The Norwegian Branch of Publish What You Pay is bringing together a terrific group of investigative journalists, whistleblowers, bankers, government officials, and academics to discuss how to lift the veil of secrecy often surrounding illicit financial transactions. Those speaking at the free, online conference October 21 include –
* Bradley C. Birkenfeld, the individual who exposed how UBS helped ultra-wealthy Americans commit billions in tax fraud
* Jóhannes Stefánsson and Ingi Freyr Vilhjálmson. Stefánsson blew the whistle on the bribes the Icelandic company Samherji paid Namibian officials to corner the market on the country’s fishing quota while Vilhjálmson’s reporting exposed the role of Norway’s DNB bank in disguising the bribes
* William Bourdon, French avocat who has done so much to force French prosecutors, judges, and politicians to address corruption in France and abroad
* Simon Bendtsen, Danish editor and journalist with Berlingske Tidende who with colleagues exposed the Danske Bank money laundering scandal
* Linda Larsson Kakuli and Axel Gordh Humlesjö, members of the investigative team at Swedish national public television broadcaster SVT who revealed the Swedbank money laundering scandal
Information on the other speakers and how to register is here.
Last month, Transparency International released its annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). As usual, the release of the CPI has generated widespread discussion and analysis. Previous GAB posts have discussed many of the benefits and challenges of the CPI, with particular attention to the validity of the measurement and the flagrant misreporting of its results. The release of this year’s CPI, and all the media attention it has received, provides an occasion to revisit important questions about how the CPI should and should not be used by researchers, policymakers, and others.
As past posts have discussed, it’s a mistake to focus on the change in each country’s CPI score from the previous year. These changes are often due to changes in the sources used to calculate the score, and most of these changes are not statistically meaningful. As a quick check, I compared the confidence intervals for the 2015 and 2016 CPIs and found that, for each country included in both years, the confidence intervals overlap. (While this doesn’t rule out the possibility of statistically significant changes for some countries, it suggests that a more rigorous statistical test is required to see if the changes are meaningful.) Moreover, even though a few changes each year usually pass the conventional thresholds for statistical significance, with 176 countries in the data, we should expect some of them to exhibit statistical significance, even if in fact all changes are driven by random error. Nevertheless, international newspapers have already begun analyses that compare annual rankings, with headlines such as “Pakistan’s score improves on Corruption Perception Index 2016” from The News International, and “Demonetisation effect? Corruption index ranking improves but a long way to go” from the Hidustan Times. Alas, Transparency International sometimes seems to encourage this style of reporting, both by showing the CPI annual results in a table, and with language such as “more countries declined than improved in this year’s results.” After all, “no change” is no headline.
Although certain uses of the CPI are inappropriate, such as comparing each country’s movement from one year to the next, this does not mean that the CPI is not useful. Indeed, some critics have the unfortunate tendency to dismiss the CPI out of hand, often emphasizing that corruption perceptions are not the same as corruption reality. That is certainly true—TI goes out of its way to emphasize this point with each release of a new CPI— but there are at least two reasons why measuring corruption perceptions is valuable: Continue reading
Namibia is not the first country that comes to mind when looking for international trend setters. Roughly the size of Turkey but with a population of only 2.1 million, it has been an independent state for just 25 years. Yet thanks to a recent initiative by its newly installed President, Hage Geingob, the country could become a leader in the worldwide struggle to combat corruption. On May 21 the President voluntarily disclosed his income and assets and those of his spouse. The disclosure is an effort to prod Namibia’s public servants to follow his example, but if President Geingob’s precedent setting move prompts other heads of state, in Africa and elsewhere, to voluntarily disclose details of their personal finances, the country may long be remembered for its contribution to the international movement to curb corruption.
As important as the disclosure are the actions the President took in connection with it, actions other heads of state seeking to emulate him should take as well. Continue reading