, the public integrity index evaluates the “opposite” of corruption, or according to Nathanial Heller, co-founder and managing director of Global Integrity at a recent presentation at the IDB, assessing the laws, mechanisms, and institutions that should curb, deter, or prevent abuses of power.

At its core, the integrity index is concerned with the existence of a national anti-corruption framework, its effectiveness and the degree of access citizens have to information and mechanisms to hold public officials accountable.

Over 290 integrity indicators and sub-indicators are divided into six broad governance categories: Civil Society, Public Information and Media; Electoral and Political Processes; Branches of Government; Administration and Civil Service; Oversight and Regulatory Mechanism; and Anti-Corruption Mechanisms and Rule of Law. These indicators are then used to score the national institutional framework in place, taking into account its ability to promote public integrity, accountability and prevent abuses of power, said Heller. 

Moving away from public opinion surveys

Unlike Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index, which takes a perception-based approach to measuring corruption among public officials through public surveys, the Global Integrity Index is a blend of quantitative and qualitative analyses. Moving away from perception-based reporting on corruption is integral to Global Integrity’s work, said Heller, as the quantitative analyses will provide more incentives for governments to work towards improving their anti-corruption measures, for even small improvements in the enforcement or implementation of laws can be reflected positively in the next integrity index.

In each country, a leading social scientist, investigative journalist and 5 country readers, or peer reviewers, are carefully selected to compile the report. The social scientist is responsible for initially scoring each indicator, basing their scores on anti-corruption mechanisms “in law” (by answering “yes” or “no”) and “in practice” (scores 0-100). This scoring process quantitatively captures the implementation gap, stressed Heller, by distinguishing between laws on the books and their implementation in reality.

The numerical scores related to the “in practice” indicators are backed up with explanations and references, subjected to a rigorous peer review  

Public Integrity Index: IDB Non-Borrowing and Borrowing Member Countries

process and examined in conjunction with the Reporter’s Notebook, or the journalist’s account of the state of corruption in their country.

The scores are then placed into five tiers, ranging from Very Strong (90-100), Strong (80-90), Moderate (70-80), Weak (60-70) and Very Weak (below 60). 

How does Latin America fare?

As might be expected, in the general Public Integrity Index, which compares all 25 countries, the US ranked first overall, with Portugal, Australia, Italy, Germany and South Africa compiling the rest of the first tier. Out of the seven Latin American countries included, Argentina was at the top, ranking eighth out of the 25 total.

However, a different picture emerges when looking at the Public Integrity Index rankings by category. For example, Mexico ranked ninth overall, but within the Electoral and Political Processes category, it came out in first. In contrast, in terms of the Administration and Civil Service category, Mexico finished near the end, ranked in the last, “very weak” tier, along with Venezuela and Guatemala. However it must also be noted that within the same category, only 4 of the 25 countries ranked as either “strong” or “moderate”, with the remainder divided between “weak” and “very weak” classifications. Brazil was ranked tenth overall, falling into the moderate tier, but ranked strongly in both the Electoral and Political Processes and Branches of Government categories.