Peter Eigen, 65, is the German founder of Transparency International (TI), which campaigns against corruption throughout the world. He receives the Reader's Digest European of the Year award to celebrate the organisation's remarkable achievements since it was set up in 1993. As a result of TI, corruption, once a taboo subject, is now on almost everyone's agenda. And, after years of unrelenting effort, anti-corruption laws are being put in place universally.
Eigen was chosen by the Editors-in-Chief of the 18 European editions of Reader's Digest magazine, which reach 4.5 million subscribers. The Reader's Digest European of the Year is awarded to the person who in the Editors' opinion best embodies the contemporary expression of Europe's values and traditions. The award will be presented to Peter Eigen at a ceremony in Berlin on 8 January 2004.
The full story of Eigen's fight to eradicate corruption, written by contributing editor Brian Eads, is published simultaneously in all European editions of Reader's Digest in January.
Eigen was working as a World Bank official when he first encountered corruption in government contracting in Kenya. Disgusted by the many dubious schemes he came across, he appealed to his bosses at the World Bank to confront the issue head-on, but they refused. Frustrated and disillusioned, Eigen realised that he could do more good for the developing world on the outside. In 1991 he retired and in 1993 he launched Transparency International, a non-government organisation, in Berlin, where it is still based.
Eigen and his colleagues identified 50 anti-corruption principles for use by national chapters and local groups. They included protection for whistle-blowers, rules for procurement and punishments for bribe givers and takers. When he took his case to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the 30-member grouping of rich countries committed to good governance and free trade, paying bribes abroad was not illegal in most OECD nations. Now, thanks in part to his persistence, every OECD member country has passed new domestic laws against it.
Elsewhere, TI's safeguards were adopted on contracts big and small. Panama, Ecuador, Argentina, Taiwan, Bangladesh and even the People's Republic of China are among countries which have addressed corruption as a result of TI's work. TI is now active in more than 80 countries.
Now 65, Eigen saw evidence of his progress when, in April 2003, he returned to Kenya and was fêted by newly-elected President Mwai Kibaki, who affirmed his commitment to eradicating corruption and has since launched a massive anti-corruption drive. Joining in the celebration was James Wolfensohn, president of the World Bank. " It took someone like him, (working with many others) willing to ram his head into the walls of prejudice and timidity in the international community to help foster real change," said Wolfensohn.
Peter Eigen is the ninth winner of the Reader's Digest European of the Year award, worth €5,000. He commented: " This award signals important cross-border recognition of a grave cross-border problem, namely corruption in international business."
"Transparency International has been campaigning for ten years now to persuade businesses and governments to stop paying and taking bribes, and the Reader's Digest Award of European of the Year is a fitting way to bring to a close TI's 10th anniversary year. The money from the award will be put towards strengthening our work worldwide in fighting corruption and in making the powerful in the public and private sector more accountable to citizens, employees and shareholders.
"Corruption knows no borders, and it is reassuring to know that the issue is taken seriously not only in developing countries, where it hits hardest the poor and the sick, but also in Europe, where corruption remains a problem, both in terms of the bribery abroad by international companies, but also at home".
Previous winners include Šimon Pánek, who set up the pioneering People In Need foundation in the Czech republic, Eva Joly, fearless French magistrate, Paul van Buitenen, the Dutchman whose allegations of corruption brought down the European Commission, and Linus Torvalds, the Finnish computer genius who invented the Linux operating system and then gave it away.
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