By Andrzej Zwaniecki
In an Indonesian artist’s variation on Gulliver’s adventure on the island of Lilliput, small people curb the monster of corruption by working together. As citizens of Lilliput in this cartoon, activists and civil society groups often view banding together as the best strategy in the fight against corruption.
CITIZENS OF LILLIPUT
In the past decade, governments have negotiated regional and international conventions against corruption and established official anti-corruption bodies.
But without the active involvement of civil society, rigorous enforcement of these pacts and related reforms are unlikely in many countries, said Huguette Labelle, chairwoman of Transparency International (TI), at a 2010 anti-corruption conference in Bangkok. And these reforms are more likely to come as a result of joint efforts of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), academics, businesses and other stakeholders rather than individual pursuits by lone activists or organizations. By joining forces, stakeholders gain extra leverage, particularly if they are pushing for a controversial reform in a politically challenging environment, according to Nathaniel Heller, executive director of Global Integrity, an international anti-corruption watchdog organization.
Civil society partnerships range from a few groups joining forces to achieve a local goal to international coalitions involving hundreds of organizations that seek a broader solution. Collaboration among partners can take the form of informal consultations on tactics, joint petitions and letters; formal agreements; seats on each other's governing bodies; or joint fundraising and budgets.
NGO coalitions are better positioned to protect their leaders and associated lone activists, who are sometimes threatened with reprisals from corrupt officials, businesspeople or criminals. Collaboration among activist groups is also needed to avoid duplication of effort, civil society leaders say.
“NGOs operate on a basis of ‘collaborative advantage’” to succeed, said Casey Kelso, TI advocacy director.
An example of how this advantage is used is a coalition of seven NGOs formed in 2010 in Poland to keep tabs on whether political parties keep their anti-corruption campaign promises. Results of the NGOs’ monitoring are published at the end of the parliament’s term.
Grazyna Czubek of the Stefan Batory Foundation, a member of the coalition, said the partnership has achieved two goals.
“Politicians started including anti-corruption measures in their election programs, and their anti-corruption promises are more realistic and concrete now,” she said.
WHERE NGO'S, GOVERNMENT AND BUSINESS MEET
In some instances, though, coalitions of citizens may not be powerful enough to overcome resistance from vested interests. That is why many anti-corruption NGOs view government agencies and corporations as potential partners critical to the effectiveness of their efforts, Kelso said.
Cooperation matters not only to civil society, but also to its potential partners — anti-corruption agencies, ombudsman's offices, parliamentary oversight committees and multilateral institutions — as well as the business community, according to Kelso. For instance, in 2009, the harassment of the Indonesian anti-corruption commission by some powerful officials and businesspeople eased only when demonstrations in several cities and a public campaign on Facebook came to the commission’s defense.
Heller said that by working closely with reformers inside government, NGOs can indeed achieve “powerful results.” However, attempts to work with the private sector have brought mixed results, he added.
Many large companies are unwilling to take public positions on controversial issues and prefer to stick to "softer" issues — environmental protection, for example — that can contribute to their corporate stewardship reputation, according to Heller.
However, Kelso believes that businesses can be reliable partners. As an example he cited an innovative pact between a private water company and a coastal community in Kenya brokered by TI Kenya that produced a lower price for clean water by eliminating corruption.
Andrzej Zwaniecki is a staff writer with the State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs.