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Uganda: How Corrupt Was Uganda in 2023?

Every year, Transparency International; the anti-corruption NGO, disseminates results for its country specific global Corruption Perception Index (CPI). This year, the results were released on Jan.30. These highlighted how different countries are scoring in the fight against corruption.

The CPI is based on surveys of business people and experts. It ranks countries and territories around the world by their perceived levels of public sector corruption, scoring on a scale of 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean). The index uses different sources to measure perceptions of public sector corruption so that it provides a comprehensive result that provides more balance than any one single source.

The year 2023 will be remembered in Uganda’s history as a year that saw high ranking government officials implicated in corruption scandals notably the ‘iron sheets scandal.’ Other scandals, such as the ghost staff in public service where Uganda loses an estimated Shs18- 53 billion annually, is another reason for the public to worry.

In 2022, Uganda had a score of 26, one score down from the previous year’s score of 27. With such results, people ask different questions like; why use perceptions? Can perceptions be trusted, etc.? Below, I respond to some of these queries:

First, why is the CPI based on perceptions? This is because Corruption is notoriously difficult to measure objectively. There is a lack of reliable official statistics on corruption. This, coupled with a variety of legal and administrative frameworks – based on differing levels of quality and digitalisation of government information across countries and regions. This makes their comparison time consuming, expensive and technically challenging.

Furthermore, while some types of corruption such as bribery or the use of personal connections, can be measured through household surveys such as the Global Corruption Barometer, other manifestations of the problem, particularly grand corruption, are much more difficult to capture through experience data. We thus rely on expert perceptions to provide a holistic picture of public sector corruption across countries.

Why expert perceptions? The CPI does not include public perceptions of corruption because the purpose of the Index is to produce an indicator of corruption that can be replicated every year to measure progress over time and across countries. Representing public opinion is incredibly valuable but also requires extensive surveying. This is costly, time consuming and especially difficult given that people in some countries do not feel they can speak freely about corruption for fear of retaliation.

Why focus on mainly score and not rank? This is because the score is the actual measurement of a country’s level of corruption on a scale of 0-100 (where 0 means highly corrupt and 100 means very clean). Rank is just its position relative to other countries in the index, so it can change for reasons that are totally unrelated to what is happening within the country. For example, if Country A loses points, it might drop below Country B in the rankings. Country B will then see their ranking go up, even though corruption levels in Country B have not changed. We focus on score to assess what has changed within one country as opposed to comparing it to others.

Is it possible for a Country like Uganda that has faced corruption/scandal to still improve on the CPI? This is possible simply because corruption scandals do not necessarily mean that corruption in a country is on the rise. In some ways, scandals can be a sign that anti-corruption watchdogs and institutions are active and doing their jobs. When corruption is being reported, this points to the existence of either an independent media or a strong judiciary to prosecute allegations. Because the CPI is based on the assessments of experts and business executives who have advanced knowledge and do not exclusively rely on media reporting to develop their views, it is also less volatile to the immediate news environment. Furthermore, the CPI is based on many different factors, so one scandal may not significantly impact the score. If the scandal is not involving public sector corruption it would not be reflected in the CPI. Finally, the timing of the scandal could also be a factor: the CPI is made up of 13 data sources, many of which have a data collection period that may end before more recent events occurred.

Is it possible for a country like Uganda to implement new measures to protect against corruption but still decline on the Index? No country has achieved a perfect 100 score on the CPI, so every country has room for improvement. A score may have dropped because developments have happened too recently to be incorporated into data collection periods for this year’s sources or because that country still has significant work to do in another area. It is also important to remember that passing new laws, regulations or creating new agencies does not automatically translate into better control of corruption. In many countries there is still a big gap in what the law says and their implementation, including how politics work or services are provided.

With this information, I believe that we shall appreciate the CPI results and strategise on how best to improve Uganda’s score.

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