How organized civil society can aid corruption fight

By Peter Eigen 15 June 2015

Demonstrators with pickets calling for an end to corruption during the 2011 non-violent civil resistance rally in New Delhi, India. Photo by: Ishan Khosla / CC BY-NC-ND

International corruption is endemic. The World Bank estimates that the equivalent of $1 trillion is lost every year to corruption worldwide. Corruption perverts economic management, thereby causing untold misery, conflict, and environmental destruction to the world.

Corruption is both the cause and the result of failing governance, particularly failing global governance. But it’s clear our present paradigm of global governance, which puts the pressure on sovereign nation states and their governments, is failing in regulating a globalized economy.

The present system leads to governance failure at the global, regional and local levels. The outcome of our present system is unacceptable: Poverty, injustice, refugees, conflict, violence and terror.

If my experience as the founder of Transparency International is any indication, we need a new paradigm of global governance. When civil society organized itself to fight corruption and joined forces with governments and the private sector, possibilities of reform developed and led to dramatic changes.

But before I chart a road map for the future, let me explain how we arrived here in the first place.

The reason for the present governance failure is a threefold asymmetry between national governments and the globalized market they are supposed to govern in the long term public interest: Both the geographic reach of nation states and the time horizon of national governments are limited, and the constituencies of national governments are almost always scattered and diverse.

Transparency International founder Peter Eigen weighs in on the need for a new paradigm for global governance.

The nation-state centred paradigm is therefore only partly functional in a globalized economy. And this holds true, too, for intergovernmental organizations like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and United Nations agencies, where member nations often pursue their national agendas.

It is sometimes suggested that the business sector should play a more powerful role for business in good global governance — but if the business sector should have any success in fighting corruption at all, it has to be embedded in an enabling environment for responsible corporate conduct. Such an environment would need to be shaped by society.

For these reasons, I  would like to suggest a powerful new actor: organized civil society. The role of civil society — particularly organized civil society — in shaping globalization is increasingly recognized: not just in replacing legitimate governments, but in complementing them through a triangular interaction of government, business and civil society organizations.

The experience we’ve had fighting corruption with the help of the CSO Transparency International has shown me the impact organized civil society can have on better global governance, a complex challenge that none of the traditional actors of governance can solve alone.

To put it very briefly, TI has built its success on:

1. mobilizing civil society in more than 100 countries for the diagnosis of their corruption problems, design of reforms and their implementation in societies;

2. using a holistic approach; and

3. in cooperation with other actors of governance — often an antagonistic coalition of very different actors in the public, private and civil society sectors.

A close cooperation with the media for building a global consensus about the catastrophic impact of corruption — including our regular Corruption Perception Index — and with research and academia, led to a situation where today practically every significant voice castigates corruption.

Growing support among a coalition of the three actors of governance, the state as prime actor, the commercial sector and CSOs have to complement each other in order to establish together better governance.

A free and vigilant civil society is essential if we are to tackle poverty and the injustice of globalization, and to dispel the climate of despair and alienation that serves as a breeding ground for conflict, war and terrorism.

Only an effective coalition of state, business and civil society can bring transparency and accountability to global governance — not only to fight corruption, but other ills of globalization too, including injustice and inequity, poverty, violence, conflict, environmental destruction and climate change.

There is hope for a better, more just world for everybody.

Peter Eigen will deliver his Kapuscinski Development Lecture “How to bring transparency to global governance?” on June 16 at 1 p.m. CET. Watch live at kapuscinskilectures.eu and join the #KAPTalks debate via Twitter using #KAPTalks.

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About the author

Peter eigen
Peter Eigen

Prof. Dr. Peter Eigen has led initiatives for better global governance and the fight against corruption for decades. In 1993, he founded Transparency International and has taught law and political science at universities including Harvard, the University of Washington and Bruges College of Europe. Germany awarded Eigen its Grand Cross of Merit in recognition of his efforts to combat corruption in January 2013.


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