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Are international databases on corruption reliable? A comparison of expert opinion surveys and household surveys in sub-Saharan Africa

Listed author(s):
  • Mireille Razafindrakoto


    (DIAL, IRD, Paris)

  • François Roubaud


    (DIAL, IRD, Paris)

Registered author(s):

    (english) The emergence of institutions, governance and especially corruption as major development considerations has generated a whole host of international databases intended to measure these concepts. These databases are now widely used in both the academic world and for public policies, especially for aid allocation. This study looks at the pertinence and limits of global corruption indicators based on experts’ perceptions. The study draws on a wave of original surveys coordinated by the authors and conducted simultaneously in eight African countries. This wave combines two types of surveys on the same subject. The first type of survey covering a sample of over 35,000 people takes an objective measure of the frequency of petty bureaucratic corruption and its characteristics. The second type (mirror survey) reports on 350 experts’ opinions on the matter. A comparison of these two sources paints a clear-cut picture of the experts’ error of assessment. We show that the experts do not provide a good gauge of the real level of corruption. They systematically overestimate the frequency of corruption. Moreover, the ranking of countries derived from their perceptions does not tie in with reality. The experts’ measurement error is all the greater in that the countries are not well graded in the international bases, which penalises the poorest of them. The econometric analyses also find ideological biases, with experts tending to rank countries based on their own political preferences, and the existence of a coherent, but erroneous implicit cultural model of how “Africa works”. The experts tend to massively overestimate the population’s level of tolerance of corrupt practices and underestimate the importance it attaches to matters of “good governance”. These findings make a case for a more cautious and rational use of global governance indicators. Our study also confirms the need to supplement global indicators with surveys of the players concerned. _________________________________ (français) L’émergence des institutions, de la gouvernance et tout particulièrement de la corruption, comme enjeu majeur du développement a engendré la multiplication de bases de données internationales censées mesurer ces concepts. Cette étude s’interroge sur la pertinence et les limites des indicateurs globaux de corruption basés sur la perception des experts. Elle mobilise un dispositif d’enquêtes originales réalisées simultanément dans huit pays africains, couplant deux types d’enquêtes sur la même thématique. Les premières, menées auprès de la population (avec un échantillon de 35 000 personnes au total), permettent d’obtenir une mesure objective de l’incidence et des caractéristiques de la petite corruption bureaucratique. La seconde, menée auprès de 350 experts (enquête-miroir), mesure la perception que s’en font les experts. En confrontant ces deux sources, nous montrons que ces derniers surestiment systématiquement l’incidence de la corruption et que le classement des pays induits par leurs perceptions n’est pas corrélé avec la réalité. L’erreur d’appréciation des experts est d’autant plus forte que les pays sont mal notés dans les bases internationales, pénalisant les plus pauvres d’entre eux. Les analyses économétriques mettent également en évidence la présence de biais idéologiques, ainsi que l’existence d’un modèle culturel implicite, cohérent mais erroné, sur la façon dont « l’Afrique fonctionne ». Les experts ont tendance à surestimer massivement le niveau de tolérance aux pratiques corruptives de la part de la population et à sous-estimer l’importance qu’elle accorde aux questions de « bonne gouvernance ». Ces résultats plaident en faveur d’un usage plus précautionneux et raisonné des indicateurs globaux de gouvernance et confirment la nécessité de les compléter par des enquêtes auprès des acteurs concernés.

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    Paper provided by DIAL (Développement, Institutions et Mondialisation) in its series Working Papers with number DT/2006/17.

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    Length: 42 pages
    Date of creation: Dec 2006
    Handle: RePEc:dia:wpaper:dt200617
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