Bribery in Russia has Either Recently Soared… or Plummeted

Or neither. Well, isn’t this a useless post?

I am referring to the Global Corruption Barometer released by Transparency International a couple of weeks ago, which I covered at my other blog. For the most part, there were no surprises; the only really strange figures came from Taiwan, where 36% of people claimed to have paid a bribe in the past year. Otherwise, the results largely cut to popular perceptions and stereotypes of corruption in various countries.

The really bad thing is that this time round there was no bribery incidence data for Russia, not to mention eleven other countries – and China wasn’t included in the survey at all. I investigated this further, and was told that Russia’s results along with those of the eleven other countries didn’t pass Transparency International’s validity and reliability tests.

Enquiring further, I got the following answers from the GCB research team:

(1) Why didn’t Russia’s incidence of bribery data (as well as several other major countries like Brazil, France, and Germany) pass TI’s validity and reliability tests for inclusion?

Now in its 8th edition, we have several years of past data on these questions and have data from other surveys which ask similar questions of people’s experience with bribery. We can therefore use this data to identify where the results for a particular country are volatile over time and across surveys and therefore less reliable as a data point for that country. For 12 countries including Russia, the data gathered in this years GCB for the bribery question can be identified as an outlier when compared with other available data and was therefore excluded from the final report

(2) Would it be possible to get access to Russia’s bribery data anyway, with the caveat that those figures would have a lower degree of reliability and should not therefore be counted as part of Transparency’s official records?

I am afraid not. We take the findings of this survey very seriously as a reflection of people’s views and experiences of corruption. Given the importance of this data and how it can be used to inform the fight against corruption, we will not making available data that does not pass our validity and reliability tests.

Would it be possible for you to at least indicate whether Russia’s outlier this year was above or below the trend? It would at least give me some sense of comparative perspective should Russian polling agencies come out with their own bribery polls this year.

As we do not have confidence in the reliability of the data I can not provide further information on this to you.

Well, I tried. But the results for this year must remain a total blank. You are free to speculate whether there could have been any political motivations to that.

For my part, I will just say that this is a real shame since at this rate the next time we’ll get data for Russia from the GCB – assuming its data passes their validity and reliability filters next time round – will be in 2015.

So for now DR readers will have to be satisfied with a bribery incidence graph that only stretches to 2012. Let us hope that Russian pollsters move in to fill the gap left by the GCB sooner rather later.

UPDATE: Thanks to Fedia Kriukov (for digging up the article) and Moscow Exile (for translating it at The Russian Spectrum): A Crisis of Zombification: How Transparency International failed on The Russia Corruption Rating.

Please read it.  The author, Andrey Kamenetsky, pretty much conclusively demonstrates that the reason Transparency International didn’t include Russia’s bribery incidence data in their 2013 report was because it was lower than expected.


  1. Fedia Kriukov says:

    Apparently, plummeted… if you choose to believe this interpretation:

    The perception, of course, soared.

    • I believe we have a candidate article for urgent translation. You or me?

      • Fedia Kriukov says:

        Sorry, it’ll have to be you, I’m a bit busy this week. 🙁

        • moscowexile says:

          The translation of a non-native Russian speaker:

          July 24, 2013
          Andrey Kamenetsky

          Dear readers,
          In July there took place two major crashes in Russia. Both of them were very revealing, but only one carried a wide resonance: the “Proton-M”rocket accident. We shall now have a talk about the second crash, which was in its own way also catastrophic.

          The puzzle hasn’t been solved
          I’m talking about the unexpected failure of the now traditional fun and games ratings that annually “equates Russia with Zimbabwe”. One of the leading international human rights organizations that regularly publishes its corruption ratings, Transparency International, has this time not included Russia in its bribe-taking rating because of a “technical fault” caused by the receipt of research information that had not been verified for its authenticity. Because of this, a whole row of data has been removed from the process, and instead of the usual solid news about how everything is terrible in Russia, there has spilled out into the media a whole pile of claims made against one another by the organizers.
          What makes this story piquant is the fact that all the interested parties are organizations of word-wide renown. The research data customer, Transparency International, has come down on its research agent, the international sociological corporation Gallup. Even more interesting is that as the conflict widens, their representatives are beginning to remember things amongst themselves and have even started to talk, which used to be considered quite indecent.
          “Judging by the received data, the question was either misunderstood or incorrectly set by the company that undertook the research”, pointed out Transparency International Research Director, Finn Heinrich.
          Gallup, in the shape of its legal entity “Romir” – its exclusive representative in Russia and the Ukraine – does not accept this claim. Not to be outdone, “Romir” Communications Director Evgeniya Rubtsova has stated:
          “After we had passed on the data, nobody contacted us further and there were no requests for clarifications and amplifications. They (Transparency International) are customers of our research data, so they interpret the data that they receive from us. Unfortunately, we have already experienced precedents, wherein they have shown some data while there has been other data that they have not shown, and on some issues, in comparison with other countries, Russia has come out of this in a not too favourable light.”
          However, the accuracy of the answers to other questions suits the research client. Anton Pominov, deputy director of the Russian branch of Transparency International Research, said that: “It is alarming that no one really believes that the anti-corruption strategy, which was begun by President Medvedev in 2008, is effective. Citizens have now completely cast off their rose-tinted spectacles. For example, 74% of people give civil servants the highest score: 5 points: that is to say, they are “very corrupt”.
          In general, he thinks that “the barometer still shows a situation of some tension in society”. So while the main news fragmented as does a meteor entering the atmosphere, some fragments of the pre-planned number of mandatory headlines about the deep corruption in Russian still reached Earth.

          The explanation is quite simple
          Now let’s just see what data is involved. From Transparency’s final report there were omitted two answers given by Russian citizens to two questions.
          In question number seven, respondents were asked to answer how often during the past year were they or members of their families in contact with some official agency, including the police, the tax authorities, medical services, educational institutions, and whether they had to pay a bribe to them.
          Question number eight specifically asked what the reason for the bribe was. A choice of four answers was given: a gift/gratitude; a service at a lower price; the desire to speed up the solution of a problem; the only way to get the service.

          What are the puzzling answers that Russian citizens gave concerning these choices? Largely thanks to Eugeniya Rubtsova and Anton Pominov we can try to guess what kind of “technical failure” Transparency was talking about and what it consists of.
          “Corruption is not only a bribe: it involves a lot more concepts, including favouritism”, begins Anton, justifying himself for no apparent reason.
          “I do not know how they checked the received data. You need to look at it dynamically. For example, if two years ago a similar study was undertaken, and suddenly, for one question there was a very large and skewed response, the alarms went off. If, for example, people say that the level of corruption has increased, but at the same time the number of people who paid a bribe has gone down, then it is clear that there is a contradiction”, Evgeniya clearly states.
          The final piece to the puzzle: there was an almost identical survey made by the “Public opinion” foundation and conducted in 43 subject states of the Russian Federation in April of this year. It was no less extensive, but we are interested in only two key parameters.
          Firstly, according to the survey, 79% of Russians are not faced with bribery at all. (This number has grown from 60% in 2008). Only 15% paid bribes. (In 2008 it was 29%).

          And secondly, in the opinion of 84% of the respondents, the level of corruption in the country is too high, while 46% believe that it is continuing to rise.

          We’ve arrived
          Of course, if 80% of people rated their country as having the highest rate of corruption but say at the same time that they and their families did not give bribes to anyone last year, then there is something wrong there, and that includes the validation systems used by the Transparency International.
          And that’s why Anton Pominov interprets indicators concerning bribes as evidence of corruption in general – because such indicators are quantifiable. “They spent time and money, and it turned out that something went wrong during data collection. Of course, for us it is very frustrating because it turns out that some of the work that was done has not given the expected results”, he lamented last week.
          The bottom line is that we have a completely crazy situation here, where a reputable rating organization has hammered its ratings so much into its respondents’ brains that it is getting these ratings back as answers that are completely uncritical, have no connection with reality, and do not pass any logical test; they are motivated by the answers of people who have read the news and know about previous ratings. This circus can continue for a long time, especially when you consider their habit of organizing themselves to interpret the data and downplaying their part in creating the “expected result”.

          The real question is, how much longer are we seriously going to interpret our unspeakably terrible problems from the point of view of outsiders, and how effective will be the measures for dealing with the naive ignorance of the population?

          • Thanks so much ME!

            I’ll be honest, I wouldn’t have had time to do it myself. But thanks to you it will go up ASAP.

  2. The last two paragraphs of that article rather succinctly sum up the situation. Transparency International is itself incredibly opaque and its Corruption Index corrupt. They can’t manipulate the results the way they want to anymore without appearing ridiculous so they just leave them out. It should be interesting to see what they come up with next year considering they have the time to figure out a method of producing the desired results.

  3. Dear Anatoly,

    First of all well done on pursuing this with them.

    I find TI’s response totally meaningless. What does “the data gathered in this year’s GCB for the bribery question can be identified as an outlier when compared with other available data” actually mean? To me this just looks like babble. What does an “outlier” mean in this context? If the data was unreliable what was the reason? Why not show you the data so you can make up your own mind?

    I cannot help thinking that the reason the data was not published not just for Russia but for some other countries is because is because it doesn’t say what TI wants it to say.