As it passes its 20th birthday, Transparency International is looking to make a bigger impact on corruption

Thanks in great part to the efforts of Transparency International, bribery today is illegal almost everywhere in the world – and yet it is not possible to say we live in a time of reduced corruption.

This undeniable failing propelled TI to take stock of itself at a one-day conference convened to mark its 20th anniversary. And while there are no official announcements of changes, TI seems to be an organisation in development.

The naming and shaming of countries where corruption is a problem, through the flagship Corruption Perceptions Index, will continue. But there is also a growing effort to work more directly with citizens fighting corruption at an individual, bottom-up level.

The locus is a network of 60 advocacy and legal advice centres quietly established over the past few years to provide help to people caught in the web of pervasive corruption. Increasingly these centres are serving to bring like-minded people together to stop corruption, using social media such as Twitter to direct a flood of comments at a corporation where a problem has been identified.

On the legal front, TI is also preparing itself for a more vigorous assault against repeat offenders. International laws mean that NGOs can act on behalf of harmed populations in more than 150 countries where the UN Convention against Corruption is recognised.

Recently, TI France did just that, seizing millions of dollars’ worth of African government assets overseas after a three-year legal battle that saw French courts side with harmed populations from the states of Congo-Brazzaville, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.  

Change coming

Though the exact details are still being worked out, TI staffers say the organisation is beginning to see a new way forward. Change is coming, but slowly.

“At the same time as the political world has woken up to this issue, people have to believe that the game is winnable, that we can actually find tools to bring concrete changes,” says Robin Hodess, head of global research at the TI secretariat in Berlin.

Hodess argues that if the public takes its eye off corruption issues, the political class will, too.

Critics acknowledge the usefulness of the annual Corruption Perceptions Index, published every December to great fanfare, while criticising its overly broad, non-scientific basis.

“We spend billions of pounds on anti-corruption every year, and nothing seems to improve,” says Prof Dan Hough, director of the University of Sussex centre for the study of corruption.

Hough applauds the passage of the new UK Bribery Act after fierce lobbying by TI. He also credits the TI Bangladesh office with implementing Integrity Pacts, a tool aimed at preventing corruption in public contracting of healthcare and educational services.

“TI needs to be more fleet of foot in finding clever ways of enabling and empowering people to try to actually take their personal battle forward,” says Hough. “We see examples all the time where good citizens confront power head on and they fail.”

corruption  transparency international 

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