20 May 2020

Predicting Governance Evolutions.

Alina Mungiu-Pippidi

Why is there so little evolution in governance, and the trend lines across continents and income groups have looked so depressively flat for the past 20 years? Well, because indicators are poor, some would say, as governance indicators are statistical aggregates which normalize individual components that they throw into an index- and therefore what little change exists gets blurred. While this is true, it’s only because change is so incremental that this happens. And while it is also true that governance, not just governance indicators, generally lags- easier to stage a coup d’état than to change power status and the related social allocation patterns in a society- the exceptions, like Georgia, show us that this is possible. When a country takes off, indicators do show it, provided it’s a big bang and not only a promise. But how many countries have such evolutions? The answer is that very few do, and we need to predict also the others.

Additionally, the reform process is understood in many countries not by the brave reforms directly dismantling the rent system and the administrative discretion at its basis, but by adopting standard anticorruption legislation as an alibi for real action. Do please click on the best governed countries in the world in the public accountability repository europam.eu: the Finland, Sweden and Netherlands of this world and you will discover that they have the thinnest, not the thickest regulation when public integrity is concerned: indeed they are under the European average of nearly every count. On the contrary, countries where corruption is prevalent- in the EU, those are Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, are packed with good governance agencies and laws (but this applies to the rest of the world as well). As no willing government and no great demand existed in these countries to attack rents directly by Georgian or Estonian like reforms (massive reduction of resources for corruption), vast repertoires of laws and institutions were instead adopted. Everyone has anticorruption agencies, whistleblower protection acts, financial disclosures and such- but they do not seem to go anywhere with them, simply because de facto good governance progress does not result from such de jure arrangements. In the past fifteen years there was no evidence that countries which adopted treaties of good governance (and all were tested) progressed more than countries that did not. We need other elements than de jure standard anticorruption reforms to guess if a country will evolve or not.

Here is where the Index for Public Integrity comes into picture. This index developed in 2015 by ERCAS is based on a cluster of factors which interact to generate control of corruption. They are closely correlated, and the index is simply the result of this correlation (a principal component). Its theoretical principle is simple: public integrity is a result of a society’s capacity to control corruption opportunities or resources by how strongly it can constrain ruling elites from not using power for economic advantage. The more opportunities you have (natural resources, red tape, administrative discretion) the more constraints you need: enlightened citizens, a free press, a judiciary autonomous from private interest. But these also do not change easily over time. To guess better the evolution of a country, our team went back in time researching these factors and their related proxies. We then looked at fresh political evolutions to capture recent contingencies and the current strength of demand for good governance. The result is the forecast in the map on the homepage of this website. The ten years data is also accessible here, and the detailed analysis at the basis of the methodology is here. We assessed every country for which data was available and we found twenty positive evolutions: countries which we forecast will continue to improve and eleven negative ones. The rest of more than one hundred countries will very likely continue as they are: there is simply not enough dynamic there, or promise of, to shake the equilibrium. Each country has a brief explanatory note of the state of its control of corruption and its trend. Of course, countries on the upward trend are those where donors could support local change coalitions with a maximum of impact. In view of the last twenty years I should better rephrase that to read “with some demonstrable impact”.

As any innovation, this forward-looking governance tool is open to feedback and constructive suggestions. Every country has a feedback form where you can challenge or agree with the forecast. Do not forget to attach your evidence. Foggy as the governance indicators jungle is, we can together identify some paths leading out if we only pool significant evidence.