Corruption has not risen
I write this to dispute the allegation that corruption in the Philippines has recently worsened, as suggested in the news item, “Ombudsman: So many in gov’t are corrupt” (Front Page, 2/1/2016), citing the Corruption Perceptions Index 2015 (CPI2015) of Transparency International (TI) as basis.
What CPI2015 says about the Philippines are the following CPI scores for the past four years: 35 in 2015, 38 in 2014, 36 in 2013, and 34 in 2012. (The Inquirer news item cited the 2015 score only; the higher the CPI score, the less the corruption.) Taken literally, the scores show improvement by 2 points from 2012 to 2013, a second improvement by 2 points from 2013 to 2014, and then a worsening by 3 points from 2014 to 2015. All in all, the score improved by 1 point from 2012 to 2015.
All those changes are too small to be meaningful. In 2012, TI changed its scoring system, precisely to make it usable for analyzing changes over time, and not only for comparing countries (its main use in the past decades). But TI is not using its new system to form conclusions on the basis of changes over a single year.
In the TI website is a Technical Methodological Note that describes TI’s search for statistically significant changes (with 90-percent confidence) in CPI scores in the three-year period 2012-2015. It intentionally did not use the years 2013 and 2014 “in order to limit the impact of idiosyncratic outliers.”
The technical note says that this search identified the following 13 countries as having significantly improved their CPI scores from 2012 to 2015, at the 90-percent confidence level: Austria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Greece, Ireland, Jordan, Kuwait, Latvia, Poland, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Slovakia, and the United Kingdom. The CPI2015 report itself only calls attention to Greece (up by 10 points), Senegal (up by 8) and the United Kingdom (up by 7).
The technical note identifies the following 10 countries as having registered a significant reduction in their CPI scores in that period: Australia, Brazil, Eretria, Gambia, Liberia, Libya, Malawi, Spain, Tanzania and Turkey. The CPI2015 report itself only names Brazil (down by 7 points), Turkey (down by 7), Spain (down by 7), and Australia (down by 6).
So the 3-point drop of the Philippine score in 2014-2015 would not have merited attention, even if TI had decided to examine year-to-year changes. (What CPI2015 criticizes is not the Philippines, but Malaysia: “The Malaysian prime minister’s inability to answer questions on the US$700 million that made its way into his personal bank account is only the tip of the iceberg.”)
Changes in “notches” do not matter. The Inquirer news item read too much into the change of the Philippine ranking from 85th in 2014 to 95th in 2015, highlighting it as a drop of 10 “notches.” Our score of 35 tied us with three other countries for joint 95th place. But with 36 or just one more point, we would have tied six countries for joint 88th place, a drop of only 3 “notches.” With 37, we would have tied for 83rd place, an improvement of two “notches”! With 38, no different from 2014, we would have tied for 76th place, an improvement of 11 “notches”!
My main discomfort with CPI is the opacity of the score. Until it discloses what survey questions it uses, and what the survey findings are for specific countries, the TI allegation that a score below 50 defines a “serious” corruption problem cannot be evaluated. Over the years, I have written TI several times to request such information, without success. In any case, I made the request to TI again last Thursday.
The SWS surveys of enterprises offer the best evidence about the trend in corruption in the Philippines over time. They are designed specifically to track our situation over time, rather than to compare us with other countries.
I have said: “Since 2000, Social Weather Stations has surveyed top executives of Filipino enterprises, on matters of public and private corruption, 12 times. This survey series is far superior to that of Transparency International, producer of the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), which is based on surveys of expat executives by private foreign consulting firms that do not open the underlying data for specific questionnaire items in any country” (“The new SWS survey on corruption,” Opinion, 8/29/15).
The surveys of enterprises show that Filipino managers’ experiences with public sector corruption have declined. “On the whole, the 2014/15 survey shows continued progress against corruption since 2013, after the quantum leap in 2012. This is based on corruption as experienced, and not merely as perceived, by the responding business executives.
“• A new record-low 32 percent of respondents said they had personal knowledge of a corrupt transaction with government, in their own line of business, that happened in the last three months.
“• A new record-low 39 percent of respondents said that most companies in their own line of business give bribes to win public sector contracts.
“• A repeated record-low 44 percent said that they had been solicited for a bribe, in the past year, in at least one of seven itemized transactions with the government. This equaled the 44 percent in 2013, which was down from 50 percent in 2012 and 60 percent in 2009.”
Any country that needs scientific data to solve its corruption problem should do its own surveys to track it over time.
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