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PRESS digest: SME DAILY

News item: Corruption watchdog Transparency International releases a new corruption perception index raising Slovakia's score to 4.7 from 4.5 a year ago, showing that people believe corruption is slightly less widespread.


What the index doesn't say
By Peter Schutz


The corruption index that Transparency International publishes every year is, without doubt, a useful indicator. It is useful, for example, in comparing perceptions of the prevalence of corruption in different states. The index also - apparently - is able to capture trends in different countries. Thus, from the long-term perspective, it is possible to say that the two Dzurinda governments, especially the second, were more successful in their anti-corruption activities than the governments in surrounding countries during the same period, where corruption either stayed the same or increased slightly.

But the corruption index is no use in making general conclusions about the prevalence of corruption in nominal or absolute terms. This is not merely because the index measures impressions, rather than hard numbers. We also have to realize something else: we live in a time at which the public sector is expanding enormously. There cannot be less corruption in Slovakia in 2006, when the country scored a relatively clean mark of 4.7, than in 1998, when it got a more corrupt 3.8, simply because back then there were no euro-funds, no investment stimuli, no second level of regional government, far fewer municipal powers, far less public procurement, etc. Not even tobacco was subsidized in 1998.

Sure, the situation may have improved in business and in the public sphere, but this is also a question of where we started. It was not in 1998 but in 2006 that the head of a renowned company told the Trend business magazine that no public contract is handed out in the IT sector without bribes. The rule still applies - the larger the state, the greater the corruption.

The corruption index is nice, but it distracts attention from a far more important index - the extent to which corruption inflates the cost of the public sector. Maybe because a scale of 1 to 10 would not be large enough to measure it.

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