“What’s Next for the Anti-Corruption Agenda?” Celebrating PTF’s First 15 Years

On February 17, 2016, the Partnership for Transparency Fund (PTF) celebrated 15 years of supporting civil society organizations (CSOs) in developing countries that work to promote citizen demand for transparency, accountability and good governance.

“It seems almost impossible that it was 15 years ago that Frank Vogl, Peter Eigen, Barry Metzger and others from Transparency International created the PTF. They had this rather audacious and I think relatively untested idea that citizen engagement and citizen pressure can actually make an impact on the battle against corruption,” said Daniel Ritchie, former President of the PTF.

Fifteen years later, the PTF has made over 250 grants to 166 civil society organizations (CSOs) in 53 countries to engage citizens in actions to improve governance, increase transparency, promote the rule of law and reduce corruption in developing countries. Incredibly, this has been accomplished almost entirely by the contributions of volunteer international development specialists who serve as the organization’s managers and advisers.

To celebrate our accomplishments and build on our successes, PTF hosted a diverse and distinguished panel to share their experiences on the impacts of corruption, challenges combating it and future directions for the anti-corruption agenda. Speakers included Nancy Birdsall, founding President of the Center for Global Development, Robert S. Mueller, former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who served two terms as the Minister of Finance in Nigeria. Daniel Ritchie, former President of the PTF, presented the organization’s experience encouraging constructive engagement between civil society and governments. Richard Stern, current President of the PTF, moderated the event.

After years of observing anti-corruption efforts in multi-lateral aid agencies and civil society, Ms Birdsall emphasized the need to focus on “measurable, verifiable, even auditable results,” that impact country development. She provided powerful examples of successful initiatives, such as the right to information and new technologies, particularly in terms of government expenditures. She also stressed that donors should focus on reducing corruption within countries rather than within their own institutions. Ms. Birdsall congratulated PTF on their mission and stressed “how important it is to find ways to find citizens outside of government and work with them.”

Ms. Okonjo-Iweala’s deeply personal encounters with corruption and the toll of fighting against them, gave her a realistic perspective on the issue. Interestingly, she cited “boring” but critical systems to promote transparency and accountability as a good mechanism to support those in government trying to do the right thing. During her tenure, the Nigerian Federal government published detailed data on federal spending and funding transferred to sub-national entities. State and local leaders who had passed the buck on poor services to lack of financing from the federal government were suddenly held accountable. The biggest lesson she offered was that “punishing people is not enough… if you don’t look for the systemic leakages and block them, over time, you’re going to have a new set of people come and do the same thing.”

Robert Mueller assumed his position as Director of the FBI weeks after 9/11. He told the story of one of his first encounters with the President where he asked “What is the FBI doing to prevent the next terrorist attack?”. Mr. Mueller concluded that the Bureau needed to give special attention to anti-corruption initiatives, along with human rights, as they are key generators of terrorist attacks. A key program of the agency is now to train law enforcement agencies internationally on anti-corruption efforts and human rights protection. “Whether it be domestically or internationally, the bureau still has public corruption as its number one criminal priority to this day,” said Mr. Mueller.

Mr. Ritchie looked at both the evolution of the PTF in particular and civil society in general over the last 15 years. “CSOs have a place at the table that they didn’t have 15 years ago,” he explained, “there are said to be as many as 2 million CSOs in India, a million in a half in the United States. This is a big force.” He went on to illustrate how this force works as a powerful tool in encouraging citizen action to hold their governments accountable. Reflecting on the PTF experience, he noted the organization’s powerful contribution to “demonstrating that beyond any reasonable doubt, that civil action, civic society pressure, civic activity in the fight against corruption can actually work at the grassroots level.”

The audience of over 100 left with a call from Ms. Okonjo-Iweala for to provide increase support to the brave men and women on the front line. “I want you sitting here, the civil society here, the government, everybody, to know what it costs. Therefore the lesson is you must develop systems to help those people [fighting corruption].”