Doubts about global watchdog continue

The claim: Western countries good, other countries, bad, according to Transparency International.

The reality: Transparency International (France): site is on, for example, but no one's home 


Cracks are starting to show on the glossy exterior of the world's leading anti-corruption brand.

This time, doubts about global watchdog Transparency International come from deep within one of its own reports - in a section on media and judicial corruption.

In one of 37 country and 17 sector studies its latest Global Corruption Report, questions are raised about two separate Transparency International reports, the Bribe Payers Index and the Corruption Perceptions Index.


In his part of the 2007 Global Corruption Report, media law expert Geoffrey Robertson goes back five years to highlight one example; the 2002 TI’s Bribe Payers Index which "hailed Australia as the country where companies were least likely to offer bribes to win business."

"At the time it received this accolade, businessmen in the Australian Wheat Board were allegedly paying massive bribes totalling US $225 million to Saddam Hussein as part of the ‘oil for food’ scandal," notes Robertson, in a report chapter titled "The media and judicial corruption."

In explanation, Robertson goes on to make the case that "it would have been difficult for the Australian media to expose this without risking a potentially crippling defamation suit."


Described as a constitutional, criminal and media law expert, Robertson comments appear to cast doubt on high-profile anti-corruption products promoted by Transparency International.

Such scrutiny might be expected as natural for an organisation concerning itself with governance and avoidance of corruption. Indeed, the Global Corruption Report acts as a way for Transparency International to present independent critique of its own activities, reporting outside viewpoints as it does.

Each year, Transparency International shifts perspective in accordance with special themes. Last year, the 2006 Global Corruption Report focused on health, this year the justice system, next year; water."


Robertson nails the unequalled role of the media in exposing corruption when he comments on the uncomfortable fact that for many "if not most" countries, corruption is "rarely" uncovered by official authorities.

Less convincing are his comments on Australia and the role taken by media in exposing the wheat board scandal - or its lack of a role.

Left unquestioned by Geoffrey is wide suspicion regarding media ownership with close ties to political and corporate elites - a suspicion now extending to the fact that many of the elite also make up membership of Transparency International.


Across the globe, meanwhile, the country chapter of Transparency International in France appears to have dropped off the radar some time ago.

Their website has not been updated for over a year.

Emails to the address given do not receive a response, although the president is still quoted in the media at various governance forums in France as being head of the national Transparency International chapter. Yet, this does not deserve even a passing mention in the review chapter written by a former investigative judge, Eva Joly.

Instead she concerns herself with a "hidden agenda" to discredit the judiciary, and provides compelling evidence.


Again however the end effect is to leave the role of Transparency International itself largely unexamined. That may be changing.

This week, Tax Justice, an analysis service, repeated criticisms of the perception-based reports it has been making "for some time."


Not just for failing to accurately reflect symptoms of corruption in developing, third world countries. 

But also in failing to cast their net wide enough to include causes of corruption, mostly developed, first world countries like Switzerland, full of more corruption holes than Swiss cheese.

Transparency International, says Tax Justice founder Richard Murphy, have "got to tackle the flaws in the Corruption Perceptions Index because there’s no way on earth Switzerland is clean, and everybody knows it."


Even critics like Robertson claim it is "next to impossible to assess true levels of corruption." 

Perception based surveys are an answer to this problem, allowing countries to set and measure their own standards of cleanliness.

Switzerland for example regards itself as the country least likely to offer bribes to do business overseas, and comes in seventh overall for its general corruption index - all despite the expression "Swiss bank account" being a by-phrase for corruption for some decades now.

Such rankings may ignore deep concerns. But in high-lighting "perceptions" - some might say delusions - Transparency International reports also cast high-ranking countries under a bright light


Closer to home, then, with New Zealand this year placing itself first-equal with Finland and Iceland on the 2007 "perceived corruption index."

First ranking comes against a background of a country with a history of neglecting and rejecting its founding treaty, robbing Maori New Zealanders of billions in land, denying them millions in compensation. One that spent millions investigating tax haven fraud - but found no wrongdoing even though the head tax man admitted lying. A multibillion building industry so riddled with corruption that it suffers from "Leaky Homes Syndrome" - while industry leaders scrape millions more from selling substandard supplies at premium labelling and prices. A destination advertising itself as 100% pure and natural, while also the world's leading importer of pesticide banned in other countries. Number one customer? Department of Conservation. Perhaps 90% might be a more accurate percentage, although New Zealand has also agreed to genetically engineered crops in its bids for free trade agreements with the United States. And taking huge amounts of substandard goods from China, another country famous for unsustainable endeavour. Other examples of corruption include looming environmental disasters like effluent from nationwide dairy farming. Or the paper mill at Kawerau, a horror story dating back 50 years featuring headlines like "the black drain" - with residents questioning why official health surveys stop at their district boundary, and why there are moves to give a pond the same name as a former lake, now completely filled in with five decades of industrial waste.


Transparency International could also answer concerns about secret funding of political parties, failed multi-million computer contracts, a health system bloated with administrative contractors or general political attitude revealed by the casual axing of appeal rights to the Privy Council and, recently, the Serious Fraud Office.

Instead, back across the globe, to Germany, for one more example from the old countries.

There, an employment rights group criticised Transparency International for trying to gag a former worker from speaking out about her dismissal.


Finally, there are long outstanding questions from this agency, still unanswered, roughly two years since they were first raised.

This relates to how Transparency International chooses its report authors and whether or not they are screened for conflicts of interest.

Lack of any response over time deepened concerns held by this agency, as outlined in our piece, Is Transparency International corrupt? No comment was offered to that story either, despite our helpfully emailing it to them for response.

. . .