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Africa needs a rethink on measuring corruption

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Since the 1990s, perception-based measures have been influential in determining levels of corruption on the continent. However, the fourth Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) African Governance Review report, argues that such measures misrepresent realities in Africa and are misguiding policymakers and investors.
The report, titled “Measuring corruption in Africa: The international dimension matters”, says that many existing indicators are highly subjective and based on the opinions of elites. They are not suited for making country comparisons and ignore the international aspects of corruption.
“We are concerned that these existing perception-based and mixed indices measures of corruption are flawed,” says Namibian minister of finance, Calle Schlettwein, at the launch of the report during African Development Week in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
A range of perception-based measures of corruption, such as Transparency International’s well-known Corruption Perception Index, compile information from sources and surveys, which are used to determine a country’s perceived level of corruption, and rank countries alongside each other.
“Measuring Corruption in Africa” argues that the measurements used to ‘name and shame’ countries can have a dire impact on development, sometimes negatively influencing aid allocations and foreign direct investment.
Chantal Uwimana, Transparency International’s regional director for cub-Saharan Africa, explains that the Corruption Perception Index was designed as an awareness tool and was never meant to be used for policy-making. “It’s really like criticising a car for not flying,” she says.
Olajobi Makinwa, head of Anti-Corruption and Transparency Africa at the United Nations Global Compact, says: “Generally, measuring corruption is fraught with difficulties.” While perception-based measures don’t work, objective data is difficult to attain as, by nature, corruption is secretive.
“The issue of corruption, not only in Africa but the world, is like a cancer,” says Ugandan finance minister Fred Omach. Corruption is commonly cited as one of the continent’s key impediments towards achieving the goals of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2063.
One of the key issues raised in the report and during its launch was the international dimension of corruption in Africa. The issue has been in the spotlight since the release of the “Report of the High Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa” last year highlighted the vast sums leaving the continent through illicit outflows.
The fourth African Governance Review report makes a number of recommendations, both to improve the measurement of corruption as well as fighting the scourge.
Transparency is crucial, it says, and governments could reduce corruption by making procurement data readily available. African governments should also approve freedom of information laws, seek to further involve citizens in policymaking, and support free media. Countries should build strong institutions in order to combat corruption and not simply mimic those from abroad.
To combat international issues of corruption, the report encourages international and regional organisations to uphold their anti-corruption regulations and for African states to work closely with global partners to combat illicit financial outflows.