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Benchmarking – Ukraine and corruption

December 4, 2014

Transparency International has released its 2014 Corruption Perception Index – with Ukraine ranking between Uganda and Bangladesh at 142nd.  Simply grim!

The publication of the Corruption Perception Index is published just a few days after Ukraine announced that the former Georgian Deputy Interior Minister, Eka Zguladze, is the likely to head the new National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine.

In this part of the world, the perception is that only Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are more corrupt than Ukraine.  Ms Zguladze’s native Georgia, however, ranking at 50th in the 2014 Index, tops the rankings for Eastern Europe and Central Asia.  Proof if it was needed, that Ukraine can and will change if it has the prolonged will to do so.

Of course there is a need to recognise that perception, upon which the Index is based, is exactly that – perception.

It has been many years since attempts were last made to solicit bribes from this blog, yet if asked in a survey, the perception remains one of ingrained corruption at all levels – despite many years personally free from bribery demands.  The personal reality in no way matching the personal perception.

Perhaps not unusual, as negative societal perceptions often lag behind any improvements or personal experiences – if and when they come.  To what level mass cynicism and/or societal perception lag, relative to improvements and/or worsening scenarios, warp such surveys, who knows?  Does it even matter if every annual survey uses the same methodology, questions and manner of questioning?  A reliable benchmark via systematic and unchanging methodology over the years is what is sought – and perhaps produced.

After all, the perceptions held do not need to actually match the reality for the purpose of the exercise – for it is a “Perception Index”.  It would be an exceptionally difficult task to produce anything like a realistic, factually based Index of actual corruption, simply because corruption by its very nature is underhand, under-reported, perhaps overly or underly perceived by the public as an issue, rarely reaches the courts – and when it does the court may lack the integrity to deal with it, being corrupted itself etc., etc.   Thus, perhaps “perception” is the only benchmark that can be measured, despite any faulty or lagging societal beliefs.

Anyway, Eka Zguladze seems likely to begin her tenure with Ukraine ranking at 142nd – almost 100 places below her native Georgia.  Rapid progress can clearly be made before the 2015 Index is produced, even allowing for any cynical societal lag when next surveyed.  This will certainly be one of several international indexes that will be used as a benchmark for the success or failure of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau – though perhaps without the necessary recognition that the National Anti-Corruption Bureau simply cannot  deliver upon its mandate alone.

If Ms Zguladze is appointed, she will need to be allowed to do the job she is hired for without interference or paternalistic interjection from government – even if she begins to make what may be deemed uncomfortable progress for some in power.   There needs to be a recognition that the entire government shares responsibility for curbing and managing corruption – not only Ms Zguladze and her agency.  Society has to buy into the concept robustly.  Both top-down, bottom-up, and horizontal aggressive tackling of the problem has to occur.  It is not simply something to be dumped upon the new Bureau.  Further, a recognition that it takes time to achieve sustainable and tangible results that will shape existing societal perceptions, is required.  Fighting corruption is an on-going war – in every nation.

Therefore best way forward considering the scale of the task in Ukraine, perhaps, is to take several immediate, small, but noticeable and tangible steps, the results of which society (and government) cannot ignore easily, and are forced to acknowledge as improvement.  The temptation to leap from corrupt mountain top to corrupt mountain top, whilst ignoring the squaller and corruption in the societal valleys, is probably not the best way to secure bottom-up societal buy in, even if a famous head or two are scalped for momentary headlines.  Thus the occasional conquering of a mountain top and regular work in the valleys, initially at least, may be no bad strategy to get – and keep – all on board.

12 months from now, we will see just what impact the new National Anti-Corruption Bureau has had upon public perceptions of corruption in Ukraine via this particular benchmarking Index – but any failure to see improvement cannot simply be laid at the door of this new agency alone.  In order to eventually shun the post-Soviet hangover of consistent and overly interfering paternalism, individual and collective societal responsibility in tackling this particular issue needs to be impressed upon each and every Ukrainian currently subjected to, and moaning about, corrosive and cancerous corruption.

Quite simply, a single foreigner heading a new agency, cannot and will not be able to effectively tackle, reduce, and manage corruption alone.  It is a case of all hands to the pumps when maximising the experience they bring to the table.  That means accepting our own individual responsibility to fight for the cause.

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