No one can do it alone, yet everyone can make a difference

Filed under - Civil society

Speech by Cobus de Swardt, Managing Director, Transparency International, 4 September 2015 – 16th IACC, Putrajaya, Malaysia
Image of speaker/author

Good afternoon,

Please allow me to start with sharing some personal thoughts with you and expressing my empathy and pain for the social crises facing Malaysia today. It is not easy.

Personally I have a deep bond with this country and its people as I have been privileged that one of the most important influences that shaped me and inspired me comes from the Cape Malay people – many were forcefully removed, many that were political prisoners fighting colonialism. All were unrooted from Malaysia to the southern tip of Africa – people whose quest for freedom, social justice, respect for minority rights, tolerance for religious differences as Muslims and celebration of racial differences were crucial in my own journey to become an African – for that, thank you, Malaysia.

Without dealing with impunity, the future always remains captive by the crimes and abuses and mistrust of the past.

Whilst the solutions and sanctions against impunity might vary a lot, the truth is always a key part of it. This was also demonstrated in my own country, South Africa, with its Truth and Reconciliation Commission, where everyone from the President to the lowest police officer had to speak the truth and nothing but the whole truth. Getting to the truth is often very difficult and in fighting corruption people often feel that they can do nothing about it.

Indeed, no one can do it alone, yet everyone can make a difference. With that in mind, we in TI developed a simple tool. It’s called the “Declaration Against Corruption” and it fits on a little card like this. It has five things everyone can do in their daily lives – of course, except in circumstances where it would put lives at risk.

A simple tool. A small card. Basic actions. 52 words that can help to make big changes.

The Declaration states that:

I believe together we can work towards ending corruption, overcoming widespread injustice and impunity.

Therefore, it states: I commit, wherever possible to the following:

1. I will not pay bribes

Such as, in TI’s work with a head teacher in Papua New Guinea who refused to pay a bribe to release funds allocated to, and urgently needed, by his school on the outskirts of Port Moresby. After more than two years of struggle that involved TI, the police and later public pressure and the media, the battle was won.

But it is not always possible to resist. In Zimbabwe, our chapter worked with women who had to pay US$ 5 to staff every time they screamed during child birth, as a penalty for raising a false alarm. On the spot their vulnerability left them with no choice but to pay. But working together with us later meant that also this battle and abuse has been won.

2. I will not seek bribes

A simple commitment that can prevent massive abuse with huge social and economic costs. For example, in Mexico, families spend up to 14% of their income on bribes for basic services they are entitled to, such as water, medicine and education. Poor people spend even a lot more.

3. I will work with others to campaign against corruption

At all levels – local, national and global, working together can be powerful. I give two examples.

Yesterday, Guatemala’s President resigned and was arrested today following pressure from brave prosecutors working with civil society, including TI, the UN International Commission against Corruption and people taking to the streets demanding justice. Working together.

At the global level, the joined efforts of:

  • the voices of people from the UN big data,
  • the tireless efforts and tactical pressures from civil society (including TI),
  • the dedication of many UN and government officials and,
  • the bold vision of many individuals and governments will culminate on 27 September in New York in the new Sustainable Development Goals. Working together.

These new goals will put in place at least two important things:

Firstly, it will put in place a new development paradigm that integrates and focus on:

  • Human rights
  • Accountability
  • Sustainability
  • Inequality
  • Participation and
  • Universality.

They are not perfect but they are a better start than we could have hoped for.

And secondly, a stand-alone goal, the goal 16 on governance:

Put together, the narrative of this new global policy framework will put an end to the artificial and damaging so-called north/south accountability divide.

Corruption is a world-wide problem, accountability is a challenge and responsibility of all of us. Working together, a major milestone in the fight against corruption will be achieved.

4. I will speak out against corruption and report on abuse

We have heard some examples already today. In the Czech Republic, TI worked with a whistleblower on environmental corruption and helped to save the country over €2 billion.

5. I will only support candidates for public office who say no to corruption that also demonstrate transparency, integrity and accountability

You might ask: but what can they do to demonstrate this? A lot can be done. I give you one example:

They can and they should have up-to-date public register of assets, interests and donations received. Simple. Easy. Powerful.

A commitment, especially at the top, to keep these registers up-to-date after leaving office will be a game-changer in tackling political corruption. Why do leaders resist this and tell us fighting corruption is so difficult and will take so long when they tomorrow morning can set a game-changing example? Somehow it is complex but there are easy things that can and should be done and we expect them from our leaders.

Especially in the absence of such public registers, the public and civil society’s vigilance and questions about apparent very significant donations is crucial. Without answers and independent investigations, the suspicion of corruption, mistrust and appearance of being above the law will prevail. US$ 700 million is very significant.

Ten days ago, the Chair of TI Malaysia, Datuk Akhbar Satar said: “If we hide something – it will become worse… the public wants to know the truth and nothing but the truth about the 1MDB account and the RM2.6 billion donation”.

Only the truth will restore trust. Malaysians deserve that urgently. The pain has to be stopped.

I conclude and ask you to join us in your daily life across the world and I quote from our Declaration:

All forms of corruption must be ended to secure the basic rights of all people and ensure a world where everyone can live in dignity.

Thank you very much.


Country / Territory - Malaysia   
Region - Global   
Language(s) - English   
Topic - Accountability   |   Advocacy   |   Asset recovery   |   Civil society   |   Governance   |   Human rights   |   Law enforcement   |   Politics and government   |   Poverty and development   |   Public services   |   Transparency International   
Tags - Cobus de Swardt   |   16th IACC   

Stay informed

Related news


Transparency International condemns intimidation of its national chapter in Republic of the Congo

Transparency International, the global anti-corruption organisation, strongly condemns the attack against its chapter in the Republic of the Congo, ...


New report finds Afghan government’s anti-corruption efforts insufficient for its SDG committments

The Afghan government’s anti-corruption efforts are insufficient to achieve the targets set out by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development ...


The impact of land corruption on women: insights from Africa

As part of International Women’s Day, Transparency International is launching the Women, Land and Corruption resource book. This is a collection of ...

Related publications

Publication cover image

Policy, SDGs and Fighting Corruption for the People: A Civil Society Report on Afghanistan’s Sustainable Development Goals

The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan’s sustainable development – and ability to achieve its Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) commitments – is ...

Report published – Mar 2018

Publication cover image

Women, Land and Corruption: Resources for Practitioners and Policy-Makers

Despite increasing attention in recent years, little evidence has been available on the issue of women, land and corruption in Africa to inform ...

Report published – Mar 2018