Preserving the integrity of integrity measurement

Reputation-based metrics like the Corruption Perceptions Index have been crucial in pushing governments to act and keeping corruption on the global policy radar. But with new tech and digital tools, we can now dive deeper, offering sharper insights and more precise measures. The #BrigeGap panel at IACC, Vilnius in June 2024 investigated the hurdles faced by international organizations like the #UNODC and the #World Bank, alongside NGOs like Transparency International to move towards more actionable indicators of corruption. Francesca Recanatini, Senior Public Sector Specialist at the World Bank, David Rausis, UNODC Statistician and Roberto Martinez B. Kukutschka, Research Expert on Corruption Measurement at Transparency International all discussed their experiences. Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, the Horizon Project Principal Investigator also explained that specific measures, which can help assess the impact of interventions do not need to be produced on large scale, but in relation with every corruption project. Everyone should be able to measure before and after. A handbook here and keep an eye on BridgeGap, for this website will make it easier than ever to design and measure the context of your interventions!

The question remains why, in recent years, we witness such a congestion of corruption measurements, especially among international organizations? For many years, only World Bank and Transparency International aggregated all expert scores in the CPI or COC or organized public opinion surveys of citizens or firms. Then victimization surveys proliferated- some, like the Mexican one, becoming established- asking people if they were coerced to bribe. In all this interval, we missed objective evidence, but all these perception indicators, which received tons of criticism, some justified, some not, had managed to map the world.

The academia was not idle in this interval. In the last fifteen years, organizations like ERCAS or the Government Transparency Institute, supported by EU and US research funding produced another generation of objective indicators. Based on directly observable indicators, like spending, public procurement, digital transparency, regulation in- in the case of the Index for Public Integrity- a full model of enablers and disablers of corruption. These new indicators allowed analytical insights, as well as actionability. In the T-index, observers can notice in real time what governments improve in their transparency and the crowdsourcing ensures that no fixing or gaming can take place. As, unfortunately, the case was with the very good Doing Business World Bank set of indicators, which met its untimely end. The cause was undue influence from countries seeking to improve their reputation, like Adzerbaijan, Saudi Arabia, UAE, or China, to name the most notorious. China, Russia, Adzerbaijan and Saudi Arabia have been the top funders of the internationally endorsed Anticorruption Academy in Vienna, IACA, which has struggled in the last year to create a new measurement of corruption. The ball and the Saudi funding have now passed to UNDP, an organization with no experience in the field.

The panel in Vilnius was also confronted by a question from the Saudi Arabia representative. Why did Professor Mungiu-Pippidi oppose constantly the corruption measurements sponsored by that government? Why did she decline the repeated invitations, from that country to join in any capacity, and advise, instead of criticizing and boycotting their sponsored effort?

The answer is intuitive. Lessons should have been learned from the Doing Business scandal. Only an organization with no interest can do corruption rankings, and one academically fit and economically autonomous. This does not work for those depending on the funds of patrimonial countries seeking to improve their non-improvable reputations, especially when the internal critics of those countries might be discretionarily arrested, kidnapped, or eventually killed. The world has enough academics, able to win transparently enough research funds- both ERCAS and GTI just won each, with their partners, 6-million-euro research grants which do not depend on the favor of any government, just on anonymous academic reviewers.

Perhaps reputation-hungry countries should let academics do their rankings without funding them? Surely it would be more rewarding than the elusive quest of a measurement to make them look better. No need for gifts to get objective treatment from #ERCAS or #GTI! Looking better is up to the country. They should make the reforms, and academics shall provide the mirror. If reforms are right, reputations will improve.