Empowering Citizens to Fight Corruption

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Public Awareness

Why this is so important Submitted by Frank Vogl on Sat, 08/28/2010 - 19:22.

Terrific conversation. Permit me to make three points and, should anyone want further elaboration on any of the, then I would be delighted to so, But, in brief:

1. Many people do not adequately appreciate how enormously successful the fight against corruption has been over the last 20 years. We are turning the corner at last. More people will join the fight when they appreciate that this is not a hopeless cause, far from it - just two decades ago there were no international anti-corruption conventions, there were minimal numbers of prosecutions against bribe-paying companies (in fact only the US had a law against corporate bribery of foreign government officials - now 40 countries have such laws); there were very few civil society organizations concerned with fighting corruption and none that sought to be multilateral - now, for example, Transparency International has a network of some 90 national chapters; back then all of us seeking to develop campaigns had to use fax and expensive telephone calls - the e-mail/Internet age has revolutionized organizing, and massively increased the media focus on corruption. But, most importantly, in scores of countries today there are very courageous, driven, highly skilled, professionals leading anti-corruption civil society - we need to take strengthe from this and spread the word that this is a fight that can make major progress.

2. responding to the rise of civil society organizations with this mandate a few of us created the Partnership for Transparency Fund (www.PTFund.org) to provide small grants - usually no more than $30,000 each - to civil society groups in developing countries that have specific anti-corruption projects. We have made dozens of grants. The demand grows to the point where we can only currently fund about one-quarter of the applications. But, PTF is an example of new funding sources to empower citizens - we want to encourage applications and all the details are at the website.

3. over 40 Transparency International national chapters have developed approaches that we call in TI the ALAC, which fundamentally seek to provide people with advice and effective assistance when the want redress after having been cheated by corrupt officials. What started a few years ago as just the idea of one chapter has spread at a dramatic pace and as it does, so it takes the cases of ordinary citizens and places them at the very heart of the broad fight against corruption. 

For all of the achievements and the succes, we have an Everest of corruption to confront. The challenge is great, but we are now entering a new era in the fight that will see unprecedented participation at the grass roots levels - understanding this and acting on this potential strength will be the dominant feature of the anti-corruption global fight in the coming decade.

Thanks, Frank


Anti-corruption past and future

Hello Frank and welcome to our dialogue. Thanks for your observations, which provide a valuable context for where we are now colllectively in the fight to curb corruption, and future prospects. I hope participants in the dialogue will explore the Partnership For Transparency Fund.  While grass-roots civic campaigns and movements ultimately run on the time and resources contributed by volunteers and communities, small grants by a neutral, non-state organization such as the PFT are greatly needed.

Empowering Citizens to Fight Corruption

It has been interesting to read all the comments which have been posted – they confirm over and over that there are many ways in which citizens can get involved and make a difference. More importantly, they remind us that the only way countries and regimes can change or improve themselves is through the direct demand for change from citizens – more to the point, this is precisely why developed countries have more developed and protected rights for their citizens – because citizens of such countries (and more specifically their ancestors) have fought for these rights dearly.

Within this context, a country like Lebanon must seem like a European country in the middle ages – we have a political elite that consists of a club representing all the communities in the country, and none of them truly having a national vision but instead protecting their own community interests. Essentially, the social contract in Lebanon is different to anything you might find in the West (Europe & North America) – In the West, the social contract is directly between the State and the Citizen; In Lebanon and the MENA region, the social contract is between the State and Tribes or Communities – at the expense of the citizen and the state (since communities/tribes siphon state resources which are most often spent in an unequal and unaccountable manner, sometimes even undermining the interests of the sate which provided these resources). Thus, for countries like Lebanon (and we are not unique in this context), the real question is: how do you convince such a political elite to enact/carry out reforms which will inevitably diminish their influence/interests but serve the interests of citizens and the state?

There can be no easy answer to such a question and, at the same time, many of the comments posted in this dialogue reflect part of the answer. As the official Chapter of Transparency International in Lebanon, here are some of the tactics we have been using:

1: Raising awareness: organising conferences and training workshops (in major cities and peripheries of the country) to raise the public’s understanding on issues such as electoral reform, Access to Information, Whistle Blower Protection, Anti Corruption Commissions, Corporate Governance etc...

2: Collective Action: creating coalitions which include all relevant stakeholders (public sector, private sector, civil society, academics, youth)

3: Developing new laws/recommendations and advocating for them: through the collective action initiatives mentioned above, ensure that you have the appropriate skill sets on board to develop new laws and advocate for their enactment.

4: Informing citizens on their rights and encouraging them to get involved/speak up: through publications designed to inform citizens on their rights in any given context, and through the establishment of an ALAC center as described by Frank Vogl in an earlier comment. ALAC centers can basically be described as a hotline which citizens can call to register specific cases of corruption which they have witnessed or where they have been a victim. The ALAC center then provides the citizen with legal advice on how to approach/address the case; the center also uses the information gathered to advocate for change.

5: Building a constructive working relationship with relevant state institutions: For example, through an agreement with the Ministry of Finance, we are in the process of developing a ‘Citizen’s Budget’, which seeks to present/explain the national budget in ‘layman’s’ language which can be easily understood by the average citizen, thus enabling citizens to be informed on the national budget and being able to ask the right questions to those who are responsible for developing it.

Ultimately, what truly matters is not necessarily the speed at which reforms /change occur, but to maintain a sense of momentum and direction in that journey. Citizens who are empowered and engaged can be the best allies in such a journey.

Badri El Meouchi
Executive Director
The Lebanese Transparency Association – LTA


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