May 122012

Recent allegations of bribery related to Wal-Mart de México beg two questions:

  • How serious is corruption in Mexico?
  • How does corruption in Mexico compare to that of other countries?

Fortunately for us, these questions have been comprehensively investigated by Transparency International (TI), a global civil society organization dedicated to reducing corruption. TI defines corruption as “abuse of entrusted power for private gain”.

Its recent study, “Corruption Perceptions Index 2011” focuses on “perceptions” because corruption is a hidden activity that is difficult to measure. The Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) draws on a wide array of surveys and polls of international experts, business opinion surveys and country residents. It is based on 17 data sources from 13 different institutions. The focus is on bribery, kickbacks and embezzlement involving politicians, public officials and civil servants. Anti-corruption efforts are also considered.

Given the difficulties associated with measuring and interpreting corruption, the CPI has received considerable criticism. (For example, see this Wikipedia entry on  Corruption Perceptions Index). Despite this criticism, the CPI provides a viable approach to comparing corruption in various countries.

According to this index, perceived corruption in Mexico has become considerably worse in the past few years. In terms of freedom from corruption, Mexico’s 2011 score of 3.0 ranks it below the middle, in rank #100 out of 182 countries, tied with 11 other countries including Argentina and Indonesia. It is interesting to note that some individual Asian, African, European and Latin American countries are considerably ahead of Mexico (see table), but others are considerably behind.

CountryRank CountryRank CountryRank
New Zealand1South Africa64Argentina100=
South Korea43Colombia80Russia143=
Saudi Arabia57India95Venezuela172

Within Latin America, Mexico is far better than Venezuela, Haiti and Paraguay. However, it is way behind Chile, Uruguay, Costa Rica and Brazil. As a regional leader, Mexico should do much better in terms of corruption.

Back in 2008, Mexico’s score of 3.6 placed it significantly above the middle. It was then ahead of Brazil, India, China, Saudi Arabia and Turkey; now it trails these five countries. Why Mexico’s score has dropped significantly since 2008 is not exactly clear, but is probably related to the escalation of the drug wars.

Mexico has signed several multilateral anti-corruption agreements, and recently passed a stiff anti-corruption law. However, legal instruments alone will not reduce corruption in Mexico, according to Emilio Godoy in his article Tangled Web of Corruption Debilitates Mexico (IPS, 10 May 2012). What is needed is aggressive government action as well as dramatic cultural changes among public and private sector officials. This will not be easy, given the existing long-established systems based on patronage, nepotism, cronyism and organized crime.

If Mexico is going to continue attracting foreign investment and experience economic and social growth in the years ahead, it will have to do much better with respect to its level of corruption.

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