Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Transparency International Comments

Recently my school friend Ali Ashfaq raised some interesting questions about how TI has ranked Bangladesh. Here is his letter in its entirety (published in The Daily Star on Oct 7).

TI rankings

Kudos to Transparency International (TI) for its efforts and success in bringing the adverse affects of corruption to everyone’s attention! But why is there a lack of transparency in the reports of Transparency International? This year’s TI report Corruption Perceptions Index 2007 ranks 180 countries. All the headlines of news articles state that Bangladesh is ranked 7th this year. This means 6 countries are ranked worse than Bangladesh, right? Wrong! Actually 13 counties are ranked worse than Bangladesh, not 6! Any teacher of mathematics, or student of mathematics, or even non-mathematicians, knows that this means Bangladesh is ranked 14th, not 7th. So why does TI rank Bangladesh 7th instead of 14th?

Before we try to answer the above question, let us at first understand the calculations behind TI’s rankings. There are actually 6 scores worse than Bangladesh’s score of 2.0 - these are 1.4, 1.5, 1.6, 1.7, 1.8 and 1.9. On this basis TI ranks Bangladesh 7th. Perhaps TI feels that if Bangladesh’s rank is shown as 14th instead of 7th then it will result in false optimism, leading to lack of effort in future to improve the score.

There are many arguments against TI’s rank calculations. In example 1, if Somalia drops from 1.4 to 1.3, TI’s calculation would move Bangladesh’s rank from 7th to 8th. Why should Bangladesh’s rank change if the number of countries worse than Bangladesh remains unchanged? In example 2, if Syria, Paraguay, Pakistan, Ethiopia and Cameron (all with current scores of 2.4) had actually scored 1.4, then TI’s calculation would have kept Bangladesh’s 7th rank unchanged. Shouldn’t Bangladesh’s rank improve if 5 countries with current scores above Bangladesh actually score below Bangladesh? One could go on and on exposing the fallacies in the logic of TI’s rank calculations.

I am not suggesting that we rank Bangladesh 14th instead of 7th so that we all feel better. Far from it! Bangladesh’s absolute score of 2.0 is nothing to feel complacent about. Any score below 3.0 suggests gross corruption is prevalent. We should target to score above 4.0 within 5 years and above 6.0 within 10 years. Why shouldn’t we rank 14th from the top in 15 years, instead of 14th from the bottom?

But let us call an apple an apple, instead of calling it an orange. If Bangladesh’s rank is 14th from the bottom this year, then let us recognise this instead of ranking Bangladesh 7th. I hope TI officials will read this letter and amend TI rank calculations in future.

Ali Ashfaq
Gulshan, Dhaka

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