Together against corruption: 10th International Anti-Corruption Conference

This week has seen the 10th International Anti-Corruption Conference get under way at the Prague Congress Centre. Since Sunday, delegates have been arriving from all over the world to take part in the discussions. The 10th International conference, which is organized by Transparency International, is continuing to look for newer and more efficient ways at fighting corruption throughout the world. Jan Velinger reports.

On Tuesday the 10th International Anti-Corruption Conference got into full swing, with a panel of business leaders discussing the absolute necessity for a competitive but honest private sector. Frank Vogl, one of the co-founders of Transparency International, spoke of the need for businesses to go the "extra mile" in working towards greater transparency. Jean Lemierre, president of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, described the use of "integrity checks", already in place, to block loans in suspicious ventures. And Ricardo Semler, of Semco Industries, gave examples of blowing the whistle on corrupt practices, in spite of the legal battles involved. All in the name of anti-corruption. Patrick Alley, of Global Witness, a British watchdog group, was equally critical of shady business practices. Alley described the role of his organization as one of identifying states, run like businesses, where the rights of the investors supercede the rights of the individual. Alley's role as a civic activist perhaps singled him out from the others, nevertheless, the leaders on the panel seemed to agree. The message: the only acceptable path for the future is a private sector active against corruption. I spoke to Peter Eigen, president of Transparency International's German chapter.

"What we have seen is that corruption, particularly corruption in the international arena, has grown tremendously in the past, because governments were helpless, and the private sector was helpless. There was a sentiment that if you wanted to do business in the international marketplace, you have to bribe, and nobody dared to stop first, no company, no exporter, but also no government wanted to stop their own exporters from bribing. Therefore, what they needed was the participation of civil society, and we are very proud to say that we helped to build a bridge in this sort of magic triangle, between the public sector and the private sector and civil society organizations, in order to create a new legal framework, the O.E.C.D. convention, which from now on, makes it a crime for say a German to bribe someone here in Prague, or for a Czech to bribe somebody in Nigeria, or for a Nigerian to bribe somebody in China. And this is an example how, through cooperation, rather than confrontation, the various actors of the international community can effectively attack corruption."

And so, it appears, the coalition is on track.

"This coalition is taking shape, we have here at this conference important leaders of government, President Havel, who addressed us, the Prime Minister, a number of ministers, the president of Mexico, and so on, on the other hand, we have very powerful companies represented here, also small companies, we have the research community, important writers, important people from the media, but we have also people from civil society proper, like religious organizations, activist groups, professional groups, and this interaction of all these people together, will offer an answer to corruption, which will otherwise be a monster which will eat its creators."

Meanwhile, throughout the Congress building Tuesday, multiple meetings, seminars and work shops at the 10th International Anti-Corruption Conference got under way. One event was a student forum titled Raising Public Awareness with Uncorrupted Mass Media: How to Achieve That?. Student journalists Galyna Rusin from the Ukraine and Aidar Botagarov from Kazakhstan, gave presentations on the state of media in their countries. Hana Cervinkova, of the New School for Social University, in New York, was the panel's coordinator:

"The speakers that were speaking on mass media were one speaker from the Ukraine, a young student of journalism, who talked about the very bad situation with media and the state control over media, which in the Ukraine gets manifested through very extreme ways, journalists are killed, and she reported on two cases of this happening. The other student was from Kazakhstan, where the state control over media is extreme, but where violence against journalists doesn't happen. But the problem there is, that they do not in fact struggle against the state control."

The presentations spurred heated debates concerning the role of the media, and corruption. One correspondent argued that the role of the media was to supply information, not to change political systems, while another delegate urged just the opposite. A third took the position that the media itself needed to be more transparent. The most somber moment came when one compatriot told Miss Rusin that she believed that Ukranian journalists should be more brave, to which Miss Rusin replied that their only reward would be their graves. Hana Cervinkova believes that students such as Miss Rusin are doing everything they can:

"Students are raising issues about, you know, how in fact corruption is related to the state system and the private sector, and to business, they are much more radical and much more critical. Professionals in the anti-corruption business, people from Transparency International around the world, and other specialists on the issue, they do deal with corruption on a very practical level. The students are also dealing with corruption on a practical level, but they are very critical and they are engaged with particular issues, such as the student Galina, from the Ukraine, who is one of the new generation of journalists, who is trying to fight corruption and probably face danger, in order to report truthfully on the state of affairs."

Whichever side one feels closer affinity too, whether the businessmen of the private sector, or the students, the 10th International Anti-Corruption Conference in Prague, has given people from all over, the chance to exchange their experiences and struggles with corruption, in the firm belief that real changes can be made. According to Hana Cervinkova, this need to meet and discuss with one's peers, is absolutely vital.

"The knowledge that there are other people dealing with this very hard issue, and very dangerous issue, I think is very strengthening, and they do exchange contacts, and they will be in contact, and in fact one of the outcomes of today's session was, that perhaps the support could help in a situation like the one in Ukraine, where the journalists inside the country face such terror, would be some form of help from the outside. And connections with international journalists and with groups outside of the Ukraine, which could be putting pressure on the Ukranian state. So you know, where else would that be happening, than at events like this, and gatherings like this?"