By Assisi Asobie
Since 1995, Transparency International (TI) has been issuing annually, an indirect measurement of corruption in different countries of the world. The measurement is known as Corruption Perception Index (CPI). Going by many reactions from various quarters across the world, including governments, it seems that the Index is often misunderstood or misinterpreted, not just in Nigeria, but in other countries as well. In Nigeria, the Federal Government has, from time to time, taken issues with the Index in a manner that often reflects inadequate comprehension of the nature, purpose and methodology of the Index. As a former President of Transparency in Nigeria (2004-2007) and a long-standing researcher on transparency and the fight against corruption (1991-today), I feel obliged to throw some light on what the CPI is, how it is compiled and how it can be used to combat corruption at the national level.
The CPI is an indirect measurement of corruption in different nations of the world. It is an indicator of how corrupt a country is perceived to be. It is the most widely used indicator of corruption worldwide. The CPI is not perfect; and it is not the only report or index produced by TI. However, so far, no mechanism or tool has been invented for measuring absolute levels of corruption directly, on the basis of concrete empirical data. This is due to the fact that corrupt practice is generally an illegal act, which by its very nature, is perpetrated clandestinely.
The perpetrators of corruption seldom come out boldly to declare publicly that they have indulged in corrupt practice. Corrupt practice only comes to light in the course of investigations or prosecution or when, on rare occasions, scandals of corrupt practices break out. Therefore, any attempt to assess the level of corruption in a country on the basis of number of cases reported, ascertained, investigated or prosecuted will give a very partial and incomplete picture. It is for this reason that the CPI, which is based on the opinions of businessmen, observers and experts, foreign and national, remains the most reliable method of comparing relative (perceived) corruption levels across countries.
To say that the CPI is based on perception does not mean that the data it generates are not based on reality. Or that they are mere fictions. Quite the contrary: for perception, according to the Dictionary is “the recognition of things by using your senses, especially your sense of sight” (BBC English Dictionary, 1992:854). More to the point, perception is an opinion that you have about someone or something” (BBC English Dictionary, 1992:854). Perception or opinion may be wrong or right; but once strongly held, it does affect the behaviour of the perceiver towards the perceived. Thus, it is foolhardy to dismiss it as either irrelevant or inconsequential.
So, whose opinions does the CPI convey? This takes us to the methodology of the CPI, that is, how the data are sourced and compiled. The CPI uses a composite set of third party surveys to determine public perception of the level of corruption in the public sector. It is based on expert assessments and data from many surveys conducted by several institutions. The surveys cover such issues as access to information; bribery of public officials; kick-backs in public procurements; and enforcement of anti-corruption laws. Questionnaires are used in the surveys; and the questions asked range from: ‘Do you trust government?’, to ‘Is corruption a big problem in your country?’
In compiling the 2012 Index, however, an update was effected in the methodology. Before 2012, the CPI had not proved to be a particularly appropriate tool for comparing trends or changes in perception of levels of corruption, for countries, over time. But Transparency International is now using, in its methods, a simpler approach that is easier to understand. More important, the new method is capable of better capturing changes in perception of corruption in a given country over time. This is achieved by increasing the number and improving the quality of data sources and ensuring that they capture perceptions of corruption across multiple countries.
More specifically, prior to 2012, the old method drew on a country’s rank in the data sources, and then tried to capture perceptions of corruption, as compared with other countries. The new (2012) method uses the raw score, contained in the original survey data and converts the raw scores to fit the CPI scale. Also, a change has been effected in the CPI scale itself to reflect the alteration made to the method used to rescale the data sources. The scale on which the CPI is presented has been modified: ii is no longer 0-10; it is now 0-100. With this modification, it will now be possible, in future, to determine and publish changes in perception of levels of corruption, over time, at the country level.
The impression is sometimes created, usually by not-well-informed public officials, some of who even claim to be speaking for government, that the Federal Government of Nigeria does not care about the CPI or that it regards the CPI as irrelevant. Nigerians should not be deceived: the truth is different. The Policy or Development Planning documents of the Federal Government of Nigeria treat the CPI as a reliable measure of corruption; sometimes, according it greater credibility than even the Ti itself does. For instance, Nigerian Vision 20:2020 document, on page 20 of its abridged version declares: “Nigeria is currently one of the most corrupt nations of the world with a ranking of 121 out of 180 countries on the Corruption Perception Index (CPI). NV 20: 2020 aims to stamp out corruption and improve Nigeria’s ranking on the CPI to 60 by 2015 and 40 by 2020. The Vision aims to minimise corruption by creating wealth and employment opportunities; reducing poverty and ensuring the social security of Nigerians. In fighting corruption, there will be political and financial freedom for anti-corruption agencies, severe punishment for corrupt officials, and promotion of transparency and accountability in the management of public finances”. (Nigerian Vision 20:2020-Abridged Version, December 12, 2010)
Well, to what extent has the Federal Government of Nigeria kept faith with this solemn declaration? That really is the point; and we shall address it in a separate article.
Nigeria has not been making any significant progress on the CPI scale since the statement in Vision 20:2020 was made. To start with, the figure cited in Vision 20:2020 was not for 2010; it was for 2008. And it represented the best performance that Nigeria had ever recorded on the CPI.
Within the circles of Transparency International, what is regarded as a notable year-on-year change on the CPI is an addition of at least 0.3 points on a scale of 0-10. In 2008, Nigeria moved up the scale from 2.2 over 10 in 2007 to 2.7 in that year. That was an improvement of 0.5 points on a scale of 0-10. Thereafter, Nigeria’s performance deteriorated, to 2.5 in 2009 (a drop of 0.2) and then to 2.4 in 2010 and 2011(a drop of 0.3 on the 2008 score). In 2012, Nigeria has moved up from its score in 2011, but only back to the equivalent of the score she recorded in 2008 (for 2012 Nigeria’s score is 27/100, an equivalent of a score of 2.7/10 in 2008). Certainly, this is not real progress; nevertheless, the score of 27/100 in 2012 is an improvement on the score of 2.4/10 in 2011 and 2010 or 2.5/10 in 2009.
Prof. Asobie is a former President of Transparency in Nigeria.
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