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Saturday, 3 December 2011

Celebrate India’s ‘poor’ corruption perception index

In reports that could cause Anna Hazare to make his case stronger and push the government into a corner, Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index has been quoted in large sections of Indian media saying that India has ‘slipped’. Some such as Hindustan Times (and they’re not alone), would make Anna Hazare celebtrate.

“Corruption in India has worsened over the past year,” according to a new study released by Transparency International, a Berlin-based anti-corruption group.

Reporting on the corruption perception index, The Wall Street Journal reports, India scored 3.1 on a scale from zero to 10, where anything below five is bad news. Last year, India scored 3.3. The country’s rank is better than Pakistan (No. 134) and Nepal — which at rank No 154 is perceived to be the most corrupt country in South Asia.

“India ranked 95th in the list — lower than China, which scored 3.6 points and ranked 75th,” said the Hindustan Times.

“Corruption in India has worsened over the past year, according to a new study released by Transparency International,” said the Hindustan Times.

Hindustan Times has it wrong; corruption may or may not have worsened — and the study by TI does not say that corruption has worsened. What it says is that the perception of corruption has worsened. Before we get to the why, let’s do a check on what the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) is.

“The CPI ranks countries/territories based on how corrupt their public sector is perceived to be. It is a composite index, a combination of polls, drawing on corruption-related data collected by a variety of reputable institutions. The CPI reflects the views of observers from around the world, including experts living and working in the countries/territories evaluated,” says TI.

The misinterpretation committed here is much like the common misinterpretation of crime figures.

In a country like India, rape, for example, was not commonly reported a few decades ago. Now, thanks to the confidence of the woman and changes in society, more and more women are lodging complaints of rape – and the incidents of rape ‘seem’ to go up.

In the case of corruption, thanks in large part to Anna Hazare and his movement, the past year has seen a dramatic increase in the media coverage of corruption.

Corruption is in every conversation, it dominates prime time news television and the front pages of newspapers and the covers of news magazines. Ministers and other high profile government and private sector executives have been arrested. “The lack of public accountability has been recognized as a major problem,” Transparency International’s managing director Cobus de Swardt, told Reuters. Anna Hazare’s movement is founded on, and spurred by his, and the Indian citizen’s, demand for public accountability.

“The last 20 years have seen pockets of that (grassroots action), but it is arguably now in the Arab Spring and the Indian Summer where it is the most widespread and very much driven by good governance demands,” Cobus de Swardt continues in the Reuters report.

The demand for accountability and good governance in India has reached a crescendo which is reflected in the media’s focus on these areas.

Take today’s newspapers as an illustration. The Times of India has a corruption-related story (Lokpal) screaming from the front page, a front page pointer to a 2G related story under the masthead, the 2G story itself on page 13, a story on the Adarsh scam on page 8, and a story on the harassment of a businessman by a policemen on page 12.

The Hindustan Times has a story on how the BMC wasted Rs 21,000 crore over the past 5 years on road-building and a story on the Lokpal on page 1 (with detailed full page coverage on page 2), a story on the CM’s decision to cut back on his powers to allot flats on page 9, and a vox pop on page 13 where four out of five respondents speak of the negative impact of corruption on India’s growth.

Corruption dominates news — and conversations — and worsens the perception of the levels of corruption in the public sector.

Indians should celebrate the numbers that TI’s CPI throw up. It’ll be some time before the country’s current obsession with corruption and Anna Hazare’s movement and the passing of the Lokpal Bill, actually causes corruption levels to come down.

Till then, the perception should keep increasing.


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