Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The global crusade against corruption

By Jon Overton

Frank Vogl, a co-founder of Transparency International and vice chair of the Partnership for Transparency Fund spoke about global corruption on Jan. 30 at Iowa City’s Congregational United Church of Christ, sponsored by the Iowa City Foreign Relations Council while promoting his new book, Waging War on Corruption: Inside the Movement Fighting the Abuse of Power.

Vogl illustrated how the anti-corruption movement has changed over the past 20 years and explained how corruption permeates parts of society including the military, poverty, finance, natural resources and how democracy functions.

“Corruption is universal,” he said. “We see it played out in different degrees, but…it happens here at home too.”

The anti-corruption movement’s growth exploded since Transparency International’s founding in 1993. When Vogl helped create the organization, it was the first global anti-corruption movement, and faced heavy skepticism. Transparency International now has chapters in over 100 countries, some with membership in the tens of thousands.

The Partnership for Transparency Fund has given 200 grants to civil society groups that Vogl said combat corruption. Many of these organizations cooperate to promote democracy, human rights, the environment and fighting corruption, he said, strengthening the movement.

The Transparency International
Headquarters in Berlin
“We too often forget that the changes that have happened on corruption, the anti-corruption landscape, have happened because of unbelievable courage and professionalism of a rising number of young people who are the activists of their civil society, operating in incredibly dangerous countries,” he said.

The anti-corruption movement, Vogl said, led several legal reforms including a 1998 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development convention illegalizing corporate bribery of public officials and a United Nations convention against corruption, creating a legal framework for prosecution.

“We are seeing it around the world: more and more prosecutions, more and more people ousted for corruption,” he said. “Mubarak in Egypt, Ben Ali in Tunisia…not to mention a number of U.S. congressmen and a number of governors and other public officials here.”

The biggest victories for the anti-corruption movement, Vogl said, are visible in the mass demonstrations across the world from Pakistan to Belarus to Occupy Wall Street.

“Sensitivity of mass public engagement to create justice, to fight for the dignity of the individual, to fight against the daily humiliation that corruption causes is stimulating people on a scale we’ve never seen before,” he said.

While the anti-corruption movement has made significant progress, Vogl acknowledged that regression occurs.

“We’ve reached base camp, which is pretty high,” he said. “We still have the rest of Everest to climb, so I'm not complacent.”

$1 trillion illegally goes through the global financial system every year, tens of billions of dollars of which Vogl said go to government officials who steal from national treasuries, fueling organized crime and terrorism.

Pouring funds into nations like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq, he said, involved ignoring widespread corruption that the U.S. financed. It is time, Vogl said, to consider the consequences of these actions.

 “Are we adding to corruption in the world,” he said, “or are we strengthening democracy?”

Visit ptfund.org for stories about people whose lives are improving because of work against corruption.

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