Experts have recommended the use of evidence-based surveys to measure corruption in the country, saying the methodology could provide a clearer picture of the gravity of the situation as well as efforts by the authorities to deal with the problem.
Speaking to MalaysiaNow, they said the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) – a survey based on perception – does not reflect the actual situation as it has a number of limitations.
For one, academic Suhaimee Saahar said, the CPI only focuses on corrupt practices in the public sector, excluding similar activities that occur in the private sector.
Suhaimee, director of UiTM's Media and Information Neuroscience Center at the Faculty of Communication and Media Studies, said the scale used to measure corrupt practices is also unproven through statistical analysis, while the credibility of surveys based on perceptions is unclear given the varying scores for each country which he said do not reflect the government's efforts to combat such crime.
"This is why an index produced through an evidence-based survey is better suited for showing the reality of the situation," he said.
Malaysia recently slipped in ranking on the CPI for 2021, from 57th place out of 180 countries to 62nd.
The country's score also dropped from 51 to 48.
Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) chief Azam Baki however played down the results, saying the CPI did not reflect facts and reality.
He also said that the anti-graft agency was working with the United Nation in Drugs and Crime (UNDOC) to shift to the use of evidence-based surveys.
Criminologist Kassim Noor Mohamed said the joint efforts by MACC and UNDOC were a positive development as evidence-based surveys were a better methodology than those based on perception.
He said evidence-based surveys offer more concrete proof as well as a clearer picture of a country's corruption situation.
"Surveys based on evidence measure respondents' experience with corruption," he said.
"This kind of survey produces data that is more accurate and can be used to develop better interventions."
But while evidence-based surveys are the better methodology, he said, this did not mean that the CPI should be dismissed.
He said the CPI could be used, but not as a main reference. Instead, he said, it should be used to support evidence-based surveys.
"While perception-based surveys are not as robust, the data can be used to raise awareness in society.
"If it involves research, everything needs to be based on evidence. This does not mean that we can't use the CPI, just that it should not be taken as the holy grail."
On the perception of corruption in Malaysia, Kassim said issues often arise as the crime itself takes centre stage and not the authorities' efforts to rein it in.
"Take 1MDB, for example – one of the biggest scandals," he said.
"When we are asked about the case, whether we know the details about it, it gives the perception that Malaysia is a country that is corrupt just because of this case.
"But in reality, the authorities are investigating and taking the appropriate action."
Kassim said those who frequently dispute the efforts to fight corruption in Malaysia might not truly understand the investigation process.
"Remember, there are cases that take a long time, and there are some that need to be prioritised as they involve public interest," he added.
"It's like visiting the doctor – if the patient is not critical, the doctor will focus on other patients in more serious condition first."
In terms of the economy, Yeah Kim Leng of Sunway University said although the CPI is based on perceptions, it is widely followed by investors and considered a valid measurement.
"This drop in ranking will be used as an indication that the government is losing the fight against corruption, which could affect investor confidence," he said.
"This decrease will be used as an indication that the government is losing the fight against corruption and this could affect investor confidence," he told MalaysiaNow.
Yeah said the government's priority at the moment would be to provide a more positive picture for foreign investors to restore their confidence in Malaysia.
"Whether the survey is based on evidence or perception, the government needs to ensure that the ranking and score moves upwards," he said.
"This will show investors that the government is committed to fighting corruption and attract their attention once more."