The global anti-corruption movement, Transparency International (TI) has just concluded its 1998 Annual General meeting, held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from 12 - 16 September, with 180 representatives drawn from over 60 countries participating. Key to the success of the meeting were the perspectives, strategies and experience highlighted by leaders of TI national chapters from around the world.
The Meeting took the form of an International Conference on Strengthening Integrity: The Challenges for Asia - A Global Agenda. Dr Anwar Fazal and Tunku Abdul Aziz chaired the proceedings. They were opened by the Deputy Director of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Agency, Datuk Zawawi; Dr Tarcisius Chin, CEO of the Malaysian Institute of Management; Dr Peter Eigen, Chairman of Transparency International (TI); and Tunku Abdul Aziz, Co-ordinator of Transparency International-Malaysia. The Meeting was organised by Transparency International and the Malaysian Institute of Management in collaboration with the UNDP and sponsored by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation (KAF).
A special welcome was accorded to Olusegun Obasanjo, former president of Nigeria and Chair of the Advisory Council of TI, who had only recently been released from prison in Nigeria after a confinement of three-and-a-half years. The Meeting was also delighted to be addressed by former President Masire of Botswana, a country whose integrity system was a model for many to emulate.
The Meeting took place against the background of the East Asian crisis, and delegates were particularly conscious of the impact this was having on people throughout the region, and especially on the poor and most vulnerable. There were various causes behind the crisis, but participants learned that corruption, cronyism and insider exploitation were prominent among them. These had, however, been concealed beneath a blanket of economic development, but with this stripped away it was now starkly revealed that corruption had in fact been undermining sustainable social and economic advancement.
As a non-governmental movement with strong humanitarian principles, and whose opposition to corruption stems in large part from corruption's negative impact on social and economic development and on recognised human rights in many countries, its members re-dedicated themselves to doing all they could to the promoting of integrity in government, public and private life.
In so doing they reaffirmed their conviction that corruption impacts negatively not only on human rights and economic development, but also undermines stability and can threaten peace and security. Tackling corruption was therefore everyone's business, as all but the corrupt are its victims.
Participants noted the growth of the global coalition against corruption, as evidenced by the number of international organisations which joined them for the first two days of their gathering. However, participants called on them to re-examine their own practices in certain respects, particularly in the policies towards providing information. Participants believed that the international institutions should role model the behaviour they were now requiring from governments, and that this should include insisting that the conditions attached to loans being made public by borrowing governments, especially when these related to changes in policy. The agencies should respect and enforce the public's right to know of these. Participants also called on APEC to join a coalition which was now attracting the support of the OECD and the Asian Development Bank, among others.
The Meeting welcomed developments at the OECD and the progress being made towards ratifying the Convention outlawing the bribing of foreign public officials in the quest for international business. It saw this as a clear recognition by the industrialised countries themselves of the significant role played by their corporations in the tide of corruption that was sweeping over many developing countries and countries in transition. The effective criminalising of this conduct, and the denial of tax deductibility for bribes paid abroad, will be a major step forward in the global campaign. Participants resolved to continue to monitor the implementation of this important convention very closely and to encourage further governments to accede to the convention, which is open to non-members of the OECD.
In this context they called upon the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to add corruption in international business transactions to its agenda, as international corruption was a clear distortion of trade as well as an assault on institutions and development in the South and the countries in transition.
They were delighted that the OECD has the reform of abuses of the international banking system on its agenda. Participants were insistent that the illicit trade in finance pursued by banking centres that launder and shield the proceeds of corruption and organised crime, be checked. Accordingly they renewed the call made at Lima, namely that improved financial standards of accountability and transparency, and strengthened regulation in this area, be developed (with particular regard to the proceeds of corruption and crime) and that institutions found to be in breach be subjected to effective sanctions. There was also the need for further strengthening of arrangements for the recovery of assets (both domestically and internationally) from corrupt public officials.
The Meeting discussed the TI Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) at length. Underlying the CPI is the reality that much of the world's most damaging bribery comes directly from business enterprises trading and investing internationally. The scale of corruption in many poorer countries, particularly the corruption of their elite and the negative impact of corruption on development and the plight of the most poor, would be much less were it not for illicit actions by companies with headquarters in many of the leading industrialised countries. More than this, benefits to bribe payers are facilitated by the existence of safe havens provided by the banking systems of some of the leading industrialised countries.
Participants asked the TI Secretariat, as a matter of priority, to develop approaches, which will capture in a separate Index the sources of this international corruption. This will shine the light on the countries that are the homes of bribe-paying corporations. It will be a vital complement to the CPI and will reflect the hitherto unseen faces of international corrupters
A central theme of the Meeting was the right of the public to official information and the impact open government can have on corruption levels. While there were some legitimate areas for confidentiality, these should be kept to the minimum and a culture of openness and information-sharing fostered in administrations around the world. Participants were particularly impressed by the work done by MKSS, an NGO in Rajisthan, India, which has been taking information on small-scale development projects to villages, and causing local officials to refund money said to have been paid to local villagers and suppliers but which had, in fact, been misappropriated.
Access to information was absolutely essential if the media were to be able to discharge its public duties properly and professionally, and in many countries there was also a need to strengthen media freedom.
A second theme was the need to heighten public understanding of the impact of corruption on human rights - civil and political no less than on social and economic.
National chapters of the movement described how they were using surveys and enlisting the co-operation of women's and youth groups as well as trade unions to this end.
Corruption's impact in particular on the environment was dramatised by a presentation on corruption in the trade in rain forest logging in Cambodia, where the forest was being devastated and a major fresh-water lake, a source of food for many, silted up and its resources lost. The Meeting was informed that each of the participants in the Cambodian civil war had been systematically abusing the rain forest resources to finance their military operations.
A third special concern was the need for countries without properly functioning independent Ombudsmen to equip themselves with such an office, which participants saw as a crucial pillar for a country's national integrity system.
The important work of the TI movement at the international level is underpinned by no less important initiatives at the grass roots level in individual countries. The global coalition will only achieve success when the conduct of individuals is changed and improved ethical standards are demonstrated.
In the course of the meeting, participants exchanged ideas and experience gained as they pursued their various agendas to achieve change in their own countries.
For many the task was extremely challenging, and in some there is reluctance on the part of civil society to engage in this essential work - not because participation is not warranted but for reasons of intimidation. In many ways the imprisonment of Olusegun Obasanjo was testimony to the difficulties some face in their daily work. The achievements of some chapters, working under considerable restraints, were highly commended.
The opportunity was also taken to build networks, both within the TI movement and beyond, and to share strategies on network building within particular countries, drawing a wide variety of actors into the coalition. Regionally networking was seen as a crucial tool to assist in chapter building and programme development, and participants resolved to pay particular attention to this aspect.
The national activities described to the Meeting covered a wide area. They included the holding of National Integrity Workshops, organising National Anti-Corruption Days, introducing Integrity Pledges for public officials, building coalitions of stakeholders around specific issues, counselling of whistleblowers, awards given, essay and cartoon competitions held and discussions taking place with governments on necessary public sector and legislative reforms. One particular exercise, in Argentina, had compared costs of supplies to various hospitals. After widely differing prices had been disclosed, these costs dropped dramatically to the benefit of the ordinary patients in the hospitals. Participants were struck by the imagination and dedication of their colleagues in all of these, and other, undertakings and looked forward to continuing exchanges of ideas and innovations as they pursue the objectives of their movement.
In one particular initiative to help further raise global awareness of the need for integrity and the destruction of corruption, the movement decided to work through the United Nations for the creation of an International Day of Integrity, as had been endorsed by the 8th International Anti-Corruption Conference in Lima a year ago.
An invitation was accepted from TI-South Africa for the movement to hold its 1999 annual general meeting in the context of the 9th International Anti-Corruption Conference to be held in Durban in October, 1999.
The participants expressed their immense gratitude to their Malaysian hosts, whose warmth, affection and generous hospitality would always be remembered and whose meticulous attention to detail ensured the smoothest of arrangements for their deliberations.
16 September 1998
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