Feeling Out Corruption

Feeling Out Corruption

On July 9, Transparency International (TI) released the results of its annual Global Corruption Barometer. Not to be confused with TI’s Corruption Perception Index, researchers asked thousands of people across 107 countries about their experiences with corruption and their perceptions of it in their country. The survey includes question like: “Over the past two years, how has the level of corruption in this country changed?” and “To what extent do you agree that ordinary people can ordinary people make a difference in the fight against corruption?” True to it’s name, Transparency International gives you the data to play around with along with some fun interactive graphs. We decided to take a look at the data ourselves. Here’s a look at what we found.

Suchita Mandavilli/Foreign Policy

The map above shows the percentage of people in each of the countries surveyed who reported paying a bribe at least once (without mention of how much or how often) to the following major services in the past year: education, the judiciary, medical and health, the police, registry and permit services, utilities, tax revenue and/or customs, and land service. Ideally, one would not need to pay bribes to public services; after all, it seems sensible that they should be truly accessible to the public. Unfortunately, that is not the case. 

By Transparency International’s standards, Australia, Denmark, Finland, and Japan have the least amount of bribery; only 1 percent in those countries reported having paid any bribe to one of these services in the past 12 months. In Sierra Leone, on the other hand, 84 percent of people have paid a bribe in the past year — the highest percentage of any country surveyed. In 14 countries, over 50 percent of people have paid a bribe in the past year. Globally, though, the number is a little better — only 27 percent of people have done so.

It must be mentioned that this particular survey is not by any means conclusive: Only 1,000 people from each country were interviewed and many countries were left out of the survey entirely, so all regional claims should be taken with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, questions as to why people pay bribes, to whom they pay bribes, and how often bribes are reported, allow one to get past the statistic of how many bribes have been paid, and to gain a better understanding of the factors that underlie bribery in these countries.

Suchita Mandavilli/Foreign Policy

Globally, most people pay bribes because they want faster, cheaper service, but many people apparently feel compelled to pay them to achieve any access at all. In some countries (Bangladesh, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Jordan, Libya, and South Sudan), over 50 percent of people pay bribes because they feel that it is the only way to get a service. Surprisingly, 25 percent of people in Western Europe reported paying a bribe out of necessity. The number seems high for a part of the world considered to have a better handle on corruption. It is even more surprising when compared with Eastern Europe’s 22 percent. On closer inspection (and a reminder that Western Europe is not homogenous), we see that in Greece the figure is 41 percent, and in Belgium it is 35. While they’re likely to act as outliers, removing them from the Western Europe analysis only brings regional levels down to 21 percent. In fact, only Italy and Norway reported significantly lower figures (both at 11 percent). In North America, 15 percent of people reported paying a bribe as the only way to obtain a service.

South Korea is the only country surveyed in which no one reported paying a bribe because they needed to. Rather, all bribes paid were to speed up a service, get cheaper service, or to express gratitude.

Suchita Mandavilli/Foreign Policy

So where are people paying these bribes? Globally, the police service is the greatest offender — 31 percent of people who came into any contact with the police paid a bribe in the past year. Regionally, however, the numbers tell a different story. Japan and Hungary boast no bribes in the police service. In Sierra Leone, alternatively, 90 percent of people have bribed the police in the past year. In most parts of the world, however, the police service still seems to be the most corrupt. The utilities sector sees the least amount of bribery.

I was specifically interested in the amount of bribery happening in the education and medical and health sectors. While all public services should ideally be free of bribery, it is particularly unfortunate when one needs to pay to receive medical care or a better education. In Liberia, a shocking 75 percent of people have paid bribes for an education service in the past 12 months. In Morocco, 51 percent of people have paid a bribe for medical services.

Interestingly enough, the trend of the most bribery happening in the police sector is not the case in Eastern Europe. Rather, in many countries, medical and health services seem to be more corrupt. In Lithuania, for example, 35 percent of people have paid a bribe to medical services, while a lower 23 percent have paid a bribe to the police. In Ukraine, 41 percent of people have paid a bribe for medical services, the highest statistic in the region. 

Suchita Mandavilli/Foreign Policy

All of which raises the question: So what can people do to fight back? Or, more precisely: What are they willing to do about it? Globally, 69 percent of respondents said they would report an incident of corruption. Ukraine’s citizens appear to be the least willing to report: Only 26 percent of people said they would do so. Fiji’s population represents the other end of the spectrum, with 97 percent of people saying they would report such incidents.

Of the people who said they would report corruption, the most popular place to which they would report it is a general government hotline as opposed to a corruption organization or the media. Interestingly, only people in the Americas tend toward reporting corruption to the media instead of the government, a trend that isn’t seen in other parts of the world. 

The most common reason people gave for not reporting an incident of corruption was that they believed it would make no difference. The next most common reason was fear of the consequences. In Cambodia and Liberia an alarming 77 and 78 percent of people who choose not to report corruption do so because they fear the consequences. Granted, this was of the 23 and 31 percent of people, respectively, who felt uncomfortable reporting in the first place. 

While much of the information provided by Transparency International’s Barometer is unsurprising, it does in fact provide some interesting insight into the nature of bribery and corruption around the world. The comparison of Fiji’s citizens willingness to report corruption with Ukraine’s citizens unwillingness, for example, provides more information as to where to look to fix corruption problems. The survey makes no claims to account for how much corruption actually takes place in the world, but when it comes to corruption’s effects on societies it seems just as important to find out how people feel about the level of corruption in their societies.

Suchita Mandavilli is an editorial intern at Democracy Lab. Follow her on Twitter at @sucheetah13.