Analysis on Corruption Perceptions Index 2020 in Times of Covid-19

2020 Corruption Perception Index (“CPI 2020”), Transparency International’s annual report reflecting the perception of corruption in public sector among 180 countries/territories all over the world, was announced on 28 January 2021. The contributions of country experts, non-governmental organisations and representatives of the business world generate the results in the CPI which measures up the countries/territories on a scale from 0 (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).

Leaving over a year where the humanity is captivated by coronavirus behind, it did not come as a surprise that COVID-19 became the primary focus of the CPI 2020 as well. While an increase in the private sector corruption has been projected to be inevitable since the beginning of the outbreak due to the very sudden change in business and workplace practises, the CPI 2020 also established a drastic correlation between the countries’ level of corruption and their ability to effectively respond to emergency states by respecting and defending the democratic institutions at the same time. In other words, the CPI 2020 unsurprisingly revealed that the virus has exposed a corruption crisis as well because it found out that where there is limited access to health care or unclarity as to where the public resources are spent, or undermining of democratic values and human rights when responding to an emergency, there is a high level of corruption in public sector. The CPI 2020 also highlights the importance of transparency, accountability, and media freedom especially in the times of crisis as the assurance of democratic values and the most effective tools in the fight against corruption.

The CPI 2020 ranks Turkey at 86 with a score of 40 which increased by one point only compared to the last year. Although this little increase moved Turkey from 91st to 86th at the ranking; it did not prevent it from being a significant decliner with a total loss of 9 points since 2012 (You can access our remarks about last year’s Index from here). This result indicates that Turkey could do very little to overcome the reasons behind this continuous fall, such as lack of legislation that will introduce more effective ways to fight with corruption, lack of implementation of the ones that are already in effect and failure to stabilize the political and financial distress by ensuring fundamental rights and freedoms, rule of law and independence of judiciary. On top of that, Turkey apparently failed to respect the democratic instruments in its fight with COVID-19. According to the Pandemic Violations of Democratic Standards Index 2020 of Varieties of Democracy, which is also referred to by the CPI 2020, there were reports of limitations on access to COVID-19 related information, government disinformation and restrictions of media freedom in terms of Turkey. As the whole country witnessed, transparency has been a major issue in handling with the pandemic for which the authorities are criticized from the very beginning.

While all these stand as major issues to improve, although being only one point, that increase is still there which makes us wonder the factor behind. The history of judicial reforms goes back to 2009 and strategy documents are published in certain intervals since then. However, after the publication of the last Judicial Reform Strategy Document (“JRS”) in May 2019, there has been an increase in the legislative activities and two judicial reform packages came one after another in 2020, first one in April and the other one in July (the second and third judicial reform packages). Protection and improvement of rights and freedoms, as well as improvement of independence, objectivity and transparency of judiciary are among the nine main purposes that the JRS introduced. Although the amendments introduced in the two packages of 2020 did not directly target these purposes, they were supported by the statements of the president and other government officials which focus on liberalization of judiciary. To what extent and how effectively these strategies will be implemented is one thing to watch; but it is a certain thing that accepting the need for improvement and taking steps for judicial reforms change the climate and perception positively in many aspects. So, it would not be a wild guess to say that this positive change of climate might have been neutralized the failures of Turkey in handling with the pandemic and its traditional struggles causing a sharp fall in the CPI for years, in a way causing that one-point increase eventually.

Turkey started 2021 with comprehensive legislative changes focusing on money laundering and financing of terrorism, introduced on 31 December 2020 and followed by the secondary legislation adopted last month. In addition, very recently on 2 March 2021, the president announced the Human Rights Action Plan as a part of the JRS and put the spotlights on the planned improvements regarding stronger protection of the human rights and especially right of expression, strengthening independence of judiciary and transparency. So, in the end that one-point increase in the CPI 2020 is certainly not sufficient, but it might be a starting point to reverse the downtrend of Turkey if the adopted strategies are decisively implemented by taking solid steps both legislative and enforcement wise.

First published by H+ Dergisi in 15.03.2021.

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