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BANGLADESH IN CPI 2016: We deserve better

Iftekharuzzaman

Bangladesh has scored 26 on a scale of 0-100 according to the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 released by Transparency International (TI) on January 25, 2017. Bangladesh's score in 2016 is one point higher than in 2015 and 2014. In a list of 176 countries Bangladesh is ranked 15th from below, which is two steps higher than in 2015. In the descending order from top we are at 45th, which is 6 steps lower than 2015. Bangladesh remains well below the global average of 43 which indicates moderate success in controlling corruption. Among the eight South Asian countries we continue to be the second worst performer after Afghanistan. 
As in previous years, Bhutan is the best performer in South Asia with a score of 65, ranked 27th from the top in the global list, followed by India ranked 79th with a score of 40, Sri Lanka and Maldives jointly ranked 95th with 36, Pakistan ranked 116th with 32, Nepal ranked 131st with 29, and Afghanistan ranked 169th with 15. At the lowest position in the world is Somalia having scored 10. Other countries that scored lower than Bangladesh include Sudan (11), North Korea (12), Syria (13), and Libya and Yemen (14). The scores of all South Asian countries other than Bhutan are less than the global average of 43, meaning that corruption remains a key regional problem.   
Launched in 1995, CPI provides international comparison of countries by perceived prevalence of corruption understood in terms of abuse of entrusted power. It is a survey of surveys (13 in 2016) conducted by reputed international organisations. Information used in CPI relates to corruption in the public sector, particularly political and administrative; conflict of interest; unauthorised payment in the delivery of government functions, and in justice, executive, law enforcement and tax collection. The government's capacity to control corruption is also considered.
Only sources that provide internationally comparable data are considered. No nationally generated data, including TIB's research or that of any other national chapter of TI, goes into CPI. At least three international surveys are needed for a country to be included in the index. CPI is produced by the research department of TI Secretariat in Berlin. CPI methodology has been designed by experts from Departments of Statistics and Political Science of Columbia University and Department of Government of London School of Economics & Political Science. Scores are validated by the German Institute of Economic Research.
Data for Bangladesh came from: Economist Intelligence Unit Country Risk Assessment, World Economic Forum Executive Opinion Survey, Bertelsmann Foundation Transformation Index, Global Insight Country Risk Ratings, Political Risk Services International Country Risk Guide, World Bank Country Policy and Institutional Assessment, and World Justice Project Rule of Law Index. Data period was January 2015 to September 2016.
Countries that have been perceived to be least affected by corruption are: Denmark on top for the second successive year having scored 91and New Zealand with the same score. In the second place is Finland (89), followed by Sweden (88), Switzerland (86), Norway (85), Singapore (84), Netherlands (83), Canada (82), and Germany, Luxembourg and UK (81). 
No country has scored 100 percent. Developed countries like Australia, Iceland, Belgium, Japan, Austria, Ireland, USA, France, Spain and Italy have scored less than 80 percent. Russia has been ranked at 131 with a score of only 29 and China at 79 with 40. As many as 124 (70 percent) countries have scored below 50; 109 countries (59 percent) have scored less than the global average of 43. 
The overall global performance has worsened in 2016 compared to 2015. 30 countries have scored the same as 2015. In 2015, 65 countries scored higher than 2014 whereas 63 did so this time. The number of countries that scored lower than the previous year increased from 49 in 2015 to 71 in 2016 (about 40 percent). Netherlands, a consistently high performer, has worsened by four points. Japan's score has worsened by three points and that of USA by two. Even the top performer Denmark's score has gone down by one point. The worst losers are Qatar (10), Kuwait (8), and Bahrain (8). The best gainer is Suriname having scored nine points more than 2015, Belarus with eight points and East Timor with seven points more than 2015. In South Asia the score of Bhutan has remained unchanged while that of Nepal, Pakistan and India gained two points each, Sri Lanka has lost one point while Afghanistan has gained four points. 
To recall, Bangladesh was earlier placed at the bottom of the list for five successive years from 2001-2005. Somalia has now been ranked at the very bottom for the 10th successive year, which may be a source of relief. In 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 Bangladesh was ranked at number 3, 7, 10, 13, and 12 respectively while in 2011 and 2012 we were 13th, in 2013 16th, in 2014 14th, in 2015 13th. Having now risen to 15th the upward trend continues, though far from enough to indicate any real improvement. Our score has indeed become somewhat static around 24-27 over the period 2011-16.  
Factors that may have prevented better performance include persistent deficit in delivery consistent with pronouncements against corruption. Barring a few rare exceptions, those who are involved in corruption especially those in, or linked with, powerful positions, are hardly brought to justice. Status, identity and linkages are often more important determinants than merit of allegations while protection of the corrupt coupled with a denial syndrome is promoting a culture of impunity. During the period for the data used in the index (January 2015-September 2016) there was much to be desired with respect to vibrancy, professionalism and effectiveness of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC). The institutional structure of accountability under the national integrity system has been weakened by monopolisation of the political space. 
Direct or indirect links with politics and power give impunity to unauthorised capture of land, forest, river and water bodies, practice of loan-default and irregularities in banking and financial sector. Unauthorised payments in the service delivery sectors have become a way of life. Bangladesh also continued to be prominent in the list of countries affected by illicit financial outflow. 
The silver lining is that during the recent several years Bangladesh's legal, institutional and policy structures have been strengthened by new laws, policies and strategies. The prospect of doing better in CPI will depend on their application and enforcement. Corruption must be a punishable offence not only on paper but in practice without fear or favour. Institutions of accountability and rule of law must be allowed to function independently and effectively free from partisan influence. The Parliament must be able to discharge its mandated role to hold the government to account effectively. Conducive environment must be created for people at large, particularly media, civil society, and NGOs to raise and strengthen the demand for accountability. The values of anti-corruption and freedom of speech are two sides of the same coin. Restricting freedom of speech is not only counterproductive to democratic practice, but it also promotes institutionalisation of corruption and culture of impunity. On the other hand, the more the space for people's voice and demand, the better is the prospect of corruption prevention and control.
 The writer is Executive Director, Transparency International Bangladesh.

The Daily Star 26-01-2017 Link