Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Taipei Times Editorial on TI: Who has Egg on Face?

I went down to Lukang today and couldn't believe my eyes. Some prime loser erected this monstrosity right on the famous Mo Ru (lit: "rub breast") Lane, which has lots of historical houses, a couple of historical sites, and temples that date back to the 17th century. The lane is kept in that kitschy historical style so often seen in Taiwan. 

I was planning a longer post on how ridiculously stupid the Transparency International index for Taiwan in 2013 is, and lo and behold, the Taipei Times put out an editorial on the burgeoning mess with Transparency International's ridiculous conclusions on corruption in Taiwan, entitled "How to deal with egg on your face". Apparently the TT believes that the government has egg on its face. Actually, the editorial consists largely of remarkably silly and unconsidered claims. Thanks for the blogfodder, guys! It observes:
Last week, Transparency International (TI) released its 2013 Global Corruption Barometer report. The local media immediately picked up on the fact that the survey said 35 percent of Taiwanese respondents reported having paid bribes to the judiciary. The media then inferred from the various category results that the nation’s overall rating placed it third among the Asia-Pacific region’s most corrupt nations.

TI has an impeccable reputation: Few would question its integrity or the quality of its work. Ma has on several occasions even met members of the organization to express his support. The government should not paint TI as the enemy just because it is unhappy with this year’s findings. The way that the Presidential Office, the Cabinet, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have reacted will do little to help the situation.


The government was keen to say that previous reports found corruption of less than 5 percent, so this year’s high figure must be incorrect. It was a ploy that was doomed to failure. If it had confidence in its own figures, and if these figures were to be believed both in Taiwan and abroad, the government would not concern itself with the report’s findings. However, the government is very concerned, and many people in Taiwan and overseas trust the findings. If the government wants to go on the offensive, it needs to choose its targets more carefully.

The focus of the criticism then moved to the fact that TI commissioned a Shanghai-based market research agency to carry out the Taiwanese part of the survey, which some believe casts doubt on the findings’ accuracy. Such politicized criticisms are unlikely to find sympathy or support abroad, as TI commissions local or regional agencies to carry out the surveys in each country, and it will naturally enforce consistent standards and regulations, without which international comparisons would be impossible. To say errors were caused because a Shanghai-based agency was responsible for Taiwan’s survey is simply not a persuasive argument.
There's much here to unpack... ;let's take the last paragraph first. TI believes that pointing out that the bizarre numbers are "politicized criticisms" which are unlikely to find support abroad is belied by a simple point: an article in The Diplomat. This article is written by, well, a foreigner, who lives in Washington DC. One of those the TT insists is unlikely to sympathize with Taiwan in this case.

The TT also claims that it is "simply not a persuasive argument" to claim that since a "Shanghai-based firm" conducted the polls, it must be erroneous. But TT is wrong. First, the argument is that the 36% figure who paid a bribe for government services in the last twelve months (not bribes to the judiciary) is absurd because no poll taken by various groups in the last decade has been anywhere near that number. According to the TI results, corruption has increased 18-fold since 2006, when the same survey reported just 2%. No one is claiming that the figure is absurd because a Chinese-based firm reported it. It's absurd because it is inconsistent with all previous findings.

The reference to the origin of the data -- in a Chinese organization -- exists to explain why the data is insane. In point of fact, it was not a "Shanghai-based firm" that conducted the survey, but the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) based in Beijing, according to The Diplomat piece, which notes:
Although CASS is China’s oldest and one of its most respected social science research institutions, it is also directly under the direction of the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC) State Council (cabinet). It of course, therefore, also has strong ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) itself.

For example, in announcing its new president last month, a CASS publication said, “The Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the State Council of the Chinese Government recently announced Wang Weiguang as the new president of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).” It also said that in this position, Wang would also hold the title of “secretary of the Party Group of CASS.”

In listing the CRC as one of its affiliates, WIN/Gallup itself writes that “CRC cooperates closely with the Chinese government.”
Another interesting thing I saw in Lukang today: a homemade, gasoline-powered tricycle.

I got to thinking about what this number, 36%, means, on my 110 km ride down to Lukang and back over Dadu Shan today -- lots of time to think. According to TI, 36% of people in their poll answered that they had paid bribes for government services. Well, few children solicit services on their own; the payments must have been made by adults. Taiwan has over 18 million registered voters, so let's use the number 19 million for the total number of adults in Taiwan, just to be generous. Multiplying by .36 gives us 6.84 million bribe-paying Taiwanese. Anyone know any of these? Anyone paid a bribe themselves?

The absurdity only grows worse because for the vast majority of government service users, the routine payment for the service is sufficient. Such bribes would have to be paid for services that are less routine, most likely by businessmen seeking favors. By males, in other words. I would bet money that the bribe-paying population consists largely of males -- of which there must be around 10 million or so, meaning that, if we arbitrarily assign 3/4 of bribes to males, more or less half of all adult males in Taiwan have paid a bribe for government services. In the last twelve months. That is, on its face, insane. Especially since no other survey has come close to these results.

Of course all this playing with numbers is arbitrary, but you get my point: when you start thinking about the numbers -- which the Taipei Times apparently did not -- the outstanding silliness of the TI results becomes apparent.

Saw this really cool windscreen-equipped bike in Lukang today.

Or, you could look at some other methodology, a scholarly one, using that wonderful tool, Google. For example, you could look at comparative studies like this one which assess South Korea as consistently more corrupt than Taiwan. The percentage having paid a bribe in South Korea in 2013? 3% (BBC has a list of all nations). TI's results don't make sense in a comparative perspective either -- Taiwanese are paying bribes at 12 times the rate of South Koreans, according to TI. Heavens! Don't let the Taiwanese find out the Koreans are beating them there too!

Note that TI says Taiwan is more corrupt than Vietnam, and the same as Indonesia. LOL.

Or you could look at another methodology, such as the CCI developed by Kaufman. Here are numbers for Taiwan from 1996 through 2011 (last section, scroll to bottom). Note that they vary little over time. It is not difficult to find theses and papers that use the CCI to look at Taiwan. For example:
Estonia has been a “green country” since 2000. In the last decade, it has achieved the second highest score among Eastern European and post-Soviet Union countries, as it moved from the 71st to the 80th percentile. South Korea still remains in the “yellow area”, but has come closer to the 75th-percentile threshold. Taiwan ranks slightly above South Korea; according to the indicator, its score has somewhat deteriorated in the last years, but still remains among the best in East Asia, and therefore it is a case worth looking into. Finally, there is Ghana, which still ranks at the 60th percentile, but appears to have improved much in the last decade. It is considered as a good example in Sub-Saharan Africa, so it is an interesting case for analysis, even if it still needs further improvement to really become an achiever.
In fact, on the CCI Taiwan has consistently been among the best in Asia. Again, the TI numbers for 2013 don't make sense.

Finally, you can look at the simple fact that CASS is now attempting to distance itself from the TI mess, according to the South China Morning Post. You don't distance yourself from claims that you have confidence in. If you read between the lines, you can also see that The South China Morning Post also feels the TI claim is not defensible, for it also refers to previous scores by Taiwan on the TI index. Indeed, the mere running of such an article implies that as well.

Hey wait....isn't SCMP one of those foreign types who weren't going to be sympathetic?

It should be blindingly obvious to any rational human who bothers to look into it that there is something wrong with the methodology behind the TI numbers, if they are not simply made up outright.

Egg on whose face? The Taipei Times', of course. Shame to have run such an outstandingly unconsidered editorial when the information was out there to support the government's case, and easily found.

UPDATE: A friend suggested that the problem is actually simple. Somebody left off a decimal point, should be 3.6%.
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FOARP said...

To anyone who's lived in Taiwan this figure doesn't make sense. Corruption just hasn't ballooned like this in Taiwan, and couldn't short of some mass break-down in society on a par with the dissolution of the USSR.

Do I know people who have paid bribes in Taiwan? Sure - mostly bar-owners paying off the local police so they could stay open late into the night. 36%? No.

Michael, you're write to bash TT for the editorial. The take-no-prisoners, no-enemy-in-the-green attitude some on the pan-green side take towards the government simply isn't helpful. It is especially bad when it leads to bashing of Taiwan in general just to get at the government.

Not that KMT/Ma doesn't have plenty worth criticising, but let's not go overboard into hysteria-ville.

Michael Turton said...

Thanks FOARP. A friend suggested that the problem is actually simple. Somebody left off a decimal point, should be 3.6%.


Xinxi said...

Or maybe the numbers are perfectly correct - just slightly adjusted like the Glorious Motherland's economic data... Jokes aside: "Bribe" and "corruption" are not clearly defined. Paying money to teachers or professors, etc., seems to be common in certain fields. Respondents might categorize teaching staff as (kind of) government (related) officials. The pineapple sitting atop a cushion of 1000 NTD bills presented to some relative - that's something one might even find in Singapore. (I've heard.) And Koreans, on the other hand, are probably totally unaware that presents to teachers, politicians, and policemen would constitute "corruption" or "bribery".

Michael Turton said...

Yes, but TI's numbers and definitions aren't so fine-grained. And then S Kor and Taiwan should be close....