the 90th minute

Until September 2007, when my oldest daughter was born, this blog covered daily life and politics in Israel, as well as Hebrew-English linguistic issues, from the perspective of an American-raised journalist and translator living in Israel. Now it mostly serves as the SmunchMonk&Bear news agency, a portal into the bizarre universe of the little people. Read more at:

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Global Integrity responds

Jonathan Werve, director of operations for Global Integrity, left the following comment on this entry on corruption in Israel:

"Your analysis of what the results mean (or don't mean) is right on. However, I'll point out that the intensity of public feeling around corruption issues may in fact be a symptom of some good things. Israel, unlike many of the countries we looked at, has an open political culture, with a strong media and civil society. Our work, which is based on analysis of the laws and institutions that fight corruption, will incorporate these processes more than opinion polls.

"That said, there's clearly some problems. As our reporter on the ground, Yossi Melman, writes, "Israel is still a vital democracy, but it is a democracy in decay."

Subsequently, he was kind enough to answer some of my questions about Global Integrity's report on international public corruption. This is what he had to say:

How did you choose countries?

Each year we have a budget to support a fixed number of countries. We hope to increase that number each year, as we grow as an organization. Within that constraint we want as much regional, political and cultural diversity as we can manage. Practical considerations include the strengths of our network of experts on the ground; we won't work in a country until we have a reliable team in place. Initially we feared working in conflict zones would be too difficult, but our experience last year in Lebanon, Sudan and others has shown that it is possible. Our work is relevant to all countries, in the Middle East or otherwise, and we hope to expand our coverage in coming years.

Why the almost total absence of developed Western countries - are they assumed to be relatively corruption-free?

Not at all. Every government has a corruption problem, and failure to put the mechanisms in place to control it is a recipe for disaster in any culture. Thomas Jefferson worried about a lack of transparency and accountability in the young United States, writing to George Washington that "they will form the most corrupt government on earth, if the means of their corruption be not prevented." Our mission is to track the mechanisms that prevent corruption and hold a government accountable to its people, which every nation requires.

In the 2006 sample, we included a great many poor countries at the request of one of our funders, the World Bank. Our research is a powerful tool to lenders and aid agencies which, for better or worse, are beginning to attach governance performance targets to their lending and aid. Global Integrity, as an independent information provider with no specific ideological agenda, fills a crucial niche in this grand bargain.

Our 2004 field test was more economically diverse, including Japan, Germany, Italy, Portugal, and the United States in a sample of 25 countries. We expect future rounds will be more inclusive of wealthy countries, while continuing our work in the developing world.

Clarifications: We don't use polling. Our work is based on peer-reviewed expert assessments and backed by references. This is fundamental difference between what we do and other indexes based on public opinion. The key advantage of our approach is that the (relatively uninformative) single country score can be unpacked into 290 Integrity Indicators, revealing exactly what is and isn't working in a country's anti-corruption systems.

For more on our methodology, you can see our FAQs.