We can do better

According to the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2015 released by Transparency International (TI) on January 27, 2016, Bangladesh has scored 25 in a scale of 100, same as last year and two points less than 2013. Counting from top, we have been placed 139th among 168 countries or territories surveyed this year, six steps higher than 2014 when we were 145th in a list of 175. The upward movement in ranking could be a source of satisfaction if not for the fact that it has happened mainly because all seven countries that couldn't be surveyed have always scored higher than Bangladesh as detailed below. Counting from below, the ranking has gone down by one step from 14th in 2014 to 13th. In 2013, we were three steps higher, counting from both bottom (16th) and top (136th).  

Once again, Bangladesh is the second worst performer in South Asia, better than only Afghanistan, which has scored 11, ranked 166th, the second lowest globally. All other South Asian countries – Bhutan, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Nepal have scored more and ranked higher than Bangladesh in that order. At the lowest position in the global list are Somalia and North Korea jointly having scored 8 points. 

Bhutan has performed best in South Asia having scored 65 and occupied 27th position from top. India is 76th with 38 points, Sri Lanka 83rd with 37, Pakistan 117th with 30 and Nepal 130th with 27 points. Except Bhutan, all South Asian countries have scored lower than the global average of 43. Corruption, therefore, remains a grave concern for the region. 

Countries perceived to be least affected by corruption are: Denmark on top for the second successive year having scored 91, followed by Finland (90), New Zealand (89), Netherlands and Norway (87), Switzerland (86), Singapore (85), Canada (83), and Germany, Luxembourg and UK (81). Other than Singapore, only Japan, Hong Kong, Qatar and UAE have scored 70 or more in the Asian region. 

Corruption is a global problem. No country or territory has scored 100 percent. Developed countries like Australia, Iceland, Belgium, Austria, Japan, USA, France, Ireland, Spain and Italy have scored less than 80. As many as 114 (68 percent) countries have scored below 50; 103 countries have scored less than the global average of 43. 

The overall global performance has worsened. 54 countries have scored the same as 2014. In 2014, 92 countries scored higher than 2013, whereas only 65 did so this time. The number of countries that scored lower than the previous year increased from 36 in 2014 to 49 in 2015. Some developing countries are not the only ones in this category - New Zealand, a consistent top performer, has slipped down the index by three points; Australia, Luxembourg and even the highest ranker Denmark lost 1 point. Brazil and Lesotho lost a maximum of 5 points. Countries that have gained most are Kuwait and Rwanda, who went up by 5 points, the Netherlands who went up by 4 points, and Czech Republic, Austria, Namibia and Jordan which rose the ladder by 3 points. In South Asia, the score of Bhutan and India remain unchanged while that of Sri Lanka, Nepal and Afghanistan declined. Pakistan's score has increased by 1 point.

Launched in 1995, CPI provides an international comparison of countries by perceived prevalence of corruption. It is a survey of surveys (12 in 2015) conducted by reputed international organisations. The information used in CPI relate to corruption in the public sector, particularly political and administrative; conflict of interest; unauthorised payment in the delivery of government functions, justice, executive, law enforcement and tax collection. The government's capacity to control corruption is also considered.

Only sources that provide internationally comparable data are considered. No nationally generated data, including Transparency International (TI), Bangladesh's research or that of any other national chapter of TI is considered for the CPI. At least three international surveys are needed for a country to be included in the index. 

CPI is produced by the research department of the TI Secretariat in Berlin. Scores are validated by the German Institute of Economic Research, while methodological excellence is ensured by a panel of experts from the Department of Statistics and Political Science of Columbia University, Methodology Institute and the Department of Government of London School of Economics and Political Science, Harvard Business School, Dow Jones, and Standard and Poor's. 

Data for Bangladesh came from: Economist Intelligence Unit Country Risk Assessment, World Economic Forum Executive Opinion Survey, Bertelsmann Foundation Transformation Index, Global Insight Country Risk Ratings, Political Risk Services International Country Risk Guide, World Bank Country Policy and Institutional Assessment, and World Justice Project Rule of Law Index. The data period was from February 2013 to August 2015.

To recall, Bangladesh was earlier placed at the bottom of the list for five successive years from 2001-2005. Somalia has now been ranked at the very bottom for the ninth successive year, which may be a source of relief for us. In 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010, Bangladesh was ranked at nos. 3, 7, 10, 13, and 12 respectively, while in 2011 and 2012, we were 13th, 16th in 2013, and 14th in 2014. Having now fallen to 13th, the upward trend couldn't obviously be sustained. 

One of the factors that may have prevented improvement in this regard is the persistent deficit in delivery matching pronouncements against corruption. The Anti-corruption Commission (ACC) is widely perceived to have been subjected to direct or indirect political and government influence, undermining independence and effectiveness. The ACC for its part is also believed to not have demonstrated the professionalism and capacity befitting its mandate and expectations. The level of public trust is low on the prospect of bringing to justice in the foreseeable future the key actors in high profile corruption scandals such as those involving Sonali Bank, Basic Bank, Destiny Group, Rana Plaza, and the stock market. 

A 'Denial Syndrome' in a section of the political authority has prevented the prospect of accountability, thus feeding into a culture of impunity. People with direct or indirect links with power have continued the unauthorised capture of lands, forests, rivers and water bodies, as well as the practice of loan-default. It has been openly claimed that being in power means a mandate to accumulate wealth. Precious little has happened to bring to account reported accumulation of massive wealth disproportionate to legitimate income of a section of public representatives. People were told bribery should not be considered as corruption while black money has continued to be rewarded. We have also been at the upper level on the list of countries in the supply side of illicit financial outflow. 

Bangladesh's legal, institutional and policy structures are de jure conducive to good governance and corruption control, though much to be desired de facto. The prospect of doing better in CPI will depend on the capacity of the government and political leadership to ensure that these are not captured by those who benefit from corruption. Corruption must be proven punishable not only on paper but in practice without fear or favour. Institutions of accountability and rule of law must be allowed to function independently and effectively free from partisan influence. 

A conducive environment must be created for people at large, particularly media, civil society, and NGOs to raise and strengthen the demand for accountability. The more people's voices and demands are reflected in policies and practices of the government and politics in general, the higher will be the level of accountability and the better will be our performance at the CPI. 

The writer is Executive Director, Transparency International Bangladesh.


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