Grand Corruption – the new challenge

Filed under - Transparency International

Speech by José Ugaz, 4 May 2015 – Kingston, Jamaica
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Good afternoon, everybody. First of all, I would like to thank Trevor – Professor Trevor Munroe – and the Board and members of National Integrity Action (NIA) for this invitation. When I was listening to your testimonies you brought back to me the time when I started my membership in Transparency International movement 13 years ago.

A year and a half ago, we celebrated twenty years of existence. Transparency International was founded by Peter Eigen, a German former official of the World Bank, and we are now a big community. We are present in more than 100 countries. We have national chapters like NIA in all these countries and, of course, we have also global action from our Secretariat in Berlin.

Transparency International is composed of thousands of people, of different ages, gender, race, different walks of life, who have only one mission – to promote integrity and combat corruption.

We have, I think, put on the top of the agenda the issue of corruption. Some years ago, for example in 1996, it was expressly forbidden to mention the word “corruption” in World Bank reports. It is because the efforts of Transparency International, and organisations like ours, that we made it possible to openly discuss the impact of corruption around the world – to the point where the former president of the World Bank, Mr. Wolfensohn, in 1996, opened a debate from the institution, saying that corruption was a cancer that undermined development. So we are among many people dealing with the task of promoting integrity and fighting corruption.

Some weeks ago, I was in Norway. I was invited as TI representative to a youth festival, where more than 450 young people from all around the world had an entire week, discussing corruption and its consequences in the world. It was really impressive hearing all these young people passionately debating how we can better tackle this issue, and how they can contribute to making the world a better place with less corruption.

This brings us to the question of - why fight corruption? I come from Peru, a poor country although we are considered a middle-income country, but we still have large portions of our population living in poverty, especially in the rural areas. I would say that part of this – a significant part of the reality of poverty in Peru, and many other countries – has to do with corruption.

So, why deal with corruption? First, we have an obligation to our countrymen and women who suffer because of a group of people who take the money from the country to benefit themselves, or the people around them.

Corruption also needs to be fought because it undermines development. It is not only a moral issue. It has an impact on economy and, because of corruption, people have less education, less access to water, and less access to health and housing.

Corruption is a tax that is paid by the poorest in our countries and this, of course, has to do with democracy. This is a country with a large tradition of democracy, but corruption erodes democracy and affects governance.

Look at what is happening in Brazil – a country in our region – a huge country. Now there’s a new situation of instability because the president Dilma Rousseff is questioned about, and we don’t know to what extent, her involvement in a huge scheme of corruption involving the petroleum company of Brazil. Thirty-seven high officials of the government, linked to the political party of the president, have been indicted in recent days because of their involvement in this corruption situation regarding Petrobras. And this, of course, can affect the government. There are governments that have had to step down because of corruption issues. In my country, the entire Cabinet had to resign five years ago because one of the members was involved in a corrupt scheme.

So this has to do with poverty, has to do with governance, has to do with democracy. And, of course, also has to do with our future, as young countries aspiring to be developed and provide happiness to our people.

When we celebrated our 20 years in Berlin, a year and a half ago, we assessed the situation and arrived at the conclusion that many goals have been achieved during these years. Transparency International was probably the first organisation to put corruption on the top of the agenda and make it a global issue. We have contributed to the appearance of the Latin-American anti-corruption convention, the United Nation anti-corruption convention, and we provide several tools and instruments to people who want to struggle against corruption.

Every year we produce the CPI, the Corruption Perception Index, where we rank the countries. This is known throughout the world and we can map where countries stand regarding perceptions of corruption. We also produce a corruption barometer and the Bribepayer’s Index.  Every two years we have a huge conference with more than 1 200 attendees from different parts of the world, to discuss the challenges of corruption for the future.

Now, more than 40 of our chapters have what we call ALACs. These are legal offices where we can challenge corrupt practices in our countries and help people to organise in order to struggle against corruption. Two years ago, one of our members of our ALAC in Rwanda was killed because he was investigating a case of corruption in the police. So this is work that can carry great personal risk.

Many of our people in the field are facing challenges because they speak out, they are naming names, and they are discovering corrupt practices. That’s one of the reasons why Transparency International has today such a strong brand. If you talk about corruption in the world, immediately many of the people in the world, journalists – and you see it on the news – usually refer to our movement because we’ve been consistent along these 20 years in the promotion of integrity and our fight against corruption.

When I joined Transparency International 20 years ago, I did it because I thought it was a good thing to do in my country. And then I had the possibility to meet hundreds of other people like me around the world, thinking the same, and struggling in much more tough, difficult and dangerous environments than we were facing in Peru.

TI has achieved many of the goals we proposed in the past years, but our assessment after 20 years of existence is that it is not enough. There’s still too much corruption out there on the streets.  And if we ask ourselves – and we did - is there now more or less corruption than when we started our work? Probably the response is - we have more. Have we failed? I don’t think so. I think we have achieved tremendous goals.

Now we have a different challenge to confront, and that’s why we are now talking about grand corruption. We believe that what we are confronting now is very different from what we had to confront 20 years ago. Organised crime, and you know that very well because Jamaica, as Peru and many other countries have been seriously impacted by organised crime, but now with corruption it generates more devastating consequences than it has in the past.

We are living in a global world, with a lot of technology, there is much more money in the market, and all these elements, together with organised crime, have produced a new phenomenon that we understand as grand corruption and is our new challenge.

If we see what’s happening in the region, we will see a very difficult panorama. I’m coming from Panama. The former president of Panama, who just left the government, and is now being investigated, has taken at least 1.2 billion dollars from the public budget. Investigations are on-going, and probably this will scale up to five billion dollars stolen by that government.

If we see what’s happening in Argentina, this government and the past ones (Menem and others), have been always questioned for corrupt practices and stealing money from the people. 

Brazil – I just mentioned the Petrobras scandal, but Brazil has been going from one scandal to another. More than 12 ministers had to resign in the past two years because of corruption.

Venezuela – we don’t have open information about what’s happening in Venezuela, but we have enough indicators pointing that there are also big corrupt practices going on in that country.

Chile, that has always been performing very well, you know, in CPI, now is in the middle of a storm because the son of the president Bachelet has been caught in corrupt practices, and he had to resign to a public institution.

Paraguay, the Dominican Republic, most of our countries, not only in the region, are seriously affected by corruption, and I think this is a huge challenge we have to confront as members of the region.

That’s why TI – Transparency International – has decided to define a new strategy. Now, at the present moment, we have a task force that is working on our 2020 strategy, and in 2011 we defined a different move for a 2015 strategy. And we decided that we were going to prioritize our work in order to fight impunity, and we are working now – I will not go through the details because there’s a lot of information there – but we have what we call the no impunity initiative. And our current struggle is to stop the corrupt getting away with it. And we are developing several campaigns regarding “no impunity.” But you will see in the near future that Transparency International is going to change a the way we confront corruption, and probably we will be taking some direct action, we will be naming people and governments, and we will start campaigns in order to stop impunity.

Our chapter in France, for example, took legal action in their country, and they froze 300 million Euros in assets of President Obiang of Equatorial Guinea, who has been stealing money from his country for many years. And our chapter in Russia and our chapter in some other countries in the Balkans also are working directly in legal action. So “no impunity” will be one of our pillars for the new strategy.

The other one is grand corruption. We are starting a campaign in order to confront grand corruption. Now we understand that grand corruption, as I said, is a different phenomenon because it not only involves huge amounts of money and power, but because it’s having a direct and serious impact in basic human rights.

This, of course, implies a huge amount of effort. We believe that this is a tremendous challenge. And this is for people with courage, people that do not believe that they are losers, people that do not fear the size of the task, people that we understand are the moral reserve of our countries. And it’s interesting, but when a country really apparently hits the bottom, and we believe that it has hit its worst situation of corruption, there is always a group of usually young people that are the moral reserve of the country, willing to change things.

That’s why a second pillar of our new strategy – no impunity is one – the other one is youth. We want to engage youth, and I feel really, really emotional now, seeing all these young faces here, of people that are willing to come to work with this anti-corruption community around the world. I just want to tell you that it is possible, it is not easy, probably we will not see a total success in our efforts, but this is an effort that is worth doing – for our future generations, for having better environments, for having less poor and vulnerable people affected in our countries.

So I want to welcome you warmly to Transparency International. I hope we will see each other more frequently, because I intend to come to Jamaica again. You are now part of our family and our movement.

National Integrity Action – after complying with all the requirements of the movement and a lot of development work – has now become a full chapter of Transparency International. We’ve already been working with you, and Trevor, in many of our actions and we were very much wanted to see you as a full chapter, to recognize your effort, your youth and your capacity. So, let’s celebrate. I want to welcome you to Transparency International, and thank you for your testimonies and your time.

– This is an edited version of the speech delivered by José Ugaz to National Integrity Action on 15 March 2015 in Kingston, Jamaica.

Country / Territory - Jamaica   
Region - Americas   
Language(s) - English   
Topic - Access to information   |   Asset recovery   |   Governance   |   Human rights   |   Law enforcement   |   Organised crime   |   Politics and government   |   Poverty and development   |   Transparency International   
Tags - Jose Ugaz   |   grand corruption   |   Unmask the corrupt   

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