Rubio: Corruption’s a Human Rights Problem


On the sidelines of a high-level workshop on international anti-corruption best practices, organised by the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (focal point of the local TI chapter in Nigeria, headed by Auwal Musa Ibrahim aka Rafsanjani) with support from the Ford Foundation and MacArthur Foundation, which took place in Abuja recently, Chair of Transparency International, Ms. Delia Ferreira Rubio, shared her views on corruption and other development issues, in an exclusive interview with Abimbola Akosile. Excerpts:

Can you tell us, who is Delia Ferriera Rubio, and why are you here in Nigeria?

I am from Argentina, I am a lawyer. And in October last year, I was elected Chair of Transparency International. Transparency International is a global organisation against corruption which has chapters in more than 100 countries and we have more than 20 individual members. This year, we are 25 years old and it is a great organisation and we have achieved lots of things in these 25 years.

In this first visit to Nigeria and Africa, what is your first impression about the people, about the environment?

Well, this is my first time here geographically in Africa, but I have been working with many of our chapters during our meetings and conferences in Berlin and in other parts of the world so I am familiar with the chapters that are working here in Africa and the work they are doing. The situation here in terms of corruption is not so different from the situation in my region Latin America; we have lots of countries that are performing very poorly in terms of corruption, and so the problems are common. The solutions may be similar and it is important to change to exchange experiences and learn from the experiences of other countries in the world, not just from the very transparent countries giving lessons to us but also collaborating among us with our common problems.

As the Chair of TI, can you tell us very briefly the differences between corruption perception and reality?

I suppose you are talking about our Index. The Index of perception in public sector corruption is an index of indexes, it’s not ran by Transparency International; all we do is to collect information from any sources which analyse governance, transparency questions in the countries and it is not an index to measure the quantity of corruption but how the public sector in one country is perceived by academics, specialists, experts and international organisations.

In that sense we then statistically produce an index from all these sources and that is what we produce each year as the index of perception of corruption. Some people say, okay, why don’t you measure the number of causes at the tribunals or courts for instance in order to know real cases of corruption or why don’t you measure convictions, which is even stronger; evidence-based decisions that convicted persons responsible for corruption.

The problem is that convictions or processes initiated in court doesn’t mean that the country is more or less corrupt. You can have lots of convictions because the country is very transparent and whenever a case appears, they manage to produce a conviction of those responsible. And you can have instances of lots of procedures open at the judiciary and at the courts and that is the consequence of a well-functioning system of anti-corruption. So, that is not really the fact; the fact that you have lots of convictions doesn’t mean you have lots of corruption. So we decided many years ago to resort to a proxy and the proxy is how the public sector is perceived in terms of corruption.

From the latest TI Corruption Perception Index ranking, around 69 per cent of the countries that were ranked scored below 50 marks out of 100. It paints a gloomy picture; does it give any room for improvement?

Yes, it gives room for improvement; without that I hope, I wouldn’t have been working 30 years in anti-corruption in a country which ranking is very low in the scale, which is my country Argentina. I think that a factor which is important is that corruption is a pervasive and endemic reality in many of our countries and that means we have a challenge to face and to tackle. You mentioned 69 per cent of the countries; this year we analysed 180 countries in the world. In order to be considered in the index the country has to be analysed at least by three international sources measuring governance and anti-corruption. So from these 180 countries, 69 per cent are under 50 marks. Our scale goes from 100 marks which means highly transparent to zero mark which means highly corrupt. And the importance of this 69 per cent of the countries below 50 marks is that they represent, they are the countries where more than 6 billion people are living. And that is really what struck me because it shows that corruption really is a human rights problem. It means that more than 6 billion people are exposed to corruption every day in their lives when they want a place in the school or a bed in the hospital or they want a subsidy, a social subsidy, from the state or they want the ID card and in order to get that they have to pay a bribe.

But not only that; in those countries we have also not just petty corruption produced by interactions with individuals not at a very high level of the decision-making process. These countries also have grand corruption and grand corruption means other forms of victimisation of the society in general. Because it means the public resources are going to private pockets, not only private pockets in the country but also travelling to havens, tax havens or money laundering havens…

Capital flight…

Yeah, and this means stolen assets from the people. So the money which is not in schools, in roads, in hospitals, in water, in sanitation is the money of the corruption. So in that sense again, corruption is a problem of human rights and ordinary lives of the people in our countries. They are really the victims and that is why they should be involved in the fight against corruption.

In the 2017 CP Index, Nigeria scored 27 marks and slid down 12 places…what is your take on this?

My personal opinion is that you have to look at the relation of the scores that the country has been getting through the years because that depends on the country’s activities. The ranking may be influenced by the position of the performance of other countries in the neighbourhood of the ranking. So you can go up or down depending on the quantity of countries in each of the CPI each year or the relative performance of that country. But in order to assess how a country is doing, now we can compare the scores one year after one year.

And many people have told me, okay, we have passed the laws, we have created the agencies, in fact we have lots of agencies here in Nigeria and it has not been reflected in the Index. Number one, the index has not an immediate reflection of this kind of things because it is a perception index. So in order to regain trust and regain confidence and reputation, you have to have the rules passed and the agencies approved or created but you have to have the time to show the world that they are implemented, that they are effective and that they have made a difference from before. So probably it takes more than just one year or more in order to have the change in the score of the country.

But nevertheless it is not enough to create rules or pass laws or to create agencies, or to appoint persons in certain responsibilities. What is important is, what is the impact of that in the corruption situation in the country?

Nigeria has made a fight against corruption a top priority especially this current administration. And when that ranking came out they protested that it does not reflect the efforts that they have been making in the anti-corruption war. Do you think that protest is justified?

It is the protest that I receive in many countries; where they think they are doing the right thing and they are not being reflected so strongly in the Index. It’s the same protest that my President in Argentina formulated to me regarding the CPI. We have done a lot of things and instead of the 36 we got last year, this year we had 39. In Argentina, to pass one grade in the school, you have to get four, so we are not passing grade; that is my metaphor. But the government has done many things, they have passed the Access to Information law and created some open contracting systems in order to make procurement transparent in the country and it is probably the same situation here. But that’s not enough in order to change the perception that the world has in relation to that.

Are there any positives from the CPI that countries such as Nigeria can learn from to improve their global perception?

Well, I think the first thing is that the TI Corruption Perception Index is a really-used tool that by those deciding investments. So it’s important to perform well and to pay attention. Transparency International is not an anti-government organisation. Transparency International is fighting for better governance, better democracy, open government, inclusiveness, equality; all the characteristics of democracy. And in asking or demanding that, we are pointing out some problems and the Index has that in relation to the public sector. But it doesn’t mean that the public sector is alone in the problem.

Corruption is like tango; you need two to dance tango, and that is the one who asks for bribe and the one who pays the bribe for the procurement arrangement. And both of them are part of the problem, and we work both with government and the business sector in order to guarantee an integrity context for the relation.

Now you spoke about the four ‘I’s, are they universally applicable?

I think they are; that is the usefulness of the formula. I created the formula just as a teacher in order to be clearer and I was happy that people can remember. And then everything that we have been discussing in this high-level workshop, everything has to do with either one of the four Is because we have talked about information disclosure, or open contracting. This is one sphere, we have been talking about ethics, the right and wrongs, the honest, the integrity laws and that is integrity.

And we have been talking about convictions, the consequences of a corrupt deal or a corrupt conduct and we have asked for sanctions. This has to do with less impunity. But we are also saying that public officials are not the product of a planet called corruptum; corruptum that is the extreme. The people in government are our students, friends, neighbours and the products of the society. And some societies are indifferent towards corruption; the message they send us is, okay, let’s keep on going because this is the normal way of doing things in this country. And that message is really the wrong incentive in a society because it normalise corruption instead of putting an end to corruption. So that is the fourth 1, which is stop indifference or reduce indifference and the wonderful goal would be zero tolerance to corruption.

Which individual or group holds the key to improving corruption perception in any country?

Well, the government as a whole has the responsibility of passing the laws and implementing them, to fulfil the commitment against corruption because all governments say, when they assume office, “We are committed to fight corruption”. No one says I will be a corrupt government; I am committed against corruption. I think in many countries they are clear what corruption means, but they are not so clear about the meaning of commitment. And commitment means action and compromise and leading by example. Fixing the tone at the top of the government is very important in sending a message. So the government has the responsibility of doing what is government’s responsibility, passing laws, the judges applying the laws and the executive implementing the laws.

The citizens have something to do; they have to demand transparency; to be very clear in their pressure for transparent government; to ask for information and to use the information for participation, for monitoring, for deciding who to elect in the election in the country. Everybody has something to do.

In terms of expressly the Index, of course if you are in the country, if you are a specialist, if you are from another country but doing business here, that is the person that we approach for doing surveys for the index. About the CPI with Transparency International, we are just receiving the opinions of experts, analysts, opinion leaders; the focus is how they perceive the country.

The CPI is an important tool and we keep on explaining and we are very transparent in our methodology, all the sources are available, all the scores are available, and you can see it, everybody can see it on the Internet; it is easy to find out and simple to understand.

I am used, as I said, to receiving this kind of question not only from journalists but from the Presidents themselves.

So Nigeria’s reaction is not peculiar?

No, no, not at all. It is common. For instance, new president that was elected asked me, “Delia, I want to better the position of my country in the CPI, what can I do?” And I say, “Don’t talk to me, do your work and they will be seen that you are doing it. I cannot change anything.”

So what do we expect from the next ranking; do you expect improvements based on lessons learnt from the CPI 2017?

Not in particular for any country, but I hope that in general we have less than 69 per cent of the countries below 50 marks. That would be a hope; we are reflecting the reality; we are reflecting a perception which is there. We cannot change that perception.

Lastly, what are you taking back to Argentina as regards Nigeria?

Well, you see the similarity of the problems very clearly, and the possibility to cooperate in order to solve these problems. I have been asking for this South-South cooperation between Africa and Latin America for many years. For Transparency International we are working now in this sense and we think that we cannot teach you anything. We can tell you our problems and how we are trying to tackle them. Because probably talking together you can give me an idea and I will share with you some ideas. So it is an interchange of experiences, like conversations among countries.