The last six days I spent in the strange but interesting city of Brasilia, attending the 15th International Anti-Corruption Conference. I had been looking forward to it and it was better than expected.
What I liked most was how much space was given to the topic of illicit financial flows. It made clear that corruption is a truly global problem – a global systemic problem that is as much rooted in the rich, western countries, as in the so called “developing” countries. No more North-South divide, we all are concerned.
The enormous scale of illicit financial flows and money hidden in secrecy jurisdictions indicates the outreach of the unholy coalition between the biggest western banks, multinational corporations and captured governments worldwide. The Tax Justice Network estimates that the amount of assets hidden in the offshore system sums up to the inconceivable number of 22 to 32 trillion $US, one third to one half of the whole world’s annual economic output. Global Financial Integrity estimates the annual illicit financial flows out of developing countries into rich countries around 1 trillion $US, corresponding to about one third of the size of Germany’s economy and around seven times the total annual amount of Official Development Aid.
Of course, this system was not created by one evil designer nor an explicit coalition of the evil. Rather, it is the outcome of the opportunistic behaviour of a wide range of independently working actors. But it seems to me that an evil designer could not have done much better in setting up a pervert system to promote corruption and distribute money from the poor to the rich.
The second highlight for me was Kumi Naidoo sitting on the main plenary and demanding of the anti-corruption community to call excessive but legal lobbying and dirty but legal banking what they are: corruption. Speaking of “corruptive laws” that allow and encourage corruption, he hit in my view the point when he claimed that widening the definition of the concept would raise the support for the cause of a much larger part of the worlds population.
A personal motivation-boost was a spontaneous side speech by the founder of Transpareny International, Peter Eigen: Sitting in the audience of a panel on the outlook for success of the fight against corruption, he was asked by a young participant how the fact that TI had been founded by “white men in grey suits” (in fact, not all co-founders were white, but probably all wore grey suits) compares to the much more diverse, much less elevated background of the larger part of today’s corruption fighters.
In an incredibly modest, but at the same time powerful answer he said that at the time he had wrongly viewed himself as a former World Bank regional director as best positioned to address corruption. And that he was happy to see that by today a much broader variety of people is leading the struggle. In particular, he stressed the need of enabling young people from all countries and backgrounds to carry on the cause further than he and his colleagues have could.
I admire sincere modesty very much. And I am happy that he has not the tiniest bit of the post-colonial arrogance that can still be found in the development industry. This encourages me as a fellow german citizen to join the struggle as just another world citizen, free of the false self-restraint that I was somehow less entitled to do so because I come from a “privileged” background.
There were also many good discussions about young people’s role in anti-corruption. But I will write about this and some other issues of these intense days in later posts.