Lack of transparency is not a measure of corruption, just as how inequality is not a measure of poverty. It is therefore a mistake for anyone to assume that because a country ranks lowly when it comes to global measures of transparency, this means corruption is rampant.
Equating lack of transparency with corruption becomes more suspect when dealing with the findings of an organization such as Transparency International, whose annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) does not measure corruption, but is merely a highly contestable index of the perception of corruption.
The serious flaws inherent in the Corruption Perceptions Index was unmasked three years ago by Staffan Andersson and Paul Heywood in their article “ The Politics of Perception: Use and Abuse of Transparency International’s Approach to Measuring Corruption.”
These two writers identified a number of flaws in the CPI produced by Transparency International (TI). Their criticisms more or less coincide with those advanced by Guyana’s Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, who critiqued the just published CPI.
Andersson and Heywood indicate that firstly, the CPI does not measure incidents of corruption but rather perceptions of corruption. Secondly, the CPI is a composite index derived from a number of surveys for which there is no common methodology amongst these surveys.
One can add to these criticisms that these surveys do not measure the perceptions of Guyanese towards corruption in their country, but are the perceptions of external organizations, none of whom can be said to have any interest in Guyana. If the CPI was based on the perceptions of Guyanese towards corruption in their country, Guyana would have ranked far lower.
The CPI produced by Transparency International should be dismissed outright. It certainly flows from a flawed methodology and cannot be said to truly measure corruption. Nor can it be said to be a representative perception of the lack of transparency in Guyana.
There are other limitations that support the view that the CPI is really a bogus index. For one, the definition of corruption used by Transparency International – misuse of power for private gain – encourages an almost exclusive focus on public corruption. Yet in the very week when Transparency International released its recent index, a major US bank agreed on a billion-dollar settlement for alleged money laundering activities of its Mexican-based branch.
And when one considers that major private corporations were entrapped in major corruption scandals and Ponzi schemes over the past few years, then, had a much broader definition of corruption been used to account for private corruption, America may have been listed as the most corrupt country in the world.
It is not so recorded in Transparency International’s CPI because that organization is part of an imperialist agenda to deepen economic and political liberalization in developing countries.
It is well established that liberal economies demand more openness so that the developed countries can increase their economic and political penetration. More openness requires greater transparency and improved regulations to accommodate private capital: both foreign and domestic.
The call for greater transparency has become a pretext for entrenching certain norms, under the rubric of good governance. These norms serve the interests of the rich countries by facilitating the opening up of the economies of poor countries because capitalism knows that its survival depends on increased consumption, including consumption abroad.
The capitalist countries are also wary of what happened in Russia – and one can now add Guyana – where state divestment created powerful economic oligarchies.
The way to avoid this in other liberalizing economies is to encourage regulatory reforms as part of a good governance enterprise. And critical to these reforms is the insistence on greater accountability, which means fair and open competition. But fair competition amongst unequals favours large and powerful multinationals and local monopolies. In this way, the call for greater transparency in the award of contracts serves the interests of the powerful economic entreprises.
Good governance is also about promoting democratic government. It is argued that the more accountable the government is, the more responsive it is likely to be towards its citizens. This certainly has appeal, but the overall agenda in encouraging greater democratization is that liberalization of the economy requires a democratic framework. Without a democratic political system, economic liberalization will be threatened.
Organizations such as Transparency International, while genuinely seeking to ensure that there is reduced corruption worldwide, have become entrapped in this imperialist agenda.
But what is disconcerting about organizations such as TI, is their refusal to call for greater transparency in international organizations such as the World Bank, the IMF, the Security Council of the United Nations and the World Trade Organization. Certainly, developing countries need a greater voice in these organizations. The absence of this voice makes these organizations less responsive to the needs of developing countries and thus, less transparent.
But for all the NGOs around promoting greater transparency, few are developing any indices that measure the degree of responsiveness of international organizations towards developing countries.
Transparency International would be better advised to drop its controversial CPI and concentrate its energies towards democratizing these international organizations, rather than being used as an instrument for imperialist domination.
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