India ranks 11th, China 48th on Global Integrity’s index
Reported by Amulya Gopalakrishnan, February 01, 2008 in Indian Express Newspaper

New Delhi, January 31 : India’s anti-corruption laws score a thumping 100 on 100, but its citizens can’t bring themselves to trust the system. And there’s a good reason for the “pervasive pessimism about corruption”. India is ranked 11th among 55 countries for governance and anti-corruption standards in the recent report released by the independent watchdog organisation Global Integrity.

Elections are symbolically invested with the entire burden of democracy, but as the report points out, good governance hinges on many other structural factors. Without work accountability and transparency mechanisms, the system can undermine itself. A free media, a flourishing civil society, institutional checks and balances and internal monitoring of corruption are also crucial to a well-governed nation. The integrity index is calculated across all these categories.

India’s ‘moderate’ showing of 75 points is a combination of robust institutions and lack of accountability in key areas. While anti-corruption legislation is excellent, law enforcement is weak. The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) also gets a thumbs up for “being independent and well-staffed”. But the index punctures India’s boast of a free press—the report claims that journalists are often harassed for reporting corruption. Judicial accountability has also been judged as ‘very weak’. Other problem areas are bureaucratic nepotism and off-the-books political financing.

The index is a demanding one. Though the United States and Bulgaria scored the best stats (87 points), neither made the top rating of “very strong”. Sixty per cent of the countries studied received overall ratings of “weak” or “very weak”. Latvia, Spain, Japan, Italy, Romania, Canada, Costa Rica and France are also ahead of India, while Lebanon finished last.

Next door to us, China and Pakistan have depressing records—? China, which finished 48th, has dismal graft records and Pakistan has all too many laws with minimal enforcement. The lack of established correlation between elections and government responsiveness suggests that it may be more worthwhile for crisis-ridden countries to focus on gradual institutional and legal improvement instead of merely fixating on how elections are held. So Pakistan’s elections, regardless of their outcome, will “mean little to the country’s chances for a transparent and accountable government” without structural reform, according to Global Integrity. Ditto for Ukraine and Gerogia.

“Election-rich” countries were just as likely to face Government accountability problems as election-poor ones. Which is why India, the “world’s largest democracy” was still assessed as “weak” by Global Integrity in 2004. Another key finding of the report is that wealthier G-8 countries were up against the same challenges as developing countries.

Unlike the comparable Transparency International or World Bank indices that are mostly based on third-party opinion polls and assessments, the Global Integrity index is based on original empirical research and peer-reviewed commentary, with hired local experts.