Foreign Policy Blogs

The Corruption Perceptions Index: spotlight on Morocco

This past Tuesday marked the annual release of the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), Transparency International’s opportunity to name and shame all over the world. This year, as in most years, there were few surprises: the index is actually designed to favor stability over dramatic changes in order not to unduly punish countries that experience an isolated scandal (or reward countries that experience an isolated success). Instead, we have more or less the same map of the world we have seen for years, with Scandinavia, New Zealand, and Singapore at the top and the war-torn countries plus sorry Myanmar at the bottom.

It is sometimes difficult to know what the CPI really tells us about corruption in the world. The results are based on an external or at least internationalized view of each country, meaning that it may have no relation to how ordinary people experience corruption every day. Nor is it based on experience (e.g. surveys asking “How often have you paid a bribe when dealing with government x?”), but rather on how a country is perceived. Perceptions should not be underestimated, as they can have large impact on how people behave – if you think that government x is corrupt, you are more likely to find alternative channels of influence or perhaps even take your business to another country. On the other hand, perceptions feed themselves: once you hear that Transparency International rated Somalia as the most corrupt country in the world in 2010, aren’t you more likely to perceive it that way in 2011?

The great thing about the CPI is not that it allows us to categorize countries by their level of corruption (in fact the value of that is rather dubious), but that it draws the world’s attention to a problem that we are all facing in some form. Every year these scores make headlines; every year there are people in remote regions sitting in internet cafes to find out how their country compares to their closest neighbor. As an American, I don’t care that we are 0.2 points above Uruguay; I care that we are a full 1.8 points below Canada. Nor do I really care that the CPI gives next to no explanations, no context to show why the score emerged the way it did. Instead I think, “I’m not surprised; the United States has new scandals emerging every month. Something needs to be done about corruption in this country.” And maybe I do something, or put pressure on those who can.

This year I was in Morocco for the CPI launch. The TI chapter in Morocco did the usual slide presentation showing historical values and regional comparisons. But then it changed the subject from the index itself. Although it was not mentioned in the generation of the actual index, the chapter focused in particular on a new anti-corruption law that they consider insufficient, as well as so-called reforms that they believe are in fact a step backwards. They pointed out that the anti-corruption law says it will improve communication with civil society, and yet civil society was not consulted in the development of the law. They called efforts to monitor the assets of public officials a facade, and said facts demonstrated the state’s incapacity to follow words with action. They then opened the floor to questions from the journalists present, who inquired about recent scandals and corruption in particular sectors and regions. Such a dialogue with the press is not possible without a hook, and the CPI serves this purpose well – no one really needs to discuss the CPI itself.

Transparency Morocco is involved in projects such as Education Watch, in which they measured corruption in primary schools, and a National Integrity System study that tracks transparency and accountability across state and non-state institutions. Morocco is likely to be the next site for the meeting of those states that have signed the UN Convention against Corruption, an event that will allow the chapter to lobby their government even harder for enforcement. The chapter is comprised of lawyers, accountants, former public officials and others who see corruption as the major obstacle to their country’s success.

The CPI is a tool that does not really mean much in itself, one that can occasionally distract from the task at hand and can hurt some countries that are making genuine and rapid efforts. But the annual launch reminds us of the powerful work that is being done against corruption every day in some of the most challenging contexts in the world. For that it is something to look forward to.