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World: Anti-Corruption Group Widens Focus

  • Andrew Tully

There is much talk about stopping government corruption. One private organization thinks it has a way to raise public awareness of the problem by scoring countries on their behavior. RFE/RL's Andrew F. Tully files this report from Washington.

Washington, 27 October 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The independent anti-corruption group Transparency International (TI) has broadened its scope by targeting the givers of bribes as well as the receivers.

On Tuesday, TI issued its fifth annual Corruption Perception Index, or CPI, which ranks 99 countries in terms of how their people perceive the honesty of their public officials.

The survey actually is derived from 17 independent polls on the perception of bribery in these countries. The CPI was released simultaneously in Washington and in Berlin, where TI is based.

The CPI ranks each country on a score of zero to 10, with zero being the worst and 10 being the best. Only Denmark received a perfect 10 this year. Cameroon had the lowest score -- 1.5. The U.S. score was 7.5.

TI Vice Chairman Frank Vogl says any country with a score of 5 or below has a corruption problem. Two-thirds of the countries scored 5 or below, and all the former Soviet republics and the former communist countries of Eastern and Southern Europe fall below this benchmark, except Slovenia, Estonia, and Hungary.

Ranking among the bottom five of the 99 countries are Uzbekistan, with a score of 1.8, and Azerbaijan, with 1.7.

There is no trend among the former communist countries to indicate whether or not they are improving over last year as a whole. The score of the Czech Republic, for instance, dropped from 4.8 in 1998 to 4.6 this year. Bulgaria's score improved from 2.9 in 1998 to 3.3 in the current survey.

Still, Vogl says, these year-to-year scores are the point of the survey. TI created these surveys to publicize the issue of corruption in an effort to spur reforms.

Unfortunately, the results have not been encouraging over the years.

"On a comparative basis, it is that things do not appear to be getting better, and that's clearly disappointing. There is more focus on corruption these days -- in the media, in international official institutions like the IMF [International Monetary Fund] and the World Bank, in the international financial marketplace -- than ever before. And one would hope that all of that focus would turn into firm action, and that that action would lead to lower levels of corruption."

For years, many people, particularly from poorer countries with reputations for corruption, complained that the report ignored the responsibility of those who give the bribes -- primarily wealthy transnational corporations that can afford to pay off government officials.

This year, TI responded with its Bribe Payers Index, or BPI, which identifies not the companies, but the countries where they are based.

The Bribe Payers Index was conducted for TI by the Gallup International Association. It asked 800 senior business people in 14 emerging countries about which transnational corporations are responsible for bribery.

Vogl says the BPI was created to serve as a "benchmark" to help European countries determine the success of an anti-bribery convention signed in February by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

But he emphasizes that the recipients of bribes from wealthy transnational corporations are not low-ranking clerks in governments that cannot afford to pay them a living wage.

"We're not talking about some relatively small payment or facilitating payment to a small customs official. We're talking about major bribery, major corruption -- some senior officials."

Vogl says corruption at high levels does far more than rob the government and damage a country's reputation.

"Many of these people are in positions to make decisions on public works contracts, they're in [positions] to influence decisions on major arms imports and arms deals, they're in positions to determine licenses in the natural resources area, they're in positions very often to influence the way in which major privatized or about-to-be-privatized enterprises operate."

Of the world's three biggest export economies, the United States and Germany are tied in ninth place, and Japan ranks 14th. Corporations are not cited by name in the Bribe Payers Index, but Vogl says TI is organizing its survey results and will release more information in December.

Vogl stresses that the Corruption Perception Index and the Bribe Payers Index are not meant to be scientifically precise. But he says a people's perception is a potent indicator about the health of its government.