As rightly pointed out by Transparency International Malaysia’s (TI-M) president Muhammad Mohan, criticism of the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) is nothing new.
Muhammad was responding to the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) chief Tan Sri Azam Baki’s downplay of the CPI.
The CPI has courted controversies for some years now. It has been criticised not only because it is perception-based ― perceptions, they say, do not necessarily reflect reality ― but on several other grounds: definition problems, false accuracy, a flawed statistical model, and a failure to capture long-term trends. (See Staffan Andersson and Paul M Heywood, “The Politics of Perception: Use and Abuse of Transparency International’s Approach to Measuring Corruption”, Political Studies 2009;57(4):746-767).
Corruption takes on many forms and is perpetrated by various actors. But more than that, corruption is a complex and evolving phenomenon. The CPI, however, “struggles to distinguish not just between types of corruption, but also their impact and severity.”
The CPI’s drawbacks have led to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), to develop the Manual on Corruption Surveys: Methodological guidelines on the measurement of bribery and other forms of corruption through sample surveys to support evidence-based indicators on corruption.
The manual, developed only in 2018 ― more than 20 years after the CPI, highlights the value of producing experience-based statistical information on corruption and provides countries with methodological and operational guidelines for developing and implementing population- and business-based sample surveys to measure the prevalence of bribery and to collect other relevant information on corruption.
It is intended as a practical tool to support evidence-based policymaking and inform the design, implementation and monitoring of policy and programmes in the fight against corruption. The manual is available here.
The UNODC, however, duly acknowledges that perception-based indicators like the CPI have been “useful tools to advocate for the fight against corruption and to give visibility to this topic in the international agenda.”
Evidence-based corruption indicators may be directly relevant when designing and implementing anti-corruption policies as they can provide systematic and comprehensive evidence of where and how bribery occurs.
The CPI, though, is still the established go-to source for those wanting to know about levels of corruption across the world.
It should be the benchmark indicator to work towards, and provide the inspiration for improvement