What does Israel’s drop in global corruption index mean?

Israel's fall in the Transparency International corruption index is an opportunity to diagnose the public sector's problems.

money under the table corruption 311 (photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
money under the table corruption 311
(photo credit: Thinkstock/Imagebank)
Every year at this time the international anti-corruption NGO Transparency International publishes its Corruption Perceptions Index. The index ranks almost 200 countries based on a composite of corruption measures compiled by a variety of other organizations, public and proprietary.
The publication serves as an annual opportunity to consider how Israel fares, and how it ranks, in its public sector ethics. It is inappropriate to attach too much importance to year-to-year fluctuations in Israel’s score, but it is appropriate to take advantage of this opportunity and see what the report teaches us.
Last year Israel came in at number 30 in the world; this year it is No. 36, with a score of 5.8 out of 10. At the top of the scale are New Zealand (9.5), Denmark and Finland (both 9.4); at the bottom are Somalia and North Korea (each with a score of 1).
It is impossible to state with confidence that Israel is less corrupt than nearby Malta (No. 39) or more corrupt than nearby Portugal (No. 32), but it is a fair bet that there is more corruption here than in France (No. 23, score 7) and less than in Italy (No. 69, score 3.9). The scale is far from precise, but it is also far from useless.
Likewise, regarding the drop from No. 30 to No. 36. It is not certain that Israel has worse public-sector ethics this year than last year, but it is a safe bet that it did not improve significantly and that we are not getting closer to New Zealand and Denmark.
Particularly worrisome are two of the subcategories in which Israel’s score fell significantly: the Global Insight country risk rating and the World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report scale. The reason is that these questions do not relate so much to broad overall impressions; rather, they discuss detailed questions: “The likelihood of encountering corrupt officials, ranging from petty bureaucratic corruption to grand political corruption,” and the score for “Undocumented extra payments or bribes connected with 1) exports and imports, 2) public utilities, 3)tax collection, 4) public contracts and 5) judicial decisions are common/never occur.”
The publication of the Transparency International index should not be an occasion for despair or breast-beating; Israel’s score still places it squarely within the ranks of civilized First World countries. But it is certainly an appropriate occasion for introspection and an attempt to diagnose the specific public-sector ills that are keeping Israel from the clean, high-functioning public sectors of the leading countries on the TI index.
[email protected]
Asher Meir is research director at the Business Ethics Center of Jerusalem, an independent institute in the Jerusalem