On Transparency – opening speech

Filed under - Transparency International

Speech by Huguette Labelle, 8 November 2013 – 'On transparency' conference, Berlin, Germany
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Welcome

Ladies and Gentlemen; friends, colleagues and supporters from distinguished organisations;

Welcome to this special day in the history of Transparency International. Thank you for joining us as we celebrate our twentieth anniversary. Today, we should look back at the origins and the achievements of Transparency International, but also the challenges ahead.

1. The Foundation of TI

1.1. The circumstances in which TI was founded

Corruption is one of the world’s most talked about problems. As all of us in the room know, corruption feeds insecurity and conflict and drives poverty and inequality. One person in four around the world pays bribes to access public services. It threatens the trust between the people and their government as well as the confidence in the leaders of business and other major institutions. This trust being fundamental in well-performing societies.

Twenty years ago, most governments, international organisations and multinationals refused to talk about corruption. There were few codes of conduct dealing with bribery and conflicts of interest, and still fewer compliance teams and anti-corruption reports.

  • Indeed, in the early 1990s, far from punishing foreign bribery, the tax systems in 14 OECD countries actually counted many bribe payments as deductible business expenses. Only the United States had criminalised foreign business bribery, in a law dating back to 1977.

When Transparency International was founded, people were very sceptical. They doubted whether something could be done about corruption.

  • One cartoon portrayed TI as Don Quixote tilting at windmills.
  • On the day of TI’s launch, the Financial Times said fighting corrupt business practices was like “cleaning the Augean stables”.
  • “Transparency International has its work cut out for it”, said the International Herald Tribune in October 1993, although it accepted the need “to take away some of the murk from international finance”.        

1.2 Recognize the Founders and supporters

Huguette Labelle speaking at 'On transparency', 8 Nov 2013

Twenty years ago, Peter Eigen and a group of individuals who worked very closely with him launched Transparency International, TI as we know it.

This is the story of a vision. A vision held by a group of highly experienced and idealistic people who moved in high circles of international affairs. As they talked, they shared their fears about corruption, their frustration at the failure of their organisations to deal with it. It became clear that they would not be able to start this new fight within any existing organisation. There were too many vested interests, too great a desire to keep to business as usual.

They wanted to break the conspiracy of silence about corruption, because they knew the damage it does. They wanted to see corruption dealt with; they wanted to see systemic measures put in place to make sure that it would be dealt with, wherever it occurred.

The vision began to form, therefore, of a new organisation whose overarching purpose would be to fight corruption. Driven by this vision, a small group of people came together in the Hague in the cold winter of 1993 and ten of them signed the founding charter of Transparency International.

Those who participated in that meeting in the Hague included - Peter Eigen, Laurence Cockcroft, Peter Conze, HansJörg Elshorst, Fritz Heimann, Michael Hershman, Kamal Hossain, Gerry Parfitt, Jeremy Pope, Roy Stacy and Frank Vogl. They took the first steps on a journey which we have all since joined. Some of these people are with us today. Friends, please stand up so that we can applaud you.

For all of them it was volunteer work, a side activity, but it soon became a commitment that came to define them. Above all Peter, for whom it cannot have been easy to leave the World Bank. But his time as resident representative in East Africa had left him convinced that the Bank’s mission, and the greater good, could not be achieved without tackling corruption head on.

Transparency International’s inaugural conference was held in a place called Villa Borsig, here in Berlin. Some people in the room today were at that conference. Friends, Please stand up so that we can see you.

On the agenda was development, the public and private sector perspectives of corruption, the structural nature of corruption, and the solutions and actions Transparency International could bring.

In those early days a range of leaders - Robert McNamara, Devendra Panday, Olusegun Obasanjo, Dieter Frisch, Alberto Dahik, Oscar Arias and others, declared corruption is universal, it is not just an issue in the south, and fighting it demands concerted action by all across the world in partnership under the Transparency International umbrella.

We would not be here today without supporters like Richard von Weizsäcker, the Global Coalition for Africa, GTZ and Hansjoerg Elshorst, Michael Wiehen, George Moody Stuart and many more.

Peter started Transparency International with barely any cash, no staff and no office. Soon he found funds to engage Margit van Ham and Fredrik Galtung.

Jeremy Pope became the first managing director in 1994, in partnership with Peter, he made an enormous contribution to the movement in the early years. Sadly, Jeremy passed away last year.

We will have the opportunity to celebrate the founders on Sunday night. For now, let us consider their legacy.

2. Our movement

2.1 The Transparency International structure

The founders were wise. They could have decided to be a think tank or have regional offices around the world. Instead, they invented a new and unique third model grounding Transparency International in national realities through Chapters. They also decided to have Individual Members to give global perspective and international expertise as well as an Advisory Council with world leaders who could be called upon to give their support.

The seed they planted has grown strong roots. Transparency International is present in 112 countries today. There are TI chapters in 95 countries, with 17 more in the process of accreditation. The movement is further strengthened by 31 individual members who provide a wealth of expertise from various leading roles in business and politics. There are thousands of volunteers. And there is a strong secretariat, which has made it possible for TI to expand its work.

Today Transparency International is widely recognised as the key driver of global political discourse around the world, as well as a most respected change agent in the countries where we operate.

Looking at the diversity in the room today, it is clear that this model has served Transparency International very well over the years. So the founders were very wise in establishing this kind of organisation. Many leaders of other organizations have told me how they wished that their own organization had such a model.

2.2. Our guide - our mission and values which have provided union and purpose.

We dispute that corruption is a part of culture or way of life. We dispute that it is sometimes needed to “grease the wheels” in business deals. We dispute that ordinary people are powerless to do something about it. We say that the bribe giver is as guilty as the briber taker.

Coalitions

But Peter Eigen and the other co-founders never just tilted at windmills. They knew that Transparency International had to build a coalition to make an impact

  • One of Transparency International’s first papers said “TI is focused...on initiating constructive actions to bring together in a coalition members of governments, the private sector and development organizations, to join forces against corruption.
  • This approach was vindicated when 16 European business leaders wrote an open letter calling on OECD governments to tackle corruption, a move that gave great momentum to the OECD convention against bribery.

Positive values & solutions

What Peter and his TI colleagues achieved was to plant their vision in the consciousness of people all over the world, in politics and business, in academia and the media, in power and in daily life.

  • They took an issue that had a devastating impact on the world and were instrumental in making it one of the key social issues of our time. They convinced people that corruption, for many a mere philoshophical concept, could be researched and they led a political struggle against it.
  • They were successful because they promoted positive values to counter corruption – something that allowed potential allies to believe in a better world. The values of transparency, accountability and integrity are now heard every day in public life. Shaping the political discourse on their importance has been key.
  • They used tools like the Corruption Perceptions Index, Integrity Pacts and National Integrity System assessments to make corruption a tangible concept that people could relate to the struggles of their daily life. Thanks to these tools, Transparency International is today widely recognised as the organisation that has led thinking about corruption and efforts to understand and address it.
  • This means that today, when a government promises to fight corruption, the promise must translate into action. Politicians and businesspeople look at Transparency International to be a driver of social force and provide the tools to practice what is preached.

3. Major achievements of the last 20 years

Looking from 20 years ago, so much has been achieved.

3.1 Conventions

  • In 1996 the Inter-American Convention was signed in Venezuela. This was just the beginning. Other regional organisations like the European Union, the Council of Europe and the African Union later followed this example.
  • The signing of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention in 1997 and its entry into force in 1999 represented the first major action by all leading industrial countries against corruption. Today the convention’s 40 signatories represent two thirds of world exports.
  • Ten years and one week ago, the general assembly of the United Nations adopted the UN Convention against Corruption. An international norm was established and commitments made by the 168 state parties who have since ratified it.

3.2 Institutions and laws

There has been a phenomenal flowering of institutions and laws specifically designed to increase transparency and accountability. There are hundreds of anti-corruption commissions, ombudsman Offices and stronger audit agencies often exist not only at national level but also in regional authorities and for big organisations. Access to information law, only present in a dozen countries in 1993, are now the norm, while the new trend is to make access to information a right, not a privilege.

3.3. Today the leading development agencies have and programs with stronger investigating capacity

In 1996, then World Bank President James Wolfensohn broke the silence that had shrouded the World Bank with his “Cancer of Corruption” speech.

He said that people know corruption “diverts resources from the poor to the rich” and called corruption “a major barrier to sound and equitable development”.

  • This example continues today. President Kim last week reaffirmed that the Bank as a zero tolerance approach to corruption; that fighting corruption is crucial to fighting poverty.
  • Since Wolfensohn transformed the Bank, the IMF and the aid community has accepted that our issues are central to attempts to reduce poverty. The International Aid Transparency Initiative, for example, has been widely accepted as a common standard for public disclosure of financial aid data.

3.4 G20

In 2010, the Group of 20 leading economies agreed to an Anti-corruption action plan. It was renewed in November 2012. Implementation is overseen by an Anti-Corruption Working Group, which works closely with civil society and other groups including business.

3.5 UNGC

The UN has also ensured that corruption is part of corporate sustainable efforts by having added corruption as the 10th principle to its Global Compact. Something that TI lobbied extensively to see happen. The UNGC is the world's largest corporate governance initiative with 8,000 participants including 6,000 companies.

3.6. Numerous international initiatives are now in place driving greater transparency and integrity in the public and business domain

  • Under the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, two dozen countries are now disclosing oil and gas revenues.
  • The World Economic Forum has been another firm ally. Together, we have worked to raise the standards  for corporate corruption prevention. Now ten years old, the Business Principles for Countering Bribery developed by TI remain highly relevant, especially since they were updated this year.
  • Most recently, the Open Government Partnership was a commitment by 55 governments to open up public data to the people.

3.7 Chapters

Many of you in this room played parts in these major achievements, and have worked hard since to maximise their impact.

National chapters have given our work local relevance in countries around the world. They understand the specific corruption issues in their communities, develop local solutions that are relevant to daily life. They build local coalitions, and engage the people who suffer most from corruption, with Advocacy and Legal Advice Centres in 60 countries, and making a difference in their lives. Most often, they drive political debate, campaign for new laws, and with the people, pressure for lasting reform. Individual Members have contributed to the development of global tools and led on global initiatives. In this way, TI has been transformed into a major movement. Our impact is so much greater, as is our global credibility as we together move to make the world a better place.

3.8. Level of public awareness in the world, and people speaking out

The level of awareness is now universal. Today, people are far more aware than 20 years ago about corruption and its effect on their country’s politics, its economy and their own lives. They know that something can be done about it, and they expect their leaders to act.

This June, nine people out of ten said they are ready to fight corruption. Today, it is harder to get away with abuse of power as public and business leaders are convicted. The place to hide is not as easy to find anymore.

Today, corruption is no longer an abstract word, people see it for what it is; a global threat that must be fought, and one that can be defeated.

4. The world landscape

Friends,

We should be proud of the important role we have played in these achievements. The progress achieved leaves us finely poised to move to the next level. But faced with today’s global challenges, we must see the achievements of the last twenty years as the foundation for the next twenty years.

In looking forward, we need to take stock of the world landscape:

  • The population will reach 8.5 billion by 2025. As we approach our 50th anniversary, there will be 9 billion people on the planet.
  • Urban populations are growing rapidly and cities are under growing pressure to cope with the extra demand for infrastructure and public services.
  • Dramatic increases of population density will create pressure on tolerance.
  • There is rapid industrialisation in emerging economies and increased consumer demands.
  • We can already state enormous pressure on the essentials of life such as food, water and energy, as well as increased pressure on natural resources.
  • The world remains exposed to the risk of financial crisis and lasting economic depression that follows stock market shocks.
  • Our lives will all be changed by climate change and extreme weather conditions.
  • We still live in a world divided by inequality, where the world’s richest 10 per cent owns 85 per cent of global wealth.
  • Unemployment, especially youth unemployment, remains unacceptable.

All these issues in this shifting landscape have the potential to exacerbate poverty and conflicts unless we can generate ways to deal with them and the corruption risks they imply. The Africa Progress Panel, chaired by Kofi Annan, has reminded us that resource-rich countries have some of the worst human development indicators in the world.

All of these are areas of vulnerability where corruption can prevail. We have laws and rules to respond to this risk, but their enforcement is often weak. People are on the street, but reforms are not happening. Commitments are welcomed by leaders of the world, but full implementation still needs to happen.

We need to take the public awareness that we have gained over the past 20 years and channel people’s anger and cynicism to solutions that will create a change towards greater integrity.

We must continue to change not just practices but value systems. Institutions and businesses need to go beyond mere compliance, circumvention and pushing back. They have to adopt ethical foundations and cultures within their organisations.

We need to link our work to the great issues of our time.

In many countries, the push back against civil society is sinister. In the past year, more than 30 countries proposed or enacted legislation that restricts civil society. Of particular concern are barriers to foreign funding, but raids on NGO offices, constraints on assembly and speech are also a concern.

Conclusion

Friends, let me end by welcoming you once again. I am so proud to be a part of this movement. I know all of you and many others share my pride.

In looking forward we still have a massive amount of work to do.

We are here today to celebrate Transparency International and the people who created it.

But we are also here to intensify the linkages of our work to the huge issues facing our societies. Because of the work done in the last twenty years to make people ready to fight corruption, our work going ahead can make this link. Our discussions today are part of that.

2.5 billion people living in poverty is not sustainable. We must link our work to this issue, especially at a time when the post-2015 development agenda is being discussed.

It's important to know where we come from to know where we are going. A number of you were engaged early on, and for many years you fought to put our issues on the agenda. Many of our achievements would have been unthinkable two decades ago. Today we must mobilise similar ambition to face the grave situation our people face.

We need to maintain the same drive, the same energy, the same determination that drove the founders of Transparency International’s founding charter. The courage to be different, and the will to make a difference.

Thank you.

Country / Territory - International   
Region - Global   
Language(s) - English   
Topic - Accountability   |   Conventions   |   Governance   |   Politics and government   |   Poverty and development   |   Private sector   |   Transparency International   

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