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Global corruption ranking polls ‘experts’ but not common folk

Malta gained 1 point in Transparency International’s corruption perception index, but this newspaper’s surveys registered renewed concern over corruption. The fundamental difference is simple: MaltaToday's surveys actually ask people what they think

Matthew Vella
18 February 2016, 8:11am
The PN billboard erected outside the Café Premier. The fact that 26% of Nationalist voters (2013 election) said they viewed corruption as a concern, as opposed to just 2.4% of Labourites, shows just how politically charged perceptions are
Since the twilight of the Gonzi administration, much store was set by Malta’s worsening global rank in Transparency International’s ‘corruption perceptions index’. But last week, Labour oversaw a one-point improvement in the CPI index – the same week that MaltaToday’s survey on concerns registered a seven-point increase in people’s worries about corruption.

While the government can boast it has improved in Transparency International’s ranking on corruption perceptions, Labour’s promise as the great white hope to rid the island of its problems with nepotism and corruption may have fallen flat.

Only a regular survey on major concerns – MaltaToday’s surveys – seems to be the only publicly-available, reliable confirmation of what the man in the street thinks.

Corruption worries grew by 6.6 points over September 2015, to become the fourth main concern for the Maltese after bus problems, migration, and traffic congestion.

The fact that 26% of Nationalist voters (2013 election) said they viewed corruption as a concern, as opposed to just 2.4% of Labourites, shows just how politically charged perceptions are. But so are switchers – the ones who voted Labour in 2013 after having voted Nationalist in 2008 – judging corruption as their second highest concern (20%).

In the last three years, Joseph Muscat saw two major scandals – bailing out the leaseholders of the Café Premier with €4.3 million for them to avoid court action for not paying their government lease payments and hand back their 65-year ownership; and an irregular expropriation of Marco Gaffarena’s 50% share of a Valletta property that has cost Muscat’s junior minister, Michael Falzon, his job. Both scandals concern the department of lands, which falls in Muscat’s portfolio.

But corruption also affects people differently according to their educational level, an indication of which socio-economic groups can leverage their knowledge to demand their rights: 30.4% of university-educated respondents told MaltaToday corruption worries them, but only 6.9% with primary education had the same concern – the latter group, who may include elder respondents, are more concerned about inflation, low income, traffic and migrants.

The question to policymakers is whether they should be ignoring what switchers and university-educated voters say, appearing to be at loggerheads with the impression that Transparency International’s CPI gives after bumping Malta up a few notches in the ranking.

The reason for this is partly found in CPI’s methodology, which uses 12 data sources that provide perceptions of business people and country experts on the level of corruption in the public sector. Malta’s score was calculated using only four of the sources, when the top 20 ‘least corrupt’ countries had scores based on seven data sources – a far more dependable ranking.

Crucially, none of the four indexes used for Malta appeared to have used popular polling. 

The World Economic Forum’s executive opinion survey (EOS) is an annual survey of business executives; the Bertelsmann Foundation’s sustainable governance indicators (SGI) examine governance and policymaking in all OECD and EU member states in order to evaluate each country’s need for, and ability to carry out, reform; the Political Risk Services (PRS) of New York assess risk profiles; and the Global Insight country risk ratings are compiled by 100 in-house country specialists, who also draw on the expert opinions of in-country freelancers.

Back to the ground-zero of public opinion, none of these fancy acronyms make much sense. It is words such as ‘Café Premier’ or ‘Gaffarena’ that instantly conjure up unhappy connotations of politicians still doing what they know how to do best: make friends happy at taxpayers’ expense.

Only in 2015, the public was also regaled with a few other choice examples: Joe Cassar’s resignation as MP after being revealed not to have declared house works financed by Joe Gaffarena when he was a PN minister; and Giovanna Debono’s ‘departure’ from the PN bench after her husband was charged with using ministerial budgets to finance private constituents’ public works.

So how, after promises of ditching political back-scratching, are we still here? Public policy expert Godfrey Pirotta’s pithy explanation in Public Life In Malta from 2012, still rings true: “Our politicians, and many of their hangers-on and officials, see themselves and are seen by their electorates and the public in general to be above the law. No matter the seriousness of the scandal they are certain the ‘Go to Jail’ card in their game of political monopoly was never inserted in the pack.”

Matthew Vella is editor and MaltaToday on Sunday.

He joined Mediat...
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