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Perceived Corruption in South Africa Still High

December 05, 2013

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This is a guest post by Diptesh Soni. Diptesh is a master’s degree candidate at the Columbia University School of International Public Affairs (SIPA) studying economic and political development. You can read more by him at:

Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) for 2013 was published on Tuesday, December 3. It reports that South African citizens increasingly view their public sector as corrupt. The CPI measures perceived levels of corruption giving scores out of one hundred (least corrupt), and ranks countries from one (the least corrupt) to one hundred and seventy-five (the most corrupt).

South Africa ranks at seventy-two, a fall of three places from a rank of sixty-nine last year. As the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) was quick to mention, the country has slipped seventeen places since 2009, when the African National Congress’ (ANC) President Jacob Zuma assumed office. With a score of forty-two, accountability in the public sector seems to have declined one point from last year, when South Africa received a score of forty-three.

The perception of corruption in the country is perhaps largely a result of the poor quality of service delivery in underdeveloped areas, an issue that has recently sparked numerous protests and public debate. David Lewis, head of the South African-based NGO Corruption Watch, said that while government attempts at curbing corruption were commendable, their impact had been reduced by the “continuing impunity on the part of those who were politically and financially powerful.” The “Guptagate” wedding scandal, the controversy surrounding President Zuma’s alleged use of public money for his private residence in Nklanda, and other such fiascos have not helped the government’s image.

The CPI has its fair share of critics. Alex Cobham of the Center for Global Development recently wrote in Foreign Policy that limited sourcing of data for the CPI “embeds a powerful and misleading elite bias in popular perceptions of corruption, potentially contributing to a vicious cycle and at the same time incentivizing inappropriate policy responses.” In 2010, The Economist dubbed it the “murk meter,” questioning its ability to aggregate a complex phenomenon in a simple ranking system.

Despite these issues, the CPI shines a much-needed spotlight on the private capture of public funds in places like South Africa. Accountability is crucial to the success of South Africa’s democratic transition. If public officials continue to misallocate revenue and underfund services, they should, and eventually will, be replaced.