“If you cannot measure it, you cannot improve it” . . . . . Lord Kelvin
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  • HSI Component: Corruption control / Governance

    Posted on November 2nd, 2009 editor0 No comments

    Do people feel safe that human security is a focus of government leaders, and that businesses are customer- focused? Although businesses may be entitled to a fair profit, are corporate leaders getting platinum packages while the average person gets mud? Are bribes and lobbying co-opting decision- makers away from public service and toward individual interests of a few?

    People feel more secure when government’s focus is on “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Traditionally, one might attribute subterfuge or co-option by special interests against such focus to corruption.

    Anything which un- levels the playing field in favour of insiders or an “oligarchy” which costs the people as a whole, contributes to reduced human security. (If you can think of an exception, please comment on it below.) Though corruption is often thought of as associated with abuse (e.g. bribery and influence peddling) by individuals who may use situations or positions for inappropriate monetary gain, this research considers that a wider process may be involved. For example, “the established way of doing things”, which may be institution- centred rather than service- oriented for the people, and may no longer be appropriate with new approaches available, may be just as negative an impact on human security.

    • For example, imagine having your phone or credit card bill managed as taxing authorities in the USA “administer” income taxes under its responsibility. Imagine being forced to carry two credit cards (or separate fixed and mobile phone accounts), each with its own labyrinthic, somewhat incompatible, “accounting” system – analogous to having separate Federal and State authorities to deal with. Imagine being required to record each phone call (including starting and ending times, number called, rate and cost) and credit card transaction – to be reported by you periodically to the phone and card companies. If you make a mistake that implies lower obligations you can be fined or jailed (or have your home raided and your computer and belongings seized). This could even happen if you paid “big bucks” to a private accountant, tax lawyer, or the like - you’re still responsible for their mistakes. If your bookkeeping options you choose result in higher payments, the tax folks may keep the money. Imagine being forced into such systems. Have you ever heard people call this inhumane, cruel, or dysfunctional / corrupt?
    • Now imagine a taxing authority that administers taxes like your phone provider or credit card issuer. You receive an accounting, with an opportunity to review and point out possible mistakes. Then you settle the bill (perhaps with a automated bill payment from or refund into your bank account). The latter can be done, and indeed is being done in well- run administrations. In this document (warning: this links to a .pdf – see page 3) Denmark led the process over a decade ago, and has been followed by Finland (warning: link is to a .pdf), Slovenia and several other [thus advanced in this regard] countries, with governments providing taxpayers with tax forms pre-filled – which the taxpayer checks for possible errors (as in a phone bill) for easier and fairer treatment of taxpayers, as well as better compliance.
    • So maintaining a system that does not smoothly deliver good governance while also providing as reasonable a service as possible for the people may be viewed as corrupt, and degrading to human security. Also, an extension to characterize the effectiveness of traditional and new media in exposing corruption and other bad governance would be a great enhancement to a social fabric index.

      Though the most well-known indicator of corruption may be Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, this effort uses the World Bank index on Control of Corruption, including traditionally considered “illegal” corruption, plus the embryonic concept of “legal” corruption (original paper) ; (updated paper) (warning: links are to .pdfs).

      Some people might expect a broader indicator of governance here. We looked at efforts such as the World Bank’s Governance Indicators, of government effectiveness, political stability & violence, regulatory quality, rule of law, and control of corruption. But when we attempted to adapt these to human security characterizations and strategizing, we ran into some difficulties. Firstly, we wonder if the concepts may be more western or urban than global in approach. For example, is a win-lose court system, in which people are trained to manipulate descriptions in order to win a case - good rule of law and governance - or is it the sometimes characterized “tyranny of lawyers?” Or is a system of mediation, in which the desired outcome is not win-lose but win-win (and a solution to the problem that everyone can except - rather than have arbitrarily imposed on them), preferable?

      We found the indicator becoming perceptive and useful for developing human security strategy immediately when data for “legal corruption” were combined with those for more widely discussed “illegal corruption.” Indeed, we considered these to be two links in a chain, where the weaker link most strongly influenced the outcome. Adding the other World Governance Indicators did not seem to change the character or strength / weakness of the chain - but only seemed to obfuscate the power of blending legal and illegal corruption. So our governance indicator is currently the minimum of legal or illegal corruption percentile figure for a country.

      As the HSI, and all its components, are designed to be working prototypes, we welcome ideas for additional data and hopefully introductions to curators of additional indicators in this arena. We also hope to find better ways to combine data.

      Please consider this a request for creating components of a richer governance component to the HSI.