Summary of Grand Corruption and Impunity Event

Transparency International has been battling against corruption around the world for the past twenty-three years. On Monday, September 21, José Ugaz, Chair of Transparency International, spoke on the issue of corruption and Transparency International’s vision for combating it at a lecture on Grand Corruption and Impunity. Following Mr. Ugaz was a panel discussion, which included José Antonio Ocampo, Professor of International and Public Affairs, Columbia SIPA; Jennifer Rodgers, Executive Director, Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity, Columbia Law School; Ailsa Röell, Professor of International and Public Affairs, Columbia SIPA; and Anya Schiffrin, Director, International Media, Advocacy and Communications Specialization, Columbia SIPA. The discussion was moderated by Jan Svejnar, Director of the Center on Global Economic Governance, which organized the event in collaboration with the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity and the SIPA Economic and Political Development Concentration.

José Ugaz began by discussing the current state of Transparency International (TI) and its plans for the future in light of its recent adoption of a strategy for 2020. He noted that TI had become well known for its research and analysis, in particular the Corruption Perception Index. In the future, however he plans to have TI take on a greater role advocating for change rather than its past approach of engaging in soft diplomacy with governments. In particular, Mr. Ugaz mentioned the difficulty in sitting down to negotiate with country leaders who are known to be corrupt, such as President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea.

Mr. Ugaz also discussed the issue in many developing countries where corruption has become normalized to the point where citizens are participatory since they believe it is the only way to survive the situation. He hopes to transform this situation and make the citizens participatory instead in bringing an end to corruption. This is of the utmost importance for Transparency International since Mr. Ugaz noted that “corruption kills” – for example, if a building collapses in Bangladesh and 600 people die this is because someone paid a bribe to a public official to build without complying with the legal standards of construction in order to save money.

Aside from citizen participation, Mr. Ugaz stated that “to dance tango you need two parts” in reference to the role of the private sector in corruption and their coordination with the public sector to commit corrupt acts. He noted the recent example of HSBC’s involvement in laundering money to Mexican cartels as part of the problem TI has been facing.

Mr. Ugaz then discussed his experiences as a prosecutor in Peru during the case of President Alberto Fujimori and his advisor Vladimiro Montesinos when their widespread corruption was discovered. He discussed the issue of understanding the extent of the corruption, as well as working to obtain some of the money which had been taken abroad by the officials.

Finally, Mr. Ugaz discussed the situation of Transparency International regarding this type of grand corruption, including the adoption of the 2020 strategy at the recent summit in Malaysia. He mentioned specifically that TI chapters are currently working on opening legal offices to go to court against corrupt officials where possible, they are advocating for a registry of luxury goods to help monitor the spending of potentially corrupt officials, and they are looking to partner with more investigative journalists as a tool for moving forward.

Watch a video of the entire event here.


- Samantha Weinberg, MPA '16