A blinkered view of the world

Written by YRK Reddy | Updated: Oct 14 2006, 05:30am hrs
Transparency International (TI) has, indeed, shocked and awed the Indian public with its report on the Bribe Payers Index (BPI) 2006, released earlier this month. India has been rated the most eager bribe-payer among the 30 leading exporting countries of the world. No one would want to support corruption. Yet, such quick surveys create doubts, as they lack rigour and do not explain with greater insights into sociology, anthropology and human behaviour. They will not pass the scrutiny of an average scientific journal. They only lead to sensationalism, stereotyping and probably fuel cynicism.

One might counter this line of argument by saying there would be no debate if India fared better in the survey. That, indeed, would be convenient rationalisationone can berate a community, ethnic group, trade, calling or profession with similar arguments as backup. The report and others such as the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) need more caution, for they create unfortunate stereotyping in international circles without rational scientific analysis, especially if they enjoy the pedigree of reputed organisations such as TI.

Several doubts and questions arise from reports such as the BPI. The report states that of the 11,232 people questioned, around 28% did not respond as they were not willing to say anything, or had no experience of being given bribes. Obviously, the rest who responded indeed had experience in being offered bribes. Does it imply that most firms doing business with India and other countries rated poorlyChina, Russia, Turkey, Taiwan, Malaysia, South Africa, Brazilhabitually promote the demand-side of corruption

That would be ironic as the sample, which is not truly random, comprised leading businessmen attending the World Economic Forum. Has the survey studied the rating bias of peoplefor there are experiences that those who are bribe-givers or bribe-takers are cynical and see all others as worse than them Does the survey ask what the respondent did when offered such a bribe

As India is bracketed with other high-growth economies, does the conclusion imply that high growth is indeed associated with bribery or is it a self-satisfying perception Was it the same for the better-ranked countries during their earlier periods of growth To be fair, the report castigates rich companies and their countries with many examples to conclude that the good in the report are not as good as you think. It has recommendations for them, too, but this balancing act does not correct the basic infirmities.

In market-oriented cultures, corruption can be sanitised easily by contracts with a chain of service-providing companies
Asia, Africa and Latin America crowd the bottom in both the BPI and the CPI,. One can take a bet that if a survey were to be conducted of experiences by which etiquette or reliability or even intelligence are surveyed among similar respondents, the results may be similar. There are ample research scandals already showing unfortunate stereotyping, bias and even racismone must not forget those relating to research on intelligence during the 70s.

The TI team may benefit from research on cultural backgrounds and perceptions on such transactions. For instance, gifts and mamools (even to the neighbourhood policeman or postman) during festivals are accepted as custom in Asia. Yet, technically, these are bribes. In the days of kings, governor-generals and viceroys, gifts, awards of business contracts and nazrana were part of acceptable custom and yet bribery in another sense.

However, in market-oriented cultures, corruption can be sanitised easily by contracts with a chain of service-providing companies. For instance, one can use lobbying firms, consultants that manage image/reputation, public relations firms, firms for follow-up or chasers and those that advance ones interests for a formal feeand escape being defined bribepayers. Does it imply that markets can sometimes mask corruption

TI is due to come out with the Global Corruption Barometer 2006. While it came up with interesting results and advice last year, one doubts conclusions like the one that the amount of bribes paid per household per year in India is 10-20% per capita. For Mexico, Russia, Romania, and Pakistan, it is at 10%. It is time we see better research and explanations than grossly casual surveys and predic-table advice, lest it soon become too tiresome a rhetoric.