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Measuring Corruption: Perception vs Actual

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By Amit Kapoor

Evidence of corruption in a developing country like India can cause massive turmoil. Two cases in point have been the near collapse of UPA-II and the rise of the AAP in Delhi.

And yet, India is not alone when we talk about the endemic problem of corruption. Brazil has seen a lot of turmoil in the recent past with impeachment charges being pressed against the president. Similarly, the Petrobras scandal dented the image of Brazil internationally. All this points to the fact that countries across the world have seen corruption in the past.

Historically, even Kautilya (more than 300 years before Christ), in the treatise Arthshastra, mentions the problem of illegal transactions as well as public fraud. In a reference to it among officials stealing the money, he mentions that it is easier to ascertain the movement of birds in the sky rather than track the activities of corrupt officials. While things have gotten a lot better than the Mauryan times, there remains the endemic problem of corruption. The question is how do we track or measure it?

Reference to corruption is used in the context of use of public office for private goods. However, this is not the only form of corruption one can think about or in which it can exist. It can be with respect to the movement of files quickly through a system, as well as be in the form of benefits in kind and the like. It can be classified in various ways – as public versus private, moral versus monetary and even institutional versus retail. However, a fundamental feature is that it corrodes public wealth and often causes a loss to the society. It is worth mentioning that corruption can also be between two private individuals, though often people conceive it to be a public problem.

Transparency International, which works in the area of transparency and accountability of corporations and public institutions, does exactly that and measures corruption annually. It has just released its Corruption Perception Index 2015.

The index is on a scale of zero to 100 with zero being totally corrupt and 100 being totally clean. India has a score of 38, which shows it is relatively corrupt. However, this year the country is ranked 76 out of 168 economies compared to 85 out of 174 economies in 2014. India is better placed than its BRICS peers with Brazil at 76; Russia at 119; China at 83; and South Africa at 44.

While the index shows scores and ranks across countries, it does not tell much about the level of corruption actually observed. The problem arises as the index assumes that the best way for measuring corruption is measuring its perception. Another point is that is it valid to put a single number on the plethora of experiences businesses have in governance. What about the experiences of common citizens? Proxies in the index like the number of people caught for actual corruption can add value to the index. These can include details about charges of corruption and enforcement of these charges by public officials. Such actual cases can help assess corruption and not just the perception of it.

Over time, India should improve on the perception rating as well. The new government, to its credit, has not had big scams in the past, but the retail level corruption seems to be where it was. On a methodological note, Transparency International could use actual indicators which tell about corruption charges and enforcement on the ground. (IANS)

(The article is co-authored with Sankalp Sharma, Senior Researcher at the Institute for Competitiveness, India. Amit Kapoor is Chair, Institute for Competitiveness & Editor of Thinkers. The views expressed are personal)

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Algeria Embarking ‘Clean Hands’ Campaign Against Corruption, Questions Tycoons

Corruption is a major complaint of the masses of protesters who helped drive longtime leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika from office earlier this month

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FILE - Protestors carry a large flag and chant slogans during a demonstration against the country's leadership, in Algiers, April 12, 2019. VOA

Algerian authorities are embarking on a “Clean Hands” campaign aimed at rooting out corruption that has been linked to top tycoons and current and former government officials. Corruption is a major complaint of the masses of protesters who helped drive longtime leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika from office earlier this month. New protests are scheduled for Friday.

Several influential Algerians have been questioned or arrested in recent days. Among them is Issad Rebrab, head of Algeria’s biggest private conglomerate Cevital, who is suspected of possible customs-related violations and other financial wrongdoing, according to prosecutors.

Rebrab, 75, is estimated by Forbes to be Algeria’s richest man and employs 18,000 workers in his agribusiness empire. He tweeted that he went in voluntarily for police questioning. He was questioned for six hours before being taken to the El Harrach prison.

clean hands campaign, corruption
Corruption is a major complaint of the masses of protesters who helped drive longtime leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika from office earlier this month. VOA

Others targeted include a legislator accused of accepting bribes from a Chinese company. Also detained for questioning this week were three wealthy brothers believed close to Bouteflika’s brother Said, and seven Industry Ministry officials suspected of “non respect of contractual commitments with state enterprises” and influence trading.

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The Kouninef brothers’ lawyers said they are respecting the legal procedures but need time to consult the case files before commenting. The brothers made their fortune in the oil, food and advertising businesses.

The highest court in Algeria announced in a statement Wednesday that it is considering a case against ex-energy minister Chakib Khelil for acts related to “violations of foreign exchange laws and transfers of capital to foreigners.” Khelil is a close friend of Bouteflika and a high school classmate. Other former ministers are also targeted. (VOA)