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We often say that "country-X's government is corrupt". Transparency international's CPI tells us how corrupt a country is which doesn't have any official recognition as it is a non-government organization.

So, its reports are routinely rejected by the governments in question.

Is there any indicator which can tell us with conviction that a country is really corrupt?

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    I'm not quite clear on the question here. "Corruption" is not something that can be measured by a single indicator. It's not like "land area", since it requires judgement. And of course countries will reject such reports. Nobody likes getting an "F". Even for "land area" there is no statistic with "official recognition" So you can use the CPI. The fact that it is rejected and not "official" are not reasons not to use it.
    – James K
    Sep 3 '18 at 21:33
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    @JamesK, The fact that it is rejected and not "official" are not reasons not to use it. --- right, but you any external power (say, UN) can't enforce it either.
    – user21304
    Sep 3 '18 at 21:44
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    @anonymous What do you mean by "enforce it"? Sep 3 '18 at 22:05
  • @guest271314, say, to pass a resolution.
    – user21304
    Sep 3 '18 at 22:16
  • @anonymous Corruption is well aware of existing laws prohibiting corruption. The Resolution would necessarily need to rely on the data that is referenced at the question. Therefore, the facts are already well established. Laws and resolutions do not stop corruption. It could be argued that campaigning for and being appointed to public office provide a means for officials to become corrupt after reaching the office, e.g., see politics.stackexchange.com/questions/33174/… Sep 3 '18 at 22:58
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It should not be confusing if a government denies charges of corruption, but does not attempt to rebut the accusation transparently. That's exactly what a corrupt government would do!

Corruption is not a problem, it's a choice. If corruption was a problem like bad water, underfunded hospitals, or not having safe harbors on the sea, then countries would welcome reports of corruption because the reports would be helpful in eliminating corruption.

Instead, a corrupt government official makes a choice every day that instead of providing citizens and other residents (and investors, import / export partners, etc) with a fair and predictable business environment --- where the cost of doing business is the same no matter who you are --- the corrupt government official grants privileges to people he or she likes and forces burdens upon people he or she doesn't like.

A worker who wants to reform a corrupt government agency will be met with resistance by his or her supervisor and peers. Within that agency, everybody benefits from the corruption---either by getting unlawful payments from the public or by satisfying the demands of those who do. Only an entity more powerful than the corrupt official can stop the official; this could be the organized public, a higher official, or a weight-pulling external organization (such as a trade body or aid provider) that can apply economic or foreign-relations pressure on the official.

After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, news reports compared the earthquake's severity against the damage it caused; it was clear that similar buildings in similar earthquakes in other places don't crash down like that. ( https://www.theguardian.com/environment/damian-carrington-blog/2011/jan/12/earthquake-building-corruption ) Seismic standards are free information. So because the Hatian government knew (or should have known) the same things about safe construction that other countries knew, it seems likely that those buildings came down because of inspectors who did not hold constructors to actually follow the building codes, or who accepted their jobs without being actually qualified. In addition to stealing money, this is another form of corruption: but this is one that kills people all at once visibly and regrettably.

Another form of corruption, one that does not involve the government directly, is the incorrect approval of purchased goods for direct personal illicit gain. More than one engineer I know has reported to me that when they went to a large foreign steel-exporting country to evaluate the products they had ordered, the company had provided them with free access to prostitutes, either pretending to be the hostess of the business trip or the company's project manager. If my acquaintances had accepted these services, they would certainly not have had the capacity to evaluate the steel products to an objective standard---they would have felt quite obligated, or even pressured (under the threat of blackmail) to accept whatever had been provided. This, too, is corruption.

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    While this answer provides some insight into why corrupt systems are self-perpetuating, it does not really answer the question how the level of corruption of a country can be objectively measured from the outside.
    – Philipp
    Sep 4 '18 at 17:16
  • I've addressed principally the naive thought (that I presume was intentionally expressed by the OP) that denial of reports of corruption is an indication against the report. Sep 4 '18 at 17:50
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It is incredibly difficult to "tell us with conviction" that an entire country is corrupt, for reasons discussed at Part 3 – Case Studies and Experience from Selected Countries and Program within Effective Prosecution of Corruption Report on the Master Training Seminar.

The Case for an International Anti-Corruption Court was made in 2004, where the point was made that

Rather, in Russia, as in Nigeria, it is often those who expose corruption who are punished.

thus, it could be quite hazardous to an individual's (private or public official) health to attempt to wage a public fight against corruption.

Within Top Ten International Anti-Corruption Developments for October 2017 there is a link to TRACE Releases Updated Edition of the TRACE Bribery Risk Matrix; Introduces Substantive and Methodological Improvements (TRACE Bribery Risk Matrix® (TRACE Matrix)) which is described as

... a global business bribery risk assessment tool. The TRACE Matrix was originally published in 2014 to meet a need in the business community for more reliable, nuanced information about the risk of commercial bribery worldwide. It addresses the risk of bribe demands within each country, rather than the conduct of the companies or citizens of a country when they are doing business overseas. The 2017 edition introduces several substantive and methodological improvements, increasing the model's robustness.

TRACE has expanded the range of sources from which it draws the underlying data for its risk-score calculations, allowing greater flexibility in responding to changes in data availability. Additionally, adjustments were made to the way in which scores are calculated for countries with limited data to increase the model's reliability. In the long term, these revisions will allow TRACE to present users with an even greater level of detail about country-specific factors and trends relating to business bribery risk.

The TRACE Bribery Risk Matrix, which is free and publicly available, helps companies examine the conditions that allow commercial bribery to flourish in each country: (1) the nature and extent of government interaction with the private sector; (2) the existence and enforcement of anti-bribery laws; (3) the degree of governmental transparency; and (4) the ability of civil society to monitor and expose corruption.

Cross-referencing the CPI with TRACE Bribery Risk Matrix and other similar indexes might provide an individual or organization a means to make informed decisions as to both broad and specific risks of and clearly identified corruption.

Although the resulting index can be used to rank countries by their composite scores, it is also possible to view the results for specific risk factors which make up the composite score in order to identify what drives the overall risk score. This allows compliance professionals not only to identify where a country falls in terms of overall business bribery risk, but also to use the domain and subdomain scores to tailor their compliance and due diligence practices appropriately and make better resource allocation decisions.