Washington, 23 September 1998 (RFE/RL) -- While everyone seems to know about it, there is no sure way to measure the extent of government corruption in any country in the world.
So a private group dedicated to curbing corruption, which is defined as the abuse of public office for private gain, measures the next best thing: how corruption is perceived by large numbers of business people, journalists, financial risk analysts, and the general public around the world.
Combining the results of 12 respected surveys, studies, and polls (such as the Economist Intelligence Unit Country Risk forecasts and the World Bank's World Development Report), Transparency International (TI) creates it's annual Corruption Perceptions Index.
This year, 85 nations are covered in the index, including 11 former communist states in Central and Eastern Europe, and the results are not good news for most.
Using a score of zero to ten -- ten being perceived as highly clean, zero being seen as highly corrupt -- Estonia came out the best in the region with a score of 5.7.
Hungary was next with a score of five, while the Czech Republic was scored 4.8 (down from last year's 5.2), and Poland 4.6 (down from last year's 5.1). Belarus and Slovakia both scored 3.9 (not covered last year.)
Further down, Romania scored 3 on the scale of zero-to-ten (down from last year's 3.4), Bulgaria got 2.9, Ukraine 2.8, Latvia 2.7, (none covered last year) and Russia was 2.4, (up slightly from last year's 2.3).
By comparison, Denmark was at the top with a score of 10, while Cameroon was at the bottom with a score of 1.4. The U.S. scored 7.5.
Vice president of Transparency International Frank Vogl says any country below six has a problem with corruption -- and that includes nearly two-thirds of the listed countries.
He told a press conference in Washington Tuesday that the index is a "wake-up call" to the international community and many countries about the "abundant corruption that pervades the planet."
Vogl says the scores are shocking as to the degree of rampant corruption that is perceived. He says that if countries want to alleviate poverty and human suffering and have strong economic growth, they must reduce or eradicate corruption.
Transparency International is a group formed five years ago by a number of former World Bank officials and other international executives who became concerned that corruption was eroding economic gains and even preventing effective economic development in many countries.
But the group, which now has chapters in more than 50 countries, found that there was no way to learn how much corruption there really is:
Vogl says that lacking data on this illegal activity, the survey emphasizes instead the opinions of many people in scores of countries. There is no way to prove whether those perceptions are accurate, of course.
But he says, the index does bring the problem to public attention and is helping drive adoption of a new international treaty making bribery and other forms of corruption illegal. The U.S. is the only country which has its own law against foreign bribery, but there is a push on in several other industrial nations to at least remove the tax deductibility of bribes paid by multinational firms.
The group says some governments protest that the index puts a spotlight on those who take bribes, but leaves hidden those companies -- and the countries where they reside -- who pay the bribes.
TI's Chairman Peter Eigen acknowledges the problem, saying much of the corruption in poor countries wouldn't occur if companies headquartered in major industrialized nations stopped paying for it. He said the group is trying to devise a similar index to spotlight the bribe payers as well.
TI Vice President Vogl said the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have, in the last two years, begun to address the problem in their borrowing countries -- many of whom are perceived as among the most corrupt in the index.
As valued as those efforts are, however, says Vogl, it's up to each country -- and it's people -- to stamp out corruption:
Vogl says that if corruption is to be reduced, there must be a democratic process in place and a civil society ready to influence the actions of government. Outside agencies like the IMF and World Bank can't force countries long-term to clean up, but can help those who are working in that direction in each country.
Vogel says Governments that question the merits of the CPI should instead ask themselves why they are so widely seen as corrupt. Sometimes, he says, the people see through government rhetoric about how corruption has been eradicated, to what is really going on. Change is beginning to be seen, he says, but reducing corruption is going to take a long, long time. oz/