Has Nigeria Found A Way to Make Release of the CPI Useful?

Transparency International releases its 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index this January 25, and while many will welcome the attention it puts on corruption, for others release will mean nothing but headaches. They will spend that day and the days and perhaps weeks after trying to explain why their country’s score on the CPI has little or nothing to do with how well the country is doing in the fight against corruption.  

For regulars in the corruption battle, this is common knowledge (distilled here, here, and here).  They know the value of the CPI lies in the pressure release puts on governments to take the fight against corruption seriously – not in measuring the progress a government is making in the fight. But presidents, prime ministers, parliamentarians, and assorted national kibitzers don’t. Sporadic followers of the corruption issue, on January 25 they will read that their nation ranks worse on the CPI than some neighboring county, a rival, or Denmark, Norway, or Singapore. They will demand to know why. Or at least why efforts over the past year have not paid off in a better ranking.

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Something Is Rotten from the State of Denmark

In this year’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) rankings, Denmark yet again topped the list (tied with New Zealand) as the world’s cleanest country. But the CPI has well-known limitations—including the fact that it focuses on corruption within countries while excluding how country’s nationals behave abroad. And in this latter context, Denmark performs rather poorly. Danish companies have faced numerous credible allegations of paying bribes worth hundreds of millions of dollars in dozens of countries (see, for example, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). Several of those countries have been sanctioned by the World Bank and the European Union. Yet Danish companies have largely escaped suffering any consequence within Denmark for their corrupt practices abroad. Of the thirteen major allegations of foreign bribery brought in the last decade by Danish authorities against Danish companies, several closed without adequate investigation, and none resulted in any prosecution. No wonder that Denmark’s last report card on from the OECD’s Anti-Bribery Working Group—released in 2015—found Denmark’s performance in enforcing its laws against foreign bribery to be deeply wanting. Yet six years and many public commitments later, Denmark has done very little (other than publishing a three-page “How to avoid corruption” pamphlet) to address its shortcomings in this area.

So, what’s stopping the “least corrupt” country in the world (at least, according to the CPI) from tackling its foreign bribery problem? If allegations of foreign bribery are widespread and credible, why have Danish companies continued to enjoy effective domestic impunity? There are two ways to answer this question, one of which focuses on the legal deficiencies in Denmark’s criminal code, which make it hard for prosecutors to bring winning cases, and the other of which focuses on the reasons why Denmark hasn’t changed these laws, notwithstanding critical commentaries and advice from organizations like the OECD.

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