Orville Taylor | Corruption index worthless piece of trash
I don't often take tales out of school, especially if it is the plantation, the University of the West Indies, where my main bread is baked. Yet, for the second time in recent years, I have to publicly disagree with the utterances of a colleague in this university. Of course, it is not one of my mates in the Department of Sociology, Psychology and Social Work. It is not even for king-size economists themselves. Rather, it is with the well-intentioned stance taken by my junior colleague, Omar Hawthorne, in a contribution to this newspaper on Thursday, June 1, 2017.
Indeed, I totally agree with Hawthorne's posture that unless Jamaica gets more serious on the issue of corruption, we are going to get consistently low scores on the Corruption Perception Index (CPI), a measure which tons of persons and institutions rely on. But let me tell something to my friend and colleague, and everyone else who is riding this measure like an ill-fated donkey captured by idle schoolboys.
The CPI is substantively a worthless piece of trash and has as much substance as sheet rock or cement board when the external and weight-bearing parts of a building are being constructed. When I first discovered this ubiquitous statistic and eventually realised that it measured perception rather than truth, I said, "Get the fact out!" And start gauging actual cases of venality.
Used since 1995, the CPI incorporates a number of inputs from entities and interest groups and then makes a determination about the extent to which it is 'believed' that a country is corrupt. Lord, man! Anyone with brain capacity which he is saving for use later, must know that inasmuch as belief kills and belief cures; we can't build our policies on 'hearsay' or opinions.
There are so many cases in Jamaica where we use perception or what we are told to perceive, instead of what is there in reality. For example, in some of my behavioural tests, I asked Jamaican adults to colour our popular citrus fruit. Almost everyone used orange crayons, despite the fact that Jamaican oranges are not orange. However, because someone says it is orange-coloured, it must be.
Transparency International (Transparency) has used the CPI to list and rank countries depending on their level of corruption. Of course, I also agree with Hawthorne that instead of focusing on the relative position of Jamaica versus other nations, it is more important to look at the actual CPI, which has hovered between 35 and 42 out of 100 since its first use. In other words, the CPI score has been unimpressive over the years, whatever be our ranking, and we have pretty much remained in the same place.
Quite astutely, my colleague has observed that "the perception of corruption does not always reflect the reality or complexity of the actual level or experience of corruption within a country". Reprising a point I have made ad nauseam in this column, the learned political scientist noted that the reports on the low CPI can, in fact, influence the perception and thus continue a vicious cycle. Doubtless, this is an important point. I have consistently asserted that in a robust democracy such as ours, where we rank eighth in press freedom among almost 200 nations, we will report our deficiencies in our anti-corruption framework and will be fearless in highlighting corruption.
Nonetheless, as academics, we do not have the luxury of anchoring our analyses of substantive problems based on mere perception, unless we are doing attitude surveys. Therefore, if we want to know whether people think that the political leaders are considered bright or doing a good job, or if children believe that the older generation knows more than them, we can do the survey. Here, we are not interested in what is true but, rather, what people think. However, if we are concerned about determining the level of corruption in the country, the CPI is as useless as a urologist in an ob-gyn ward.
My problem is that the journalists, National Integrity Action (NIA) and a select few academics do not have interest in either researching or outlining the true picture of corruption in this country and shamelessly rely on the anecdotal CPI. Indeed, our colleague, Elizabeth Zechmeister, from Vanderbilt University, along with two UWI academics, Anthony Harriott and Balfour Lewis, completed a study for the USAID in 2015 titled The Political Culture of Democracy in Jamaica and in the Americas, 2014. Here their results showed that just around a low 10 per cent of Jamaicans ever had to experience any corruption in dealing with their normal activities.
As inconvenient as it might be to read the truth about the actual level of corruption in this society, here is the link for all to read: http://www.vanderbilt.edu/lapop/jamaica/AB2014_Jamaica_Country_Report_V3.... By the way, let me put it in a teaspoon and point to Figure 3.4 on page 56.
And if one thinks that this is simply academics involved in mastering the debate around their own self-loving research, let us return to the very same Transparency, which pushes its CPI as if it were a full supermarket trolley. In its last Global Corruption Barometer (GCB 2013), when our CPI was around 40, Transparency asked the question across all the nations surveyed, "Have you or anyone in your household paid a bribe to one of these eight services in the last 12 months?" Surprisingly, our numbers were low: 12 per cent regarding police and six per cent when asked about judges.
For the USA, whose press is ranked 39th and the UK whose is placed 42nd in freedom and transparency, their respondents reported that 15 per cent of them paid bribes to American and 21 to British judges, respectively. This is according to Transparency's own GBI, which our journalists and other commentators are simply too lazy to actually read. So again, I publish the link: https://www.transparency.org/gcb2013/country/?country=jamaica.
Still, do not be mistaken, the minister shouldn't push the grass cart, and provoke honest people's credulity to wrath. And I won't say Mabey or Johnson on the old issue that I still can't Trafigura out the Shell waivers. However, when no one notices that Transparency's American affiliate lost its accreditation in March 2017, because it was failing miserably in addressing corruption in the USA, it tells me that we are overemphasising our own.
Oh! Bet you that the gender perception indicator says that Omar is a male. Actually, she is a young lady.
- Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets'. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.