If we had to name the most influential anti-corruption organization in the world, it would be Transparency International (TI).
The Berlin-based NGO was founded in 1993 by former World Banker Peter Eigen. It now has about 100 country chapters and partners throughout the world.
TI is best known for its Corruption Perception Index, first published in 1995. The CPI ranks most countries based on how corrupt they’re perceived to be by their own citizens and others.
Through the CPI and the grassroots work of its local chapters, TI makes sure corruption stays in the news, and that transparency in government and business is on the agenda.
(The head of TI’s U.S. chapter, Nancy Boswell, stepped down last month after 18 years of service. She joined TI-USA as a volunteer at its founding. Although she guest-posted here in December on the subject of corruption in the U.S., TI-USA was sometimes criticized for putting too little attention on domestic corruption. Mary Jacoby at Main Justice took an in-depth look last month.)
TI defines corruption as “the abuse of entrusted power for private gain.”
Why fight corruption? Here’s TI’s answer:
Corruption hurts everyone, and it harms the poor the most.
Corruption is both a cause of poverty, and a barrier to overcoming it. It is one of the most serious obstacles to reducing poverty.
Corruption denies poor people the basic means of survival, forcing them to spend more of their income on bribes. Human rights are denied where corruption is rife, because a fair trial comes with a hefty price tag where courts are corrupted.
Corruption undermines democracy and the rule of law.
Corruption distorts national and international trade.
Corruption jeopardises sound governance and ethics in the private sector.
Corruption threatens domestic and international security and the sustainability of natural resources.
Those with less power are particularly disadvantaged in corrupt systems, which typically reinforce gender discrimination.
Corruption compounds political exclusion: if votes can be bought, there is little incentive to change the system that sustains poverty.
The conclusion – Corruption hurts everyone.
Not everyone thinks TI’s Corruption Perception Index is reliable. Criticisms include the CPI’s use of third-party surveys, sampling inconsistencies, an inability to compare year-to-year rankings in a statistically meaningful way, and the amalgamation of data from multiple years. (See this critique from Nathaniel Heller at Global Integrity.)
But like it or not, the CPI gave the world a common measure of perceived corruption, and a way to name and shame the crooked regimes that victimize their citizens and endanger the rest of us.
I believe a fitting quote is offered by Abdul Kalam, where he stated, "If a country is to be corruption free and become a nation of beautiful minds, I strongly feel there are three key societal members who can make a difference. They are the father, the mother and the teacher."
The CPI is perhaps a great teacher in the sense that we cannot effectively fight an enemy that we do not first understand and identify.
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