What do corruption indices tell us?
One way to gauge the efficacy of a country’s anti-corruption efforts is to examine various corruption indices. Every year, countries worldwide are evaluated by a myriad of indices that measure their levels of corruption. Such measures are by and large based on the perceptions of people garnered from mass surveys as this is generally the most widely accepted way to quantify an act that is by nature secretive and evades accountability.
There are corruption indices produced by both Thai and international institutions. In Thailand, the main corruption index is the Corruption Situation Index (CSI). The index is based on a survey of 2,400 Thai citizens, entrepreneurs and government bureaucrats from different regions of the country on issues related to their perception of corruption.
Its chief finding is that according to the respondents, the overall corruption situation has improved from poor to moderate from 2010-2014 but has remained stable since. The improvement can be attributed mainly to the sense that the public, according to the survey, is more aware and less tolerant of government graft than ever and is much more willing to personally assist in anticorruption efforts.
Nevertheless, the survey also indicates that public trust in the efficiency of the various anti-corruption mechanisms – including those of the state, private sector, the media and the NGOs – has been lacklustre for several years. In addition, the lack of improvement since 2014 may indicate the cooling down of public expectation of a government that has perhaps failed to fulfil its massive anti-graft vow.
The survey also indicates that the three primary causes for corruption according to the respondents are the vague statutes that provide excessive room for discretionary powers, unethical public officials, and the government’s lack of transparency.
The picture painted by foreign indices is rather mixed. The Global Competitiveness Index (GCI) rates an economy’s competitiveness based on 12 different pillars from 0 points (Least competitive) to 7 points (Most competitive). The pillar most relevant to corruption is the Institutions pillar.
In this pillar, Thailand has been rated at around 3.7 out of 7 points or at the moderate level for the last few years. This is a similar trend as observed with the CSI. The GCI rates
Thailand as especially poor in the following three indicators; public trust in politicians, wastefulness of government spending and favouritism in decisions of government officials.
On the other hand, unlike the two aforementioned indices, the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) and the Legatum Prosperity Index (LPI) rate Thailand’s corruption situation as poor and worsening of late.
The difference can be explained by a fundamental difference in the methodology of the indices. While the CSI and GCI do not factor in democratic norms and values into its calculations, the CPI and LPI do. This reflects the growing acceptance that democracy’s fundamental pillars of free and fair elections, freedom, transparency and balance of power are part and parcel of the effort to combat corruption.
One important reason why Thailand’s CPI score decreased this year is because a new source, the Varieties of Democracy Index (VDEM), was added to the CPI. The VDEM measures corruption in the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government and places an emphasis on elections, freedom, and participation and deliberation among all factions in a country. Thailand scored just 24 points in the VDEM which significantly lowered the overall CPI score.
In the LPI’s Governance pillar, Thailand’s rating was significantly dragged down by two indicators: Political Participation and Rights, which measures the ability to participate in political processes such as voting in elections, joining political parties and running for public office, and Democracy Level, which measures the openness and competitiveness of elections and the extent of checks on executive authority.
Had the CPI and LPI not factored in democratic indicators, our analysis indicates Thailand’s performance would likely have remained constant in the past few years. But the fact is that bar Singapore, just about all the countries rated less corrupt by the various indices are democratic that regularly hold free and fair elections and guarantee their citizens basic freedoms. Additionally, with or without the democratic indicators, all the indices would agree Thailand’s corruption situation remains mediocre at best.
To address the weaknesses raised by the various indices, the government should consider doing the following.
First, there should be a major revision of all statutes that provide discretionary authority to ministers and director-generals without clear guidelines. It is to the author’s understanding that the National Anti-Corruption Commission has already compiled such statutes but has not proceeded to the revision process yet.
Second, the government should revise the Office of the Prime Minister’s Regulations for the Moral and Ethical Standards of Political Civil Servants, BE 2543 (2000) to give it teeth. There should be clear penalties for politicians found to be in violation of this particular law.
Third, the auditing process for government spending shall shift from merely procedural inspections to cost-benefit inspections. Current auditing focuses far too little on whether a project is actually worth the investment as long as it adheres to the letter of the law. Performance audit will help lessen wasteful government spending.
Last, the government should boost transparency in its administration by instructing government agencies to make more government data publicly available in compliance with the Official Information Act, B.E. 2540 (1997). Although this act has been in place for 20 years, its enforcement has been so far been very lax, reflecting the lack of political will in seeing this law properly enforced.
Natchapol Praditpetchara is a researcher at the Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI). Policy analyses from the TDRI appear in the Bangkok Post on alternate Wednesdays.
First published: Bangkok Post Wednesday, April 26, 2017