Transparency International turns 20

Transparency International turns 20

Transparency International is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2013 with a look back at our history and a glance forward into what the future might bring in the effort to defeat corruption.

Twenty years ago foreign bribes were a legal tax write-off for multinational corporations in too many countries, there was no way to measure corruption on a global scale and few leaders of countries lost their jobs for being corrupt.

International organisations did not focus on promoting transparency and anti-corruption, nor was there a single global agreement among countries aimed at stopping bribery or corruption.

Fast forward to 2013 and corruption has gone from a taboo topic to the most-talked about social challenge in the world. Those seeking to eliminate the abuse of power, secret dealings and bribery have torn down graft-riddled governments from Egypt to Peru.

Transparency International’s work on the ground is carried out by over 100 independent chapters. The above picture shows a public rally in Bogra, Bangladesh calling for good governance and effective control of corruption on International Anti-Corruption Day 2011.

Not one, but two global agreements between governments around the world seek to stop the scourge of foreign bribery and corruption. Corruption does not stop at international borders, making the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention and the United Nations Convention against Corruption important crime-fighting tools.

Transparency International played an integral role in all of these changes. Our work has taken us many places, including into the corridors of power where we push and lobby for laws that, for example, open up government books so the people know where the money is coming from, how it is spent and who is spending it. It takes us to a small legal advice office in rural India where a father wants help fending off the request for a 500 rupee (US$9) bribe from a school official in order to secure his daughter’s diploma.

Mothers in Niger receive T-shirts promoting our free anti-corruption legal advice services.

Transparency International has helped save citizens’ lives and billions of dollars by stopping secret deals, shedding light on crooked contracts and making bidding and other public processes more open to the public.

It all began in 1993 when Peter Eigen launched Transparency International. A former World Bank senior official, Eigen had waged a campaign inside the institution and across the development aid community to build understanding of how corruption was wrecking anti-poverty projects in many of the world’s poorest countries. He won encouragement on a personal level from an array of senior officials, but the institutions refused to budge. Their leaders said corruption was just too hot to handle. Eigen decided it was time to act.

In February 1993, Eigen and a group of some 20 allies from a dozen countries met in The Hague to approve the charter document that established Transparency International. In May a conference was held in Berlin and the organisation commenced the long struggle against secret dealings, bribery and the abuse of power.

With the first two decades under our belt, now is the time to look ahead and ask ourselves where will we be in the next 20 years and what will we need to do to get there.

An important clue to the future lies in the events of the last two years when citizens from Tahrir Square to Wall Street decided to say “Enough is enough”, toppling corrupt regimes and demanding corporations who bring too much risk to the global economy be removed.

The battle against corruption can no longer only take place within the halls of government, it must now be waged from a broad public base and engage new constituencies like the business community and other non-governmental organisations or football fans.

Students at the Transparency International Summer School on Integrity. Each year students come together from around the world to learn about the causes of corruption and practical ways in which societies can become more transparent and accountable.

As we saw in Cairo and within the Occupy Wall Street movement, technology will increasingly be used to bring people together quickly to challenge the status quo.

Looking ahead, Transparency International will create a succinct, clear and accessible statement of people-centred principles outlining what people all over the world can do to stand up and successfully resist corruption.

Carousel image credit: Flickr/a.Andres

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