Volume 16 Number 4
Beheading the Monster of Corruption
01 August 2003

Laurence Cockcroft is chairman of Transparency International’s UK chapter and a member of TI’s main board.

In 1991 a Kenyan friend, Joe Githongo, invited me for lunch with the regional director of the World Bank, Peter Eigen. The subject: would it be possible to form an international anti-corruption organization, along the lines of those NGOs which successfully campaigned on human rights issues? The answer was indeterminate. But we agreed that the potential benefits to a country like Kenya were indeed colossal.

Eigen left the World Bank that year and spent the next 12 months establishing whether there would be sufficient international support for such an initiative. In 1993 he founded Transparency International, now marking its 10th anniversary.
Several international workshops agreed that TI would concern itself with what is know as ‘grand corruption’, the bribes paid in connection with large scale projects in the developing countries—in which players from all over the world are involved. The organization would seek to build coalitions of government, business and civil society which could operate both within a particular country and internationally.

It was decided that TI would not investigate individual cases of corruption or ‘name and shame’ guilty parties. But it would work on mechanisms to enable the contract system to operate more freely, and advocate reforms in the way aid donors operated.

TI was set up as a coalition of national chapters, each with their own membership structure. A mini-office was established in Berlin with one and a half paid staff and a very modest budget. By 1996 there were some 40 chapters; now there are 90.

The most important early debate was whether the organization should embrace small scale or petty corruption in its mandate. Many members from the developing world argued that the corruption which affected them and their families was driven by the demands of the policeman on the street, the nurse or orderly on the hospital ward, and the soldier at the roadblock. A path-breaking report of 1996 on corruption in Tanzania, by former Prime Minister Warioba, showed just how damaging this form of corruption could be. Later, TI came to recognize the close link between petty and grand corruption. But at this stage they tended to be seen as distinct problems.

The big international issue on which TI lobbied in the mid 1990s was the first international convention outlawing transnational bribery. Signed in 1997, this obliged the rich nations, members of the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), to pass legislation which would make the payment of bribes overseas a criminal act, as it had been in the USA since 1977. All 30 OECD nations—and four countries who are not members—have now introduced such legislation and TI has switched its focus to effective implementation, where there is still much to be done.

Meanwhile, TI’s national chapters in the developing world have sustained the focus on petty corruption. Using opinion polls as important tools, the chapters in Kenya, Bangladesh, Brazil and Senegal have shown that the man in the street, and the family in the slum, may pay as much as 20 per cent of their income in bribes. In many cases, pressure on the relevant authority has led to a significant reduction in such demands. Nowhere has this been clearer than in Kenya, where in the 2002 elections the incoming government of President Kibaki pledged themselves to an anti-corruption platform. Even taxi drivers reported a dramatic decrease in harassment.

The best example of TI in action has been the ‘integrity pact’—a device by which bidders for a particular contract commit themselves to a ‘no bribes’ policy. This has been successfully adopted in a range of countries, from Colombia to Nepal to Korea. Donor agencies are increasingly recognizing the value of such pacts, which are fully relevant to current scandals such as the Lesotho Highland Water Project. Their full potential has yet to be felt.

This is only one example of TI’s success in persuading and enabling companies to take an anti-corruption stance in their own operations. Over the last three years, TI and Social Accountability International (SAI) have convened a steering group of 10 major international companies to develop a set of ‘Business Principles for Countering Bribery’, now being promoted internationally.

TI (UK) and the Swedish Foreign Ministry have also led an initiative to tackle corruption in the international arms trade. We have met with companies, government representatives and NGOs to identify the policy changes which arms-importing and exporting governments, and also defence companies, should adopt. These could make a real contribution to reducing corruption in a very dangerous and sensitive sector. There is still much work to be done, but the initiative has justified the essence of TI’s coalition-based approach.

These initiatives have vindicated TI’s strategy of not ‘naming and shaming’. This approach has made it possible to fight issues on the basis of non-specific evidence or evidence already in the public domain. However, TI’s annual membership meetings see regular challenges to this and related policies. Debate within the organization remains lively and may lead to different strategies in the future.

TI’s work over the last 10 years has won it wide recognition. But corruption is a hydra-headed monster and is seldom dormant. TI will be judged in the future by whether it manages to keep one step ahead of the monster.

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