The U.S. Combating Global Corruption Act Is a Worthwhile Proposal that Deserves More Attention

I know a lot of what I write on this blog is pessimistic, critiical, or both, but every once in a while it’s nice to call attention to some positive, encouraging developments. In this spirit, I was heartened to read that a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators last week introduced a new bill, the “Combating Global Corruption Act of 2017” (CGCA), that strikes me as quite a good idea overall. Yes, I realize that most bills like this never make it out of committee, let alone get enacted into law. And yes, the bill has a number of problems, some of which might be fixable through the amendment process but others of which are more inherent. But on the whole, it seems to me that this is the sort of bill that the U.S. anticorruption community ought to support.

Here’s a quick summary of what the bill would do, why I think it’s basically a sound idea, and (because I can’t help myself) a few of its problems and difficulties. (The full text of the bill can be found at the link above, and a press release about it from Senator Cardin’s office is here.) Continue reading

The 2016 CPI and the Value of Corruption Perceptions

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

Guest Post: When and How Will We Learn How To Curb Corruption?

GAB is pleased to welcome Finn Heinrich, Research Director at Transparency International, who contributes the following guest post:

Listening to conversations about corruption among global policy-makers, corruption researchers, and anticorruption activists alike, I can’t help but notice that the focus of anticorruption research and policy is changing. The 1990s focused mainly on demonstrating that corruption exists and finding ways to measure it (largely through perception-based indicators), and the early 2000s were about assessing corruption risks in specific countries, sectors, or communities, and assessing the performance of anticorruption institutions. More recently, researchers (and their funders and clients) are shifting from the “Where is corruption?” question toward the “How can we fight corruption?” question. They ask: Do we know what works, when, where, and under which circumstances in curbing a specific type of corrupt behavior?

Answering such questions is extremely challenging. Corruption’s clandestine nature makes it difficult to measure, data is often of low quality or simply not available for time-series or cross-sectional analysis beyond aggregate country-level indicators. Furthermore, anticorruption interventions often lack an underlying theory of change which would be needed to design robust research evaluations to find out whether they worked and if so, how (and if not, why not). And we lack realistic but parsimonious causal models which can take account of contextual factors, which are so important to understand and tackle corruption, as corruption is an integral part of broader social and political power structures and relationships which differ across contexts. Similarly, there is a lack of exchange between micro-level approaches focusing on specific, usually local anticorruption interventions, on the one hand, and the macro-level literature on anti-corruption strategies and theories, on the other.

While we at Transparency International certainly do not have any ready-made solutions for these extremely tricky methodological and conceptual issues, we are committed to joining others in making headway on them and have therefore put the “what works” question at the heart of our organizational learning agenda by engaging in reviews of the existing evidence as well as ramping up impact reviews of some of our own key interventions. For example, we have just released a first rapid evidence review on how to curb political corruption, written by David Jackson and Daniel Salgado Moreno, which showcases some fascinating evidence from the vibrant field of political anticorruption research. We are also working with colleagues from Global Integrity on a more thorough evidence review on corruption grievance as a motivator for anti-corruption engagement and are planning further evidence reviews and impact evaluations.

As we start to get our feet wet and figure out how to best go about generating and making sense of the existing evidence on what works in anti-corruption, we are keen to engage with the broader anticorruption research community. Maybe there are others out there who have some ideas about how to go about learning about what works in fighting corruption? If so, please use the comment box on this blog or get in touch directly at acevidence@transparency.org.

Academics in Support of the Transparency International Secretariat’s Research Work

As most readers of this blog are likely aware, Transparency International (TI) is the world’s leading advocacy organization focused specifically on fighting corruption. In addition to the important advocacy work done by the TI Secretariat and TI’s many national chapters, Transparency International has also played an important role in producing and supporting a variety of research activities.

Word on the street is that Transparency International is in the middle of some sort of internal reorganization. It’s apparently a complicated situation, and while I certainly don’t know much about the details (particularly concerning matters like German labor law), some of my academic colleagues have raised concerns about the possible implications of the reorganization for TI’s research capacity. In response to these concerns, a group of academics sent a letter (which I signed) to the TI Board of Directors, emphasizing the important contributions of the TI Secretariat’s research team. Although these “insider” organizational issues might not be of interest to all our readers, I thought that some of you might be interested, and perhaps might also like to make your voices heard, so I am providing (with the permission of those responsible for drafting and sending the letter) the full text of the letter here:

Continue reading

TI’s “Declaration Against Corruption” — A Plug and a Question

Last week, I got an email alert from Transparency International asking me to sign (and publicize) TI’s new “Declaration Against Corruption.” The declaration is short and sweet:

I will not pay bribes
I will not seek bribes
I will work with others to campaign against corruption
I will speak out against corruption and report on abuse
I will only support candidates for public office who say no to corruption and demonstrate transparency, integrity and accountability

On reading the declaration, I had two thoughts. The first thought was, “Yes, of course I agree with all that, I’m happy to add my name to the list” (which I did). I’m also happy to use this blog post in part to help publicize the declaration in case some of you out there haven’t already heard about this and would like to sign on as well.

My second thought, though, was along the lines of “What’s the point?”

I ask that question with all due respect to TI. I want to pose this as a substantive, serious question about anticorruption campaign strategy: What is a “Declaration Against Corruption” like this supposed to accomplish? It certainly doesn’t do any harm, but what good do TI and other anticorruption campaigners think will come of this?

I have a few hypotheses about why one might think that calling on as many people as possible to sign onto a Declaration Against Corruption might be a useful and meaningful (as opposed to symbolic but ultimately trivial) element of an anticorruption campaign: Continue reading

Guest Post: 43 Government Reps Walked Into a Summit…. What Next?

Maggie Murphy, Senior Global Advocacy Manager for Transparency International, contributes the following guest post:

International summits come and go, and all too often the promises made at these summits are quickly forgotten, lost in an online catacomb or otherwise hard to track. We at Transparency International are determined that the commitments made by government representatives at last May’s London Anticorruption Summit (648 total commitments by 41 of the 43 participating governments) must not slide into oblivion in this way. That’s why, as Matthew announced in a post earlier this month, we’ve gone through every single country statement and compiled all commitments into one central database, sortable by country, theme, and region. Our goal is for this database to be used by anticorruption advocates and activists to monitor what their countries have committed to, and whether and where they are making progress.

We’ve done our own preliminary analysis of the commitments, assessing the extent to which each commitment is (1) “concrete” (i.e measurable), (2) “new” (i.e., generated by the Summit), and (3) “ambitious” (according to country partners). We found that more than half of the commitments were concrete, about a third were brand new, and about a third seen to be ambitious by our country partners. That’s encouraging, and certainly better than I would have expected.

We’ve put together a more formal analysis here, including a description of how we came to our conclusions. Let me highlight some of the most interesting ones: Continue reading

TI’s Database of London Anticorruption Summit Commitments

Last May’s London Anticorruption Summit seems a long time ago now, given everything that’s happened in the intervening months (especially Brexit and the resulting downfall of David Cameron, who convened the Summit in the first place). But many in the anticorruption community are still hopeful that the London summit, and perhaps future events like it, can help spur more serious international progress on the fight against corruption. As regular GAB readers might recall, shortly after the summit I went through each of the individual country statements to try to figure out what sorts of promises or announcements each of the summit participants had made with respect to several issue areas–those blog posts are here and here.

As I acknowledged in the posts, my efforts were quick & dirty & preliminary. I’m happy to report that Transparency International undertook a much more thorough and systematic effort to go through each of the country statements, identify each separate commitment in each statement, and give each one a 1-3 score on each of three dimensions: (1) whether the commitment is new; (2) whether the commitment is ambitious; and (3) whether the commitment is concrete. TI’s analysis also categorizes the country commitments into 20 different categories: anticorruption environment; anti-money laundering; asset recovery; beneficial ownership; bribery; defense & security; denial of entry; innovation; international anticorruption architecture; law enforcement; natural resources; OECD; open data; private sector; public procurement; public sector integrity; sports; tax; training & assistance; whistleblower/civil society space protection. (Several of the categories are further subdivided into “focus themes.”) The database also includes the full text of each commitment.

I may do a more substantive follow-up post later on, with my reactions to TI’s report and/or my take on the information contained in the database, but for now I just wanted to say kudos to TI for doing this, and to alert those GAB readers who weren’t already aware of this that they can check out the report and the database here.