Why a new measurement of transparency?

A measurement of actual transparency at national level has not existed so far.

The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) is an average of expert scores produced by a variety of agencies assessing corruption at the national level as perceived by experts and businesspeople. It is an aggregate of corruption risk perception and does not measure transparency.

The attempts to measure real transparency have come in general by sector: statistical data available to the World Bank, pharmaceutical sector data, party finance data, procurement data. Such measurements have the advantage of specificity and actionability. The European Public Procurement Scoreboard, for instance, permanently publishes how transparent the bidding process is by member state, thus offering both benchmarks and policy warnings. However, comprehensive measures of real (de facto) transparency are not easy to come by in a comparative format for multiple countries, despite transparency being enabled by digitalization. The only way to assess de facto transparency then is to directly observe the existence of such data, its accessibility and coverage – the practice of transparency rather than just the legal provision of it or its formal presence.

The existence of such a measurement would bring important advantages for public policy and good governance. It would allow establishing benchmarks of transparency, and thus inform a very specific reform agenda. It would offer an international ranking based on facts, not perceptions, which would not only incentivize countries to progress (as CPI is used mostly for naming and shaming) but also offer specific policy targets. Finally, it would allow policy relevant research, as the resulting measurement can be tested in relation with curbing corruption. This is what we propose in this exercise.

What concept do we measure?

Archon Fung proposed the concept of “democratic transparency” and the principles that should guide it. These are availability (citizens need information to protect their interests), proportionality (the need to disclose information to the public proportional to potential threat), accessibility (the format should enable understanding) and actionability (citizens and organizations should be able to act upon the information). We define transparency as the available and accessible (free of cost) minimal public information required to deter corruption and enable public accountability in a society. We build our definition on the fact that corruption is deterred to a great extent not by offensive actions against it, but by the capacity of every individual to defend herself from being abused and discriminated. Corruption in a democracy often results in discrimination, as few states dispose of unlimited resources, where favors granted to some individuals or companies would not result in the deprivation of others of similar merit.

Government transparency, thus, implies that reliable, relevant, and timely information about government activities is available to the public, enabling it to defend itself from discrimination resulting from governance based on favouritism and abuse of power (either due to connections or monetary inducements). The most familiar legal instrument of governmental transparency is “freedom of information” (FOI), which implies the right of citizens to request information, and an obligation of governments to either provide that information or explain why they will not. Nevertheless, in the age of Internet and e-government, transparency often becomes computer-mediated – with the generalization of smartphones raising access to unprecedented levels. Evidence exists that technology enables transparency. The advantage is that Internet-based transparency is easier to observe than classic transparency requiring paperwork and having significant time lags. This is the transparency that we measure.

How does transparency enable control of corruption?

Bounding transparency to what is most relevant for anti-corruption might be a highly arbitrary act if we do not understand the mechanism by which transparency enables control of corruption and miss significant benchmarks. Both corruption theory and the United Nations Convention against Corruption offer enough guidance, however. Transparency is explicitly mentioned among the ‘outcome targets’ list of United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 16 as in ‘developing effective, accountable and transparent institutions’ and ‘ensuring public access to information’, while being implicit in the other targets as well. It is also featured prominently in the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC, 2004), the only legally binding universal anti-corruption instrument. Transparency is covered under preventive measures, one of the five areas included in the treaty. The Convention specifies from Article 1 the obligation of all the state parties to govern on the basis of transparency, and goes on to spell out transparency as a key principle of public sector organization and function (Article 7, § 1a), political finance (Article 3), conflict of interest prevention (Article 4), public procurement (Article 9, § 1), public finance management (9, §§ 2 and 3), public reporting and proactive disclosure of information, including on policy formulation (Article 10), ownership of private entities (Article 12, § 2c) and any information enabling oversight, and “the freedom to seek, receive, publish and disseminate information concerning corruption” (Article 13, § 1d). We thus use UNCAC to limit the categories of information that a government should offer to enable democratic accountability.

How do we select the indicators?

The main procedure for building a transparency index includes selecting appropriate transparency indicators and then weighting and aggregating them into a composite index. Transparency can hardly be seen as a unidimensional concept. At least two distinctive categories can be conceived, namely legal (de jure) and in practice (de facto, real) transparency. This distinction seems to be significant in relation to the rule of law, where apparently little correlation exists between formal rules (constitutional arrangements) and informal norms (independence of the judiciary or lack thereof), as well as in anti-corruption, where the evidence also shows that the most corrupt countries also tend to have the most comprehensive anti-corruption regulation[1]. It is very likely that transparency is no exception. The weak effect of FOI laws reported in more recent literature may be explained by their mere formal nature, since we have no information as to how well such laws are implemented. To measure transparency and its effect on corruption we would then need two sets of indicators: one for de jure transparency and the other on de facto transparency. The advantage of collecting both is that we can also test to what extent regulation produces the expected outcome, i.e. delivers actual transparency.

How do we do that? Nothing is easier than de jure measurements: the most used transparency measures relied on adopted FOI acts, from simpler to more complex measures. Other relevant rules and conventions with key transparency provisions exist and are broader than just Europe in focus: the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI), the United Nations Convention against Corruption (references to transparency in practically every chapter), the Anti-Money Laundering Convention and the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention. Countries pledge for transparency also when joining the Open Government Partnership. While international treaties have weak enforcement in general, all the above do have clear monitoring mechanisms, unlike other pledges for transparency that countries make (for instance, associated to free trade agreements). Therefore, they can help to assess de jure transparency and provide the national and international transparency benchmarks that a country adheres to.

However, de facto transparency is more difficult to limit (it can be improved almost ad infinitum). The list of indicators selected could grow endlessly, as transparency is not a finite concept. Environment data, food safety data, health and education data, various kinds of archival data all may prove important to preventing corruption in one situation or another. We eliminate non-universal categories which could impend comparison across a large number of countries (for instance, websites which disclose party finances, important only for democracies). All the other elements required by UNCAC are captured. By assessing financial and public procurement transparency we cut across these sectors to some extent in the highest risk areas, while preserving the feasibility of observing these indicators for as many countries as possible.

The de facto T-index has 14 dimensions, grouped in three meta dimensions which capture basic transparency provisions for effective anti-corruption, i.e., what any country should have to enable control of corruption, a minimal core of Internet based resources: administrative transparency, judicial transparency, and transparency of public officials. The anti-corruption international agreements and treaties compiled in the de jure index, on the other side, include six legal documents (see Table 1).

Table 1. Components of T-Index de jure dimensions

De jure transparency (laws and treaties)

UNCAC ratification

Membership to Open Government Partnership (OGP)

FOI act present in national legislation

Membership to Extractive Industry Transparency initiative (EITI)

Ratification of the OECD Convention against Bribery of International Officials or regional equivalent acts (e.g. regional trade treaties including transparency provisions)

Part of the Financial Action Task Force against Money Laundering.

We code our observations of de facto transparency in a trichotomous way:

  • the resource is publicly and freely accessible with all essential information - criteria satisfied in full (1 point);
  • the resource exists, but information is either partial (in content or coverage) or access is restricted in some form (e.g. payment required, only certain categories of users can access) - criteria satisfied in part (0.5 point);
  • the resource does not exist or is clearly insufficient in substance to enable citizens in a meaningful way (e.g. available data is too general or outdated) - criteria not fulfilled (0 points).

As each category has its separate theoretical importance which cannot be statistically tested against the whole, to aggregate the index we use a qualitative method similar to building an index of qualitative variation (IQV). The availability of the 14 resources in full is considered the ‘anti-corruption transparency’ target, and each component adds up equally to fulfill it to 100%, which is the equivalent of the maximum score of 14 points. A country’s score represents the percentage to which the target is fulfilled. The same logic is applied to the de jure and the total T-Index scores, bringing the total up to 20 points. Expanding the scale with more items will make it more refined and reduce the individual contribution of each item. The resulting index is internally consistent and correlates well with measures of corruption and democracy. Follow our publications on this issue for more details.

Why and how should you use this index?

As any other similar aggregated index at the country level, the T-Index can also serve a “naming and shaming” purpose, identifying good and bad performers in the field of government transparency, giving visibility to best practices and (hopefully) producing incentives for laggards to improve transparency standards.

But more importantly, by capturing real instead of just formal transparency the novel de facto T-Index and its disaggregated components offer a unique and valuable diagnosis tool especially for international donors, as well as practitioners and activists in the field of government transparency, helping to identify benchmarks and concrete gaps in the availability of public information in each individual area assessed by the index. This can be useful for better-targeted local advocacy efforts demanding increased transparency where it is most lacking.

Additionally, for the academic community, the T-Index may serve as a better and more valid measurement of government transparency, filling an important gap in the measure of this phenomenon.


Questionnaire used

Q1

Are past public expenditures published online? (1 point)

  1. Last fiscal year expenditure report is accessible online in its detailed form = 1
  2. Last fiscal year expenditure report is accessible online with limited detail = 0.5
  3. Not available online or too generic (only aggregated data) = 0

Note: Expenditure reports are considered as fully detailed if they are at least disaggregated by agency AND object of expenditure, allowing citizens to understand how money was spent and not just how much money was spent in a specific domain. Reports are considered as having limited detail if they are disaggregated in other forms but not by expenditure object. The time frame for analysis adopts the same criteria as the Open Budget Survey, and reporting on the last fiscal year is considered timely when information is made available within 12 months of the end of the fiscal year.

Q2

Are current public expenditures published online? (1 point)

A) Data is available through an online tracking system with itemized expenditures (e.g. copy machine) = 1

B) Data is available through an online tracking system that is not itemized OR through fairly detailed budget execution reports = 0.5

C) Not available online or too generic (only aggregated data) = 0

Note: For response B, reports are considered to be fairly detailed when they include data disaggregated by agency AND object of expenditure. Current public expenditures should be published online within maximum 6 months of their occurrence for a country to score in this question.

Q3

Is there a centralized public procurement portal where both tenders and contract awards are posted? (1 point)

A) Calls for bids AND award notices are published = 1

B) Only call for bids OR award notices are published = 0.5

C) No procurement portal exists OR information published is minimal (selected procedures only) = 0

Note: A full score requires that award notices include at least the winner's name and contract value.

Q4

Is there an online land cadaster where property ownership is disclosed? (1 point)

A) Cadaster data is fully accessible online= 1

B) Cadaster data is partial OR limited in geographic coverage OR access requires payment = 0.5

C) Not available online = 0

Q5

Is there a register of commerce where shareholders and main data of companies is published? (1 point)

A) Business registry is fully and freely available online = 1

1 point also when the register is run by a private company.

B) Information is partial or access to relevant information is paid = 0.5

C) Not available online = 0

Q6

Is the annual report of the Supreme Audit Institution publicly posted?

(1 point)

A) Annual report is available online with detailed information on individual audit results = 1

Cases where the report is not comprehensive, but all individual reports are easily accessible are granted a full point as well.

B) Annual report has information on selected audits (and audit results are not available elsewhere) = 0.5

C) No (current) report is available online = 0

Q7

Are supreme court hearing schedules public and accessible online? (1 point)

A) All court information available online = 1

B) Not all information public, politically sensitive cases not available = 0.5

C) Not available online = 0

Note: For countries where multiple superior courts exist, the court considered is the highest court of appeal. The schedule is considered public when published at least one day in advance to the court's session. If the ruling dates are provided only on a case-basis (no full schedule available), the score is 0.5 point. If there is information on the dates in which the court will have its sessions but without listing the cases that will be decided, the information is considered insufficient, and the score is zero.

Q8

Are supreme court sentences published online? (1 point)

A) All court sentences available online = 1

B) Not all information public, politically sensitive cases not available = 0.5

C) Not available online = 0

Note: For countries where multiple superior courts exist, the court considered is the highest court of appeal. Sentences are considered published when accompanied by their reasoning / justification. A full point is also given if sentences are visible via case-search with public access.

Q9

Are financial disclosures of officials publicly available online? (1 point)

A) Available for all officials required to declare = 1

B) Available only for part of the officials required to declare (e.g. top officials) = 0.5

C) Not available online (or only upon request) = 0

Q10

Are conflict of interest disclosures of officials publicly available online?

(1 point)

A) Available for all officials required to declare = 1

B) Available only for part of the officials required to declare (e.g. top officials) = 0.5

C) Not available online (or only upon request) = 0

Note: In cases where no specific interest disclosure is required but relevant information is included in the financial disclosures (e.g. shares in companies, financial disclosure of relatives) AND those are public, criteria for this question are also considered as fulfilled.

Q11

Are incoming and outcoming donor funds’ allocations published? (1 point)

A) Incoming/outcoming donor funds (or both whenever applicable) are available = 1

B) Only incoming OR outcoming donor funds are available in a situation when there should be both = 0.5

A half point is also given if information is partial.

C) Not available online = 0

Note: A full score requires that aid allocations specify amounts disaggregated at least by donor/recipient country.

Q12

Are mining concessions publicly posted? (1 point)

A) Information on mining concessions/licenses/titles is fully available = 1

B) Information on mining concessions/licenses/titles is partially available or access is paid = 0.5

C) Not available online = 0

Note: A full score requires that data on mining concessions specify at least location, beneficiary, and time frame of the concession. Cases in which the information is available but not fully up to date are granted a 0.5 point – given the usual long timeframe of mining concessions, the information is still considered of relevance to the public.

Q13

Are construction permits in the country’s capital city publicly posted? (1 point)

A) Information on issued construction permits is fully available = 1

B) Information on issued construction permits is partially available OR access is paid = 0.5

C) Not available online = 0

Note: A full score is given when at least the address and the name of the applicant are published. In case there is an electronic portal for applying for construction permits but it does not publish the awarded permits, the information is considered insufficient, and the score is zero.

Q14

Is there an online gazette or a government portal which publishes all official legislation for everybody to access? (1 point)

A) Yes = 1

B) Yes, but the access is paid OR the information is only partially provided = 0.5

C) No = 0


[1] Gutmann, J., & Voigt, S. (2020). Judicial independence in the EU: a puzzle. European Journal of Law and Economics, 49(1), 83-100; Mungiu-Pippidi, A., & Dadašov, R. (2017). When do anti-corruption laws matter? The evidence on public integrity enabling contexts. Crime, Law and Social Change, 68(4), 387-402.