Transparency International (TI) released its annual Global Corruption Barometer (GCB) report this week, which surveys the levels of corruption in countries around the world through polling ordinary citizens. This year’s report drew upon the answers of 114,000 people in 107 countries around the world, according to Transparency International’s website.
One of the more shocking conclusions in the 2013 edition, especially with regards to the Asia-Pacific, was the extreme level of corruption it found in Taiwan. According to Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the GCB report said that 36 percent of respondents in Taiwan reported paying a bribe for government services over the last 12 months. Using the GCB data (the report did not rank nations itself), local journalists calculated that this would place Taiwan in a tie with Indonesia as the third most corrupt nation of the 14 Asia-Pacific countries included in the report, with only Bangladesh and Cambodia scoring lower.
The bribery data itself was highly inconsistent with past GCB reports, as well as surveys taken by other organizations.
As Taiwan’s MOFA noted in a press release on Friday, “In the 2005 GCB, just 3 percent of survey participants in Taiwan reported engaging in bribery; in 2006, 2 percent did so; and in the 2010/2011 survey, the figure was 7 percent.”
The statement went on to say that the 2013 report was “obviously erroneously” and the MOFA was using its representation in Germany where TI is located to seek clarification.
There were other issues with the Taiwan portion of the GCB this year. Specifically, TI listed a Shanghai-based organization, WisdomAsia, as the one which had actually conducted the phone survey in Taiwan. However, WisdomAsia rebuffed TI, claiming it had not participated.
Given the budding controversy, TI came out with a statement Friday, defending its reporting on Taiwan, but admitting that WisdomAsia wasn’t the polling company. According to TI, the company had used Worldwide Independent Network of Market Research (WIN)/Gallup International to actual conduct the surveys. WIN/Gallup itself contracted out this work to affiliate companies, and while it had initially asked WisdomAsia to perform the phone survey in Taiwan, WisdomAsia had declined. This decline wasn’t reported back to TI, however, explaining why the report listed WisdomAsia as the polling organization.
So who ended up conducting the actual poll?
That would be none other than the CASS Research Center (CRC), a body of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).
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.”
As noted above, CASS is one of China’s oldest and most respected research institutions, and The Diplomat has not independently assessed its work for TI, nor does it have any reason to doubt its accuracy.
Still, a research institution directly tied to the State Council and CCP conducting a survey on government corruption in Taiwan raises the possibility of a conflict of interest. The fact that the GCB’s findings on Taiwan were wildly divergent from past GCBs and other comparable polls only serves to further raise suspicion.
But TI is sticking by its report, with Finn Heinrich, research director of the TI Secretariat, telling Taiwan Focus on Friday: “We have full confidence in the results of the GCB survey, including those for Taiwan.”
Interestingly, China itself isn’t included in TI’s annual corruption report. A Beijing-based spokesperson for TI told China Real Time that they had tried to include China in the report, but all of the Chinese market research firms declined to participate.
“We approached a number of different local survey companies, but they did not feel that it would be possible to implement a survey of this nature in China without omitting many of the questions,” the spokesperson said.