At the end of October, Transparency International published the 2010 corruption perception index (CPI). Based on several surveys, countries are ranked on a 10-point scale indicating how their public sectors are perceived to be susceptible to corruption by businesses. The scale rates from highly corrupt (0) to very clean (10), with 5 being the break-off point where state institutions and the legislative system are seen as able to effectively handle corruption. As in previous years, the scores of Latvia (4.3) and Lithuania (5.0) were relatively close to each other, with Estonia (6.5) getting a significantly higher rating. Baltic CSR blog talked to Laura Mikelsone, the current CEO of Transparency International Latvia (also known as Delna) to give background to the CPI.
Looking at the CPI ratings in the last years, Latvia and Lithuania have seen a steady growth of the perception of corruption. This growth was coupled to the economic growth. So it should not be surprising to see a drop in the perception of corruption, now that the economy has crashed. Still, Lithuania seems recovering from earlier hits to the confidence in clean government, while Latvia has dropped behind. The reason for this can be found in several events taking place in the last years. The bail-out of Parex, for example, has given Latvians an insight in how the bank had grown. Also some scandals, such as the one in the Riga City Council, made clear that corruption still has its influence. A good signal that uncovering of cases sends out is that it gives the impression that state institution battling corruption are functioning as they should. However, the fact that anti-corruption agency KNAB lost its chief did not help it having the image of a strong institution. What also has influenced the lower score of Latvia in 2010 is the fact that some of the cases are still ongoing in the legal system. Being caught, but not convicted gives the impression that even though part of the system works, the judicial ethics of corruption are still undecided. The last factor is that in the last year the press was not perceived as being independent and free. Most of the bigger news outlets have given decisive signals that they are used as mouthpiece for their owners. Positively, there are some new members of the press landscape that have an independent voice, one of them being news portal Pietiek.lv.
Even though several surveys show that Latvians rate corruption as the country’s biggest problem, there still is a disconnection between own actions and government responsibility. As long as citizens and companies do not see that corruption is being addressed by the government, they might consider their own actions as being of no influence on the complete system. Or, in some cases, corruption can be seen as an evil necessary for survival in an economy severely hit by crisis.
Then, there is the issue of national identity. In cultures where power is based on the family model, a strong leader that takes care of his people is treated as royalty. Even though that often comes with untransparent governance and corruptible officials. This might also be at the base of the low ranking in the CPI of countries like Italy and Greece. On the other hand, there is the more Nordic model, of strong values and government. In this model, transparency is valued over back room decision taking, regulations are clear and the legal system efficiently takes care of activity deemed harmful.
For Latvia to go the way of Estonia – or even Denmark, the global number 1 on the CPI – three things are needed. First of all, a strong law enforcement agency (the KNAB) that uncovers cases without being confronted by political backlash. Next to that, a strong and efficient judicial system, in which cases are tried quickly and with clear convictions. And last, but not least, more transparency. With a regular declaration of assets, more clarity can be created on who owns and influences what. That should also result in a freer and more independent press. This all combined could have Latvia score above a 5 on the Corruption Perception Index of 2011.