Interview with Cobus de Swardt

On the occasion of the global announcement of our theme and venue for the 15th IACC we had the pleasure to talk to Cobus de Swardt. Mr. de Swardt is Managing Director of Transparency International. In this interview he explains to us is views on the chosen theme as well as on the IACC’s role in the fight against corruption

IACC team: The theme of the 15th IACC has been selected. Next year the conference will evolve around the theme Mobilising People: Connecting Agents of Change. What does this theme mean to you?

Cobus de Swardt: I think if you look at the key phrasing – mobilising people – for civil society this is a key action and arguably at this time the weakest link of our actions to fight corruption. Historically civil society has fought corruption by doing three things:

Firstly by putting a lot of political pressure at the top for change – we have been very good at that. Secondly we had and continue to have programmes that we run in key areas where we want to have a domino effect where we want to bring about systematic change – we have been quite good at that. The third pillar, namely pressure from bottom-up, arguably over the years has been the one where we have been the weakest at. Over the last couple of years we have seen both – the efforts within the anti-corruption movement, as well as from citizens across the world taking action against corruption as being the most critical game changer in bringing about sustainable change in fighting corruption. In that sense mobilising people is really very much in tune with what is happening in the world out there and what is the next major frontier to bring about fundamental change in the way that we fight corruption. Because fighting corruption is not only about effective ways to deal with corruption. It is also about social justice. That, I think is brought together very poignantly in mobilising people – to bring an end to corruption and bring greater social justice to the world. In that sense I think this conference and the time in which it takes place, as well as the way that it is structured is indeed very, very exciting.

IACC team: At the beginning of September we saw thousands of Brazilians take to the streets to peacefully protest against corruption. This is one of many similar events happening all over the globe. What do you think about this change in protest cultures?

Cobus de Swardt: I think if you look at protest and civil action against injustices and for human rights over the last decade, they have had very particular patterns of not happening in one location at a time: Whether you look at the fight against colonialism, whether you look at the fight against the cold war. Most of these were actions that were bottled-up frustrations against injustices. Not in one country or one city but across bigger areas and where the domino effect started it was in most cases an action that was unstoppable and irreversible. I think we have seen the same in the last couple of years where the demand for public accountability and an end to corruption became something that really was a major driver for change. It is the key driver, in my view, of the Arab spring. I think the events that we have seen in countries beyond the Arab speaking world are very much in that framework of citizens not only saying that they no longer want to live with corruption but that they also say that they want to have their leaders in all sectors to be held accountable for their actions. I think that those [protest movements] we have seen over the last 2 to 3 years take a variety of forms. They can be about food price increases, they can be about issues of access to medical care but ultimately they are about citizens saying they want a greater public accountability in all areas of live. That, I think, is very much also what we have seen in Brazil. It is a fantastic backdrop for us to plan to have the IACC in a country that is critical to that region, that is critical to the world, and of course we have also the eyes of the world focussed on it with the Olympics and the World Soccer Cup being there. So, for Brazil there is a lot to be gained to bring in best practices in terms of public accountability

IACC team: Looking at the future of the anti-corruption movement, what are the opportunities and how can the IACC help to address them?

Cobus de Swardt: I think the IACC has over the years created a very important platform for multi-stakeholder engagement – bringing civil society, business community and governments together. For any initiative to run for a long time one has to, from time to time, take a step back, pause, and think: Does it really still make a contribution? I think in this time when we have a particular awareness across the world that the existing institutional networks of global governance have really been unable to deal with global crises, the importance of multi-stakeholder consultations, multi-stakeholder involvement is more important than ever before. So in that sense the IACC has been, if you look back historically, ahead of its time. The challenge for the IACC now is whether it can work with these constituencies – bring them together and particularly be a vehicle where this quest for this increased public accountability can be part of how these multi-stakeholders interact. I think that will be a major challenge particularly because the existing institutions as they exist in civil society, in the public sector and the business community are by a large not fully engaged or integrated into broad social movements. And those are the ones that are increasingly bringing about fundamental social change across the world. So it is not only; can we bring these multi-stakeholders together in the IACC but can the IACC also since it brings these constituencies together also have a much greater involvement with broader social movements. Social movements that spring up and take on an issue and again dissolve. That only time will tell – whether the IACC can do that efficiently. But I think that it is for both, the IACC as well as the anti-corruption movement, the key challenge: To harness a new model of multi-stakeholder engagement. Particularly a model that will have on the one hand much greater demands on public accountability and on the other hand not formed part of the old structures of governance the way we have known it. That is a challenge for the IACC; that is a challenge for those fighting corruption and a challenge for all of those that look for both – better and as well more just global governance in the years to come.

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