Today, Administrator Power hosted a roundtable featuring change agents on the frontlines of the global fight against corruption, including: Rueben Lifuka, Vice Chair of the Board of Directors, Transparency International; Juan Francisco Sandoval Alfaro, former Chief of the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity in Guatemala; Achraf Aouadi, founder of the Tunisian watchdog organisation I-Watch; and Miranda Patrucic, Deputy Editor in Chief, Regional and Central Asia, Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. The event also featured the U.S. Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Uzra Zeya.

During the roundtable, Administrator Power highlighted how civic actors are essential to catalyzing change in the fight against corruption. The dynamic discussion demonstrated how anti-corruption champions, despite the risks and challenges they face, make a difference in rooting out corruption in their societies and holding corrupt actors accountable.

The challenges that changemakers face on the ground do not occur in isolation. While corruption is often rooted in poor governance and abuse of power at the national level, and requires a national response, it wouldn’t be possible without the safe havens and facilitators, often based in democratic countries, which allow corrupt actors and kleptocrats to steal from their people, launder their funds, and clean their reputations. By joining together, across borders, local leaders are able to collectively confront the threat of global corruption.

To meet this evolving landscape, USAID is doubling down on its support to the governmental, civil society, media, and private sector actors that are leading efforts to prevent, mitigate, and punish corruption at the local, national, regional, and global levels, while developing more agile ways of working, establishing new partnerships, launching programs that target transnational corruption, and exploring the use of innovative tools and technologies. Within USAID, the Anti-Corruption Task Force is leading the charge, including working to integrate an anti-corruption lens across all development sectors, including on pandemic recovery and climate change.

USAID, along with other federal government agencies, is contributing to the whole-of-government response to President Biden’s National Security Study Memorandum, which established fighting corruption as a core national security priority. We are also developing new initiatives to launch at the Summit for Democracy this December and carry forward in a year of action ahead. As President Biden emphasized in his remarks before the United Nations General Assembly, “Corruption fuels inequality, siphons off a nation’s resources, spreads across borders, and generates human suffering.  It is nothing less than a national security threat in the 21st century.” 

Edited Transcript of Today’s Panel below: 

MS. GREEN: I want to extend a warm welcome to the over 1000 people from all over the globe joining us today.  My name is Shannon Green, and I serve as the Executive Director of USAID’s Anti-Corruption Task Force.  The Task Force was launched in June to elevate and integrate anti-corruption across USAID’s programming, policy engagement, and public outreach.  The formation of the Task Force, and the event we are hosting today, are a recognition of the grave harm corruption inflicts on societies.  As President Biden said in his UNGA speech on Tuesday, “Corruption fuels inequality, siphons off a nation’s resources, spreads across borders, and generates human suffering.  It is nothing less than a national security threat in the 21st century.”

Yet the good news is that we have powerful tools to fight back.  Courageous activists, journalists, and public officials often face down threats, intimidation, and opposition, to root out corruption, and hold perpetrators accountable.  We are very fortunate to have such frontline change agents on our panel today.  Take Miranda Patrucic, who works for the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.  As the Deputy Editor and Chief for regional stories in Central Asia, Miranda has worked on investigations that have exposed billions in bribes, uncovered ruling elites hidden assets, and revealed the trade of illegal arms.

Achraf Aouadi, a civil society activist and founder of the Tunisian watchdog organization I-Watch, has faced unrelenting defamation and intimidation for his work to bring corruption to light.  Despite being called a traitor and a spy, Achraf persists, knowing that transparency and accountability are essential to safeguarding Tunisia’s fragile democracy.  We also have with us Juan Francisco Sandoval, who is the former Chief of the Special Prosecutors Office Against Corruption and Impunity in Guatemala.  In this role, he was instrumental in investigating and convicting top officials for corruption.  Like the others on this panel, Mr. Sandoval has paid dearly for his work, recently fleeing Guatemala in fear for his safety.

We are also joined by Rueben Lifuka, the Vice Chair of Transparency International, our co host organization for this event today.  And immediate past Chapter President of Transparency International Zambia.  Rueben has spent the last 22 years as a governance and anti-corruption activist in Africa and globally.

To help us understand how the U.S. government is using its full range of tools and resources to fight corruption, we are honored to have with us Uzra Zeya, the Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights.  Under Secretary Zeya recently served as President and CEO of the Alliance for Peacebuilding.  Before that, she had a distinguished 27-year career in the foreign service.

Finally, leading the discussion today is USAID Administrator Samantha Power.  Throughout her storied career, from being a war correspondent in conflict zones, to representing the United States at the United Nations, Administrator Power has been a steadfast champion of human rights and human dignity.  It is with that lens that she has prioritized anti-corruption at USAID.  And championed the central role of civil society, the media, and government reformers, in combating the global scourge of corruption.

Before we get started, a few logistical notes.  I’d like to let you know that in the right-hand sidebar menu, there is a Q&A button.  When you click on that, you can submit questions or comments for the presenters.  We will get to as many of them as possible.  To turn on closed captioning, please click on the CC box on the left of your screen.  We will have simultaneous translation of Spanish to English when Mr. Sandoval speaks, but there may be a small delay.  Rest assured that you are not experiencing a technical issue.  Now, with that I want to turn the program over to you, Administrator Power.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you so much, Shannon.  For those of you who don’t know Shannon- just know this – we are so lucky that she has taken on this task to lead USAID’s Anti-Corruption Task Force.  I just want to note that even though it’s relatively early here, still, in the United States, I’ve already had two events.  This is UN General Assembly week, and they call it the week of speed dating across issues and individuals.  And the first event I had was on energy security, and the importance of ending energy poverty, which is so devastating.  And when you think about energy poverty, and why so many people, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa, but not only there, are unable to access electricity.  Often, not always, corruption is at least part of the answer.

After this UN hosted event on energy, I chaired a ministerial meeting on development and humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan.  Which, as you can imagine, is so challenging to provide right now, in light of the Taliban takeover.  And the meeting was designed to bring the international community, and the big donors together – use our leverage to try to ensure that first of all humanitarian assistance is provided and reaches people in need.  But also, thinking through what we do with development assistance that used to go through the government, and how do we get the Taliban to comply by a set of basic principles.  And there again, I was thinking to myself as I was walking into this meeting, you know, what is — we had a lot of lessons to learn about the last 20 years in Afghanistan.  But what was it that prevented the Afghan people from being able to retain the freedoms that they had enjoyed, particularly women and girls, but not only women and girls.  And why did the Afghan government collapse?

A whole set of answers there.  But one has to acknowledge that central to the answer is corruption.  Whether it was in the security forces, or within various government ministries.  And those are just two examples.  Basically, every event I do for the rest of my day, and for the rest of my week, and so much of what you do in your lives, depending on where you’re calling in from.  So many of the issues that we do here at USAID, we will not be able to meet people’s needs if we cannot root out the scourge of corruption.  So, I just share that sort of impromptu reflection on my morning, by way of introduction.  And just note what Shannon noted, which is the fact that thousands of you have chosen to join us so far today.  Really speaks to the fact that you don’t need to be convinced about the centrality of this issue to the most important challenges of our times.

We are joined by people today who are engaged on the frontlines of this difficult fight.  Brave activists, principled reformers, dogged journalists who’ve taken great risks, exposed corruption, and shine a light on activities that powerful people want to stay hidden.  And I just consider it a privilege of mine, and of Shannon’s, in working at the world’s largest development agency, and premier development agency.  That we have the privilege of getting to support actors like those that we’ve gathered today.  You know, this is — we’re not on the frontlines; we’re not taking those risks.  But we do get to think through, how do we channel our resources, how do we use our policy leverage, on behalf of the objectives that people are sharing today.

So, just to frame our discussion beyond what Shannon has said, I think the most pressing point is that the timing of this UN General Assembly event is no accident.  This week world leaders have gathered in New York, and virtually, for the UN General Assembly.  And this is where they discuss the most pressing challenges of our time.  Challenges that cross borders, and that harm the fates of everyone, no matter where they occur.  We all hear about global challenges.  Some of them are intuitively global.  It’s obvious that pandemics cross borders.  Viruses cross borders.  It’s obvious that carbon emissions in one country are affecting the planet, and the welfare of people in many, many other countries.

Regional conflicts and humanitarian crises; they cross borders.  But for too long, corruption hasn’t been viewed in these global terms.  It has been seen as a domestic issue.  A matter of internal affairs.  Largely occurring among well-connected elites, with impacts presumed to be confined within borders.  But that’s not really the case.  If it ever was, it certainly isn’t the case anymore.  Even if corruption is often rooted in poor governance, and the abuse of power, at the national level, today it is facilitated by developed nations and outdated global institutions.  Allowing leaders and officials who steal from their people to launder their dirty money undetected across borders.  We see it here in the United States, where money stolen in Ukraine is laundered through real estate in the Midwest, and through opaque corporate entities that hide identities.

Anti-corruption organizations, including those that some on the panel represent, have tracked money stolen in Nigeria, stashed in Dubai, and spent in Europe.  Not only does this corruption degrade the rights and the voices of the people from whom the money is siphoned, it inflicts harm in the communities where money is laundered, as dirty money entangles more and more people in a shadow economy, weakening the institutions it passes through.  You all know the statistics.  According to the UN, every year $1 trillion in bribes are paid.  And another $2.6 trillion is lost to other forms of corruption.  In the most destructive cases, local corruption is exploited by authoritarian regimes that undermine democratic governance and the rule of law.  With money trading hands and flowing into the policy-making process, influencing the outcomes of elections, and resulting in kickbacks from opaque infrastructure, or opaque trade deals.

Fixed price contract bids on water projects in Africa deprive purchaser governments of the benefits of competition and lower prices.  An Icelandic fishing company pays millions in bribes to Namibian government officials to secure lucrative fishing quotas in the Atlantic.  A British tobacco company coddles bribes through a corrupt political party.  It helps keep a strong man lodged firmly in power in Zimbabwe.  And like so many other pressing global issues, the COVID-19 pandemic has made corruption worse.  Within weeks of COVID, we saw autocrats and democratically elected leaders alike take advantage of the crisis to abuse their power for private gain, entering shady deals for lifesaving medical equipment and PPE.  Undermining transparency in procurement, and derailing countries’ efforts to effectively and equitably respond to the crisis.

This scourge of corruption corrodes democracies from within, erases hard-won development gains, extinguishes trust in public institutions, and hinders humanitarian responses for the communities and individuals most in need.  And it allows autocrats and human rights offenders, not just to line their pockets, but to remain in power.  And to continue perpetrating abuses.  But when corruption is exposed, it is also a highly vulnerable Achilles’ heel for autocratic regimes.

Few things have the ability to drive people into the streets, in large numbers, like blatant acts of corruption.  In 2019, just before the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, the year which set the record for global protests, more than half were driven by exposed corruption.  Shannon mentioned President Biden’s commitment.  He has made fighting global corruption a priority in his foreign policy.  Shannon’s leadership of the Anti-Corruption Task Force is building our capabilities to support new generations of investigators and reformers.  Who are working not just to expose corrupt actors, but to dismantle corrupt systems.

In coordination with our colleagues at the State, Justice, and Treasury Departments, we are going to integrate an anti-corruption lens across all of our work, including on pandemic recovery, and climate resilience.  The formation of this Anti-Corruption Task Force is the first step toward the announcement of a bold, multifaceted USAID anti-corruption initiative that will be announced at President Biden’s Summit for Democracy in December.  But we are already responding to emerging anti-corruption needs and windows of opportunity.  Through a new anti-corruption response fund, USAID is working with government agencies in the Dominican Republic to improve financial accountability, reform asset forfeiture legislation, and facilitate an exchange with elected officials in other countries on how to make sure public spending really delivers on public priorities.

In the coming months, we’re going to be working with other parts of the U.S. government to support partners in the Democratic Republic of Congo as they tackle corruption.  Including in the minerals trade, which is siphoning resources away from vital services, straining supply chains, and fueling cycles of devastating conflict.  This USAID response fund is the key to quickly seizing on crucial windows of opportunity for democratic and anti-corruption reform, and we look forward to expanding on these commitments and encouraging other nations to make their own at this upcoming democracy summit.

The work that our panelists do, to shine a light on bad actors like the ones I’ve described, is critical to the future of their countries and our world.  But today is about elevating the positive role that each of you play in the fight against corruption.  It is about empowering grassroots civic actors and reformers with the tools that they need to band together to launch joint campaigns.  To follow the money across borders, and to push for effective reforms in rich and poor countries alike.  To bring about real change in the fight against corruption, we need to deepen our partnerships with and raise the profile of civic actors.  Like all of you who so often encounter formidable risks in your work, who expose corruption through your cutting-edge investigations,  who seek justice bravely for bad actors, and who advocate for the policies that make it harder for future bad actors to get away with such egregious crimes.

Transnational initiatives to combat corruption are actually flourishing thanks to you, and thanks to your work.  Through organizations like the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, which Miranda is affiliated with.  And of course, organizations like Transparency International, which Rueben represents.  Your work gives people, including people on this call today, the courage to stand up, and object to leaders and elites who enrich themselves at the expense of their own countrymen and women.  So, thank you for being here.  Thank you for fearlessly taking on transnational corruption so that others may have a voice and an opportunity for a brighter future.  I’m really looking forward to our discussion, which I am going to kick off now with a question for you, Miranda.

So, let us bring up Miranda if we can.  There’s Miranda.  Miranda, your investigations often transcend borders.  And they touch on organized crime and other illicit activity that is increasingly regional.

How do you tackle these complex, sprawling corruption schemes?  And how have the investigations you have spearheaded led to actual accountability for the perpetrators?  We’re trying to lift up the bright spots here, knowing how difficult some of these challenges are.  But can you give us some examples of where your investigations have borne fruit.  Over to you, Miranda.

MS. PATRUCIC: Thank you Administrator Power.  I will start by saying it takes a network to fight a network.  Crime does not disappear at the border.  Corruption doesn’t stop at the border, so why should we?  We’re really living in a golden age of investigative reporting.  There has never been more investigative reporters in the world, more open data leaks, and cross border collaborations.  And we have moved from lone wolves to packs, which are fueled by radical sharing.  When I look back 17 years ago, when I first got into investigative reporting, a lot has changed.  In 2014, I actually joined the Center for Investigative Reporting, which was funded by USAID support.  And I learned everything I know from two American editors who came to serve Sarajevo, and established the first investigative reporting on the (inaudible) in the region.

And since then, I’ve been working with the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project.  Organization which was actually founded on the idea that to tackle organized crime, you need to partner with reporters in countries where criminals come from, and where they operate.  And I have to say, the concept has been a huge success.  OCCRP reporting has led to seizure of almost $8 billion, hundreds of arrests, and thousands of global changes.  But also, we have realized that corruption is so pervasive that we need to really build a new generation of investigative reporters, but also editors who will work with those reporters on the ground and teach them skills.

OCCRP now has more than 14 investigative editors in every continent on earth.  You can call us the first global investigative reporting agency.  And, you know, we are part of a global movement with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, and Global Investigative Journalism Network.  We’re all focused on working together and sharing skills and knowledge.  And I myself pay my dues for everything that was given to me by working in focus in Central Asia, countries without the strong tradition of investigative reporting.  And teaching the same skills I was once taught.  Reporters, we have been working one have since exposed even assets of country leaders, they have uncovered the smuggler’s scheme in Kyrgyzstan — it’s a country were very few people have heard of, over $700 million, and most recently we have investigated how [unintelligible] spyware was used against activists, and journalists, and politicians in their countries.

Our investigation with our (inaudible), Radio Free Europe media (inaudible) liberty, and local organization HOPE into this customs scheme in Kyrgyzstan, resulted in mass protests and contributed to the collusion that deposed the president and led to arrest and punishment of the former top official who facilitated the scheme.  And while the public was angered with the stories, local authorities — well, let’s say that their reaction was encouraged by unlikely allies, U.S. and EU officials who spoke strongly and pulled a fraction following our revelations.  And for the first time, a Kyrgyz citizen was placed on the Magnitsky sanction list, and I would call it the very strong message that corruption at the global stage will not be tolerated.

But unfortunately, the Kyrgyz example is not that common.  Bad actors have seen how effective these investigations can be and how our findings pose a threat, and we have seen a brutal crackdown on journalists and activists in so many places around the world.  And that has led us to realize that we need another metric to be even more effective.  So, we have partnered with Transparency International to create a global anti-corruption  consortium, a means for us to amplify the impact of our investigative work, and also help activists defend democracy and fight corruption.  So, working together and independently, we have realized that this approach works.  And it really takes a metric, and that metric is growing, and we will continue to do everything we can to help fight corruption on the global stage.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you so much.  Let us turn now, if we could, to Achraf and just as a  reminder, Achraf is from Tunisia and he is the founder of the Tunisian watchdog organization I-Watch, a chapter of Transparency International.  Achraf, do you use a range of approaches from engaging youth to, if I understand it, employing new graft cracking technologies that I’m sure some in the audience would love to learn more about, you also have, of course, legal strategies, along the lines of what Miranda just described.  How do you decide which tool in the toolbox to employ, and what are you learning from bringing multiple tools to bear now in this space in a way that 10 years ago you might not have?

MR. AOUADI: Can you hear me?  Yep, perfect.  Thank you very much, Administrator Power for the opportunity.  It’s a really good question, actually, because this is always what I want to talk about when it comes to anti-corruption is the idea of bringing everyone into this war against corruption.  I don’t want to be using the image of war, but somehow it is.  And so what I’ve always felt about the team is if in fact corruption’s the war we need to enroll as many soldiers as possible, and then I think we needed to go beyond the classical and traditional audience of having accountants and lawyers do the work and — in this fight against corruption.  Now I think we bring backers into this world war, we bring developers.

So, in the organization actually, we shifted from being an NGO into being an ecosystem, so now if you see the way we structure ourself, we have a citizen engagement department that works with artists, teachers, we work — we’re trying to work with everyone.  At the same, we have our own — and this is the first in Tunisia — our own startup called [unintelligible] that brings online solutions that we trying to use to fight corruption or we [unintelligible] the people while fighting corruption, we have our own citizen engagement, as I said, that tries to go beyond experts, but at the same time fighting the corruption can be somewhat technical, that’s why we have a pool of experts who try to work on making assessments and that.

The funny part that our, let’s say, hardcore fighting corruption unit, the ones who sued the politically exposed personalities are the smallest team.  So, if you ask a Tunisian and say, hey, what I would shown is I think the brand is very known for fighting corruption, why the smallest team is the one doing all of that?  And somehow, I think it’s an issue of development and the way we perceive development and anti-corruption.  Yes, most of the times most donors, they’re not really into fighting corruption, I think most donors, they think more of the bilateral relationship they have with governments running them, thinking about anti-corruptions.  So I think most of the work that civil society does, when it comes to fighting corruption is always underfunded.  And so, I think that we would have more funding doing it by access to information on the government’s work, rather than doing the investigation part that people, like, OCRP they do.

If I ask the same question to Ruben (inaudible), what are the most funded programs of Transparency International?  There will be things that do not necessarily relate to anti-corruption.  So, I think it’s very important to think always as an activist rather than a project manager, and to me the people who heard me speak at capacity now that I’m more — I think we need to bring into this war against corruption, most activists rather than project managers, because unfortunately we only assess seed reports and indicators (inaudible) then we assess impact.  And, in fact, corruption is something that we cannot put into a project timeline, it’s not something we can do within scope of where it’s all of that.  So, I think hearing that USAID has a task force now is very important to think also on what people are doing, things on the ground.  So, groups like mine, yes, we do engage with people, we do come up and embarrass the government, and we (inaudible) with the honor of bringing down the previous government, that’s such an honor.

Well, the thing is it’s always complicated, because these are the things that nobody wants to fund, and no one wants to put their logo on.  And for me, it makes a lot of sense, it’s just that if I were using this platform because a lot of our large audience are coming from the development factor of being donors themselves and project implementers.  I wish that we’d focus more on impact rather than just project outputs and outcomes, and I wish we could focus on having — shifting from being single, global, NGOs that are investing bee keeper systems because (inaudible) we do this because we simply cannot fight corruption on our own.  And where can I bilaterally work with governments? Yes, we can build capacities of public officials. Definitely, but we cannot teach them the values of integrity.

And most governments, they are happy, and they’re okay working with other corrupt governments, and they know that they’re corrupt, but still, it’s for them, maybe do something about it.  So, maybe talking to the number one person in the — in the USAID, sometimes not giving money could be also another option to fight corruption because it doesn’t make sense if we add more money that would make things complicated.  So, we assess democracy but let’s also assess the political will of every government.  Are they willing to fund their own corruption, or they’re willing to keep their status quo?  So, if USAID sees that they’re not willing to fight corruption, you better keep the money.  That’s clear as day.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you so much and point well taken.  Also, as a lifelong activist, I identify with your bristling in the straitjacket of the project manager role, as now USAID administrator and activist as USAID administrator, I kind of relate.  One of the reasons that it can be challenging to comply with the regulations and everything required to work with an organization like ours is to avoid corruption and so, for you, and your organization, we want to unleash you and empower you – at the same time, you can imagine over the years had some challenges with that.  I try to stress this here in USAID, about the connection between a donor’s programs, like supporting, let’s say, an organization like yours, and our policies as well, right?  What are the messages that we as a government are sending to a government?

We can have all the anti-corruption programs in the world, but if then when we sit down with leaders of different countries, and we don’t mention, you know, the exploitation of natural resources, the pilfering of funds away from particular communities, we miss the opportunity to use a huge amount of leverage.  And so, that’s something that, I think, President Biden is very alert to and trying to push, and we’ll see.  We hope this administration does better at bringing program and policy together than our predecessors.

Speaking of governments, I’m now going to turn to Juan Francisco, and I last saw Juan Francisco in his country when he was fighting the good fight as a prosecutor, trying to drill down on some very sensitive cases.  We held a meeting where I tried to do what Achraf would have had me do, which is to use my leverage as USAID administrator to press the Attorney General and the President’s, to respect the independence of Juan Francisco’s work.  However, not long after we first met, Juan Francisco found himself in very difficult circumstances, which perhaps he can now speak to.  But my question for you, Juan Francisco, is that we need not just the Achrafs of the world on the outside, but we need anti-corruption  champions within governments.  We just — we do.  They are essential, that handshake between independent civil society and then reformers within is so important, and I know that’s what you had hoped to be able to achieve from within.

But then, when you have a reformer inside a government, often they bump up against corrupt officials who will go to extreme lengths to keep their secrets hidden.  So, what are your reflections now in light of your own experience, and how do you think external actors I gave the others the example of what I tried to do and the Biden administration has tried to do to support you, but the fact that you are no longer there, doing this incredible anti-corruption  work, shows, you know, our limited impacts in that regard.  But what do you think outside actors, like the UN and countries like the United States, can do to bolster internal reformers like you, to give you more juice, you know, more power within your system, given how many people see it as in their interest to silence you?

MR. SANDOVAL: (via interpreter) Thank you very much for this opportunity.  Among the different commitments one can do from outside, all this is related to the demands from the society.  In order to have commitments, to make agreements, where you are not only presenting solutions, but to have the support from institutions and countries that are committed to aid.  (inaudible) such as the impulse by the United States to have a good effect.  Many people who understand that this problem has remained quiet, and it’s because they fear reprisals, like the ones I have received.  But they are seeing now that they must do something, because they have to continue working at this.  There — because there are these financial impacts that we can’t live with.  In other words, the system tries to say that one should not try to reform and to maintain financial stability.

But history has shown that things are not like this.  You can see what happened in Guatemala, Nicaragua.  There’s no sustainability in society and economy when these economies and societies are based on impunity towards corruption.  You can see what happened currently in Nicaragua.  You can try to just cover the sun with one finger, but corruption, impunity dictators, corrupt officers, always return.  So, we have to understand that if we want to be able to have a sustainable fight against corruption, we need to be aware of the social prices that one is paying because the financial impact of impunity and corruption are real.  And it would be important to be able to coordinate with international financial groups, like the — like the World Bank — World Bank, and other international funding groups.  They should be able to work and understand that they should not be helping corrupt governments, that annual reports should be published regarding corruption and include the names of people and companies that are working in corruption.

You also have to report the anti-corruption  measurements countries are taking.  It’s important to place professions in anti-corruption  in order to help those working against corruption, to punish officers that are working in corruption.  Many times, the international community tries to adapt to the government that’s in power, and they do not try to propose any change.  This — the different conferences that can happen came about from civil society, so it’s important that we have to demand, for real, accountability from each government that is in power.  Thank you very much.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you so much, and thank you for your bravery in Guatemala, in trying to pursue those cases.  We, the United States, have had the unfortunate experience in Central America, of having to move away from working very closely with judicial bodies and legal bodies because our goal, of course, is to strengthen reformers within institutions, as well as strengthen civil society.  But in light of the corruption, we’ve had to move resources that we had been investing in government institutions, to civil society because it — you know, when people like you are put in great peril and when your work in impeded, it becomes impossible to sustain that funding or that hope, really, that the government institutions that are there are willing to respect the rule of law and the independence of prosecutors.  So, thank you again, and we look forward to better days when you are back doing your work as a public servant.  But for now, thank you for raising your voice and giving such inspiration to so many people who are working inside and outside governments around the world.

Reuben, we are seeing that the increasingly globalized nature of corruption that we’ve been talking about is making it harder to just tackle corruption at the local level.  So, can you speak a little bit about, on one hand, you’re working within your community, within your country, within your national legal system, but you’re trying to tackle threats that cross these borders.  Could you talk about how you have addressed that or handled that, or adjusted to that dimension of corruption?

MR. LIFUKA: Thank you very much, Administrator Power.  I’m very grateful for the question that you’ve asked.  And just to put a frame to this, indeed corruption is increasing transnational.  It stretches right across borders and continents and gone are the days when kleptocrats and others buried their stolen money or funds from bribes or other illicit arrangements in the ground.  What we see, there are billions of dollars are flowing across borders, laundered or packed in (inaudible) abroad.  And the impact is something that has concerned us as Transparency International.  The impact of cross border, large scale corruption is devastating.  It’s been destroying individual lives; we’ve seen this in different contexts.  In Venezuela with food insecurity, with the human rights violations in Azerbaijan.  But even in my own country, Zambia, when we see the loss of precious natural resources which are lost because of corruption.

But at the same time, we have the corrupt elite.  They capture not just the funds that are not theirs, but they capture institutions.  These are institutes that are meant to hold them accountable, and they make it, therefore, nearly impossible for us to achieve justice, especially in the countries where corruption originates from.  So, back use of context or the what we are doing, and underground, what we do as Transparency International, is a creeping, developing coalitions, we demand, through this coalitions for systemic changes, we want to push for reforms, reforms that have the potential to reverse this serious trend from addressing public procurement issues to looking at the judiciary and promoting natural resources governance.

And we also then call on stakeholders like the donor countries. And in our view, donor countries should continue to support anti-corruption  reforms in individual countries. But in doing so, it is critical that civil society and the broader public have a voice in this process and more importantly, civil society and the public should have the ability to monitor the progress of the changes that are coming through with the support of donor countries. Donor countries, in consultation with civil society, in our view, should also work with international financial institutions to develop appropriate transparency, anti-corruption accountability measures, ensuring that they do not end up paying lip service to good governance, which I’ve often said. But we know that this alone is not sufficient. We absolutely must supplement national anti-corruption efforts with meaningful changes at regional and global level. And once and for all, we need to end the international community’s complicity in letting corrupt actors launder, hide and invest dirty cash in their jurisdictions.

That is why regional and Global Transparency International is working to address the very mechanisms that make corruption possible. We are pushing for reforms with the potential to fix the loopholes in the global financial system and to increase countries’ resistance to [unintelligible]. We also demand that the perpetrators and their enablers are held accountable in other jurisdictions and advocate for the responsible return of confiscated assets to the victim population.

Those are some of the things that we’ve been pushing for. And as Miranda said, we work through the global anti-corruption — global anti-corruption consortia, working with journalists and bringing this together with civil society advocacy. We believe that this model has served us well. We scored a number of successes, as has been highlighted, and it’s a model that is going to continue as a partnership, so that will bring on board international anti-corruption actors and we upscaled the different initiatives that we’ve been implementing. (inaudible) from the multilateral entities. We would like to see multilateral cooperation because it is critical and in our view, everyone has a role in this fight to stop their role in facilitating global corruption is a robust policy agenda that advanced economies should move forward with. We would keep advocating for new and better legislation, for improved regulatory supervision by increased cooperation between law enforcement agencies, but also for enhancement of key sectoral initiatives. For example, the U.S., in our view, should rejoin and strengthen the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative and to help move forward the push for accountability in the extractive sector.

The U.S. government should also work closely with other governments and multilateral actors to be just part of the G7 or the G20 (inaudible) could be effective to exchange notes and align strategies. So we are looking forward to the (inaudible) Summit for Democracy with great anticipation. We believe that this will offer us a great opportunity, one to reflect on the biggest barriers to progress in this anti-corruption agenda, but also to generate or to come up with a new set of meaningful commitments and to use this platform to get serious with the aspect of enforcement. We have been talking and making commitments, but we need to move from just words to actual action. Thank you, madam Administrator.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you so much, Ruben, and I can’t resist but mention that I’m going to be seeing later this afternoon as part of, again, the UN General Assembly week, your new Zambian president. And it is hard again to disconnect the kinds of abuses that the opposition party faced in trying to campaign from the fear that certain actors had about the further exposure of their corruption. And so the difficulty that the opposition had in campaigning. But then also, I’m sure now the challenges of cleaning up the inheritance and the corruption that has been left behind.

And so I look forward to talking to the new Zambian president later this afternoon about just the issues that you are raising.  I also want to stress, and it’s a good segue to our next speaker, Under Secretary of State Uzra Zeya, but that under the Obama administration, as you implied, we did join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative and that just think it is so important.  And we’ll talk to Shannon about where we are as a government.  I didn’t realize we hadn’t yet rejoined.  We were also instrumental in those years in spearheading the creation of the open government partnership, which I think Miranda said at the beginning.  It takes a network to fight a network.  I think, you know, thinking about how that can be supercharged because of the collaboration that it can help foster across borders.  You also mentioned multilateral loopholes, and we’d be very interested in hearing more about the very specific ideas you have in mind, because, again, this is a whole of government commitment here in the United States and we need to concretize that commitment across agencies.  So please, if you haven’t passed those along to me or to Shannon — and with that Uzra, just because we’re talking about the U.S.  government.  We’ve talked already about President Biden’s commitments actually making this a core national security priority, being the first President to issue a presidential directive on corruption, putting it at the center of our foreign policy.  And as Ruben indicated, we have far more to do to instantiate that.  But what do you think the other U.S. tools are –  beyond the kind of presidential prioritization, that allow us to connect to and support the work of change agents, brave change agents like the ones we have heard from today?  Over to you, Uzra.

UNDER SECRETARY ZEYA: Thank you so much, Ambassador Power.  And I just want to commend you for your leadership on anti-corruption and tell you how motivated the State Department is to partner with you in elevating this at the top of the U.S. foreign policy agenda, as the president has asked.  We see on our part of a four pronged approach to really guide us forward and to be informed and to work in partnership with change agents like Ruben, Miranda, Achraf, and Juan Francisco.

First of all, we are working to prioritize capacity building and technical assistance on anti-corruption.  And as you said, this involves working with governments and civil society, that handshake in both directions.  And you see this in concrete terms in Tunisia, where over the past decade we have invested over $217 million in democracy, governance and human rights related assistance, which prioritizes transparency and capacity building for Tunisians to hold their own government accountable.  In the case of Zambia, we’re proud to have worked with Zambian civil society actors on asset recovery efforts.  And I think you heard our president commend the young people of Zambia before the General Assembly for denouncing corruption and charting a new path through this historic election.

The second line of effort is, of course, diplomacy.  It’s what we do.  So we are working to build alliances and coalitions of like-minded partners to work together on confronting the anti-corruption challenge.  And the Summit for Democracy, December 9th and 10th, which we’re working in lock step with USAID, anti-corruption will be one of three core pillars, and I think all of the viewpoints we’ve heard today are critical to informing that effort.  The third line of effort is sanctions and deterrence tools to impose costs on corrupt actors, and here I really have to commend the efforts of Juan Francisco and to note that to date since July, just in the Northern Triangle, the US government has designated over 60 corrupt and anti-democratic actors, including the attorney general in Guatemala, who took this very outrageous action to put an end to his vital efforts.  The global Magnitsky framework is also a vitally important tool there, as well as Section 731c, which gives the State Department the ability to deny visas and impose costs for kleptocratic actors and afford the Navy.  One of the most important elements is partnerships, partnerships with the civil society, actors, the force today, we see this in the launch of the Anti-Corruption Champions Award, of which Juan Francisco is one of the first recipients.  We will be announcing the new global award winners in December timed with our summit for democracy.  But also framework’s like the global anti-corruption consortium with Ruben mentioned.  We’re proud to be one of the leading supporters and we are absolutely ready to move forward with all of you in this four pronged approach.  Thank you.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you so much.  I really appreciate you bringing it all home with discussion of Juan Francisco’s work and former colleagues, and it underscores Ruben’s point about the tools in the toolbox that we need to employ and the reinforcement that the reformers here on this panel need from powerful outside actors.  And so really, really great job capturing that.  Shannon, why don’t I turn it back to you?  I gather we have some questions from the audience for our panelists.

MS. GREEN: We do.  Thank you for the very rich discussion.  I think the questions from the audience really reflect some of the themes that have already been raised in this.  First one is going to be directed to Juan Francisco and Ruben.  What realistic actions can be taken against corruption if most institutions of the state are captured by the corrupt?  How can you fight corruption in a place lacking political will?  Then I’m going to go to the next question, because we’ll just do this as a group to save time.  This is to Achraf.  How can anti-corruption donors and institutions better support local actors, including grassroots anti-corruption activists, even the difficulties of understanding local context as outsiders.  And then the final question is one for Miranda, exposing corruption as you do comes with great personal sacrifices, risk and stress.  How do you cope and what would help sustain your efforts?  The first over to Juan Francisco and Ruben.

MR. SANDOVAL: Thank you so much.  I consider that only if the citizenry is capable to exercise their role, to articulate agreements and understanding points of agreement, because we need these citizens and also we have to strengthen institutions because our system with weak institutions that have been dismantled impacts not just the citizenry, but it also opens the doors to corruption.  We have to observe international law regarding corruption legislation that allows you to judge these people and that this is contingent in their fight against corruption.  Another aspect of the solution would be to have independent investigative units that do not.  The part of the government in turn experienced in my country is that governments, as a result of electoral processes based on dubious financial practices, usually this gives them access to funds that come from drug trafficking, corruption and some political powers.  And we should have transparent commercial businesses, labor organizations.  We have to work with those who are committed to do it this way.  You have to denounce systematic state corruption in the media and in the public plaza.  That’s, I think, a good step.

MS. GREEN: And you, Ruben?

MR. LIFUKA: Yeah, maybe just to — thank you very much, maybe just to add on to what Juan has just indicated as a starting point, I think it would be expected too much for us to wait on the ground, troops on the ground to not jump to their own point.  And as a result, we need to build islands of integrity.  And there are a number of islands of integrity we can build, have strong citizen mobilization, strong civil society.  And the media will also take advantage and leverage on the companies or the businesses that would like to work in a clean environment.  But we also have to understand that increasingly we need to build the capacity of the people to hold these people to account.  There are several strategies which we can employ and which we have employed.  But as we talk about transnational corruption, we have to leverage the powers of solidarity from other players around the globe.  When you fight corruption, we’re not alone.  There are several other players who can support us.  It could be the multilateral entities.  It could be the international community.  And we have to leverage on that in order to deal with any government which understands corruption and is not willing to move on the corruption agenda.

MS. GREEN: Achraf to you, weigh in on the question of how can outside actors be most helpful to local grassroots actors?

MR. AOUADI: For me, I’d definitely say the first thing is to invest in democracy, because now we always talk about the difference between corruption and democracy.  You only can fight corruption in a democracy.  And if there is no democracy in the fight against corruption, is going to be dangerous for poor people.  So to me, they go hand-in-hand.  Invest in democracy means you are an investment to fight corruption.  So the campaign definitely is supporting missions on the ground and having people with a little bit of creativity joining those missions, especially in those countries who are somehow in higher risks of corruption.  Co-design is really important for bringing people from the dominant perspective with the local people to stay together and be willing to design.  [unintelligible] project is very important.  If it did not work in Iraq, it’s not going to work in Tunisia, obviously.  So there is no point in wasting another 50 million on the project that we already know.  That’s not going to work.  A bit of copy and paste, not necessarily to keep.

You see based design should maybe go to missions on the ground, because I think they are closer to the context and I would say increase the margin of error for the local NGOs because we need to be more tolerant to typos and English language learning structures that someone who speaks English as a third language will be sending that if we judge people on how good they will be articulating their ideas in English, I’m not sure you’re going to get the best out of them.  And I would definitely recommend at least for the USAID missions and in general to review the assessment and ability of the impact.  And ability is really important in trying to think outside of the box would be a bit necessary.  And one thing to do this is allow people to tell you the truth, because I think most implementers would not lie.  I would say they would embellish their words, because somehow I think USAID and donors in general are not really happy to hear the truth.  If things are a bit — I won’t say fail.  I would say they feel they did not work well.  So it’s a bit of an investor perspective.  I need to be able, as an entrepreneur, to come and tell you, hey, it might not work.  We need to do it differently.  If you’re going to penalize me for this, most likely I’m going to say the truth.  I would even lie just to say this project and I would say my opportunity in upcoming cultural applications.  So I think if we are to give people safe space, especially if we give diplomats a safe space and they will be honest with us, they will tell us the things that work.  And you say things that did not, and that’s when you have more impact.

So I would say I know it’s hard with public institutions, but if we adopt some of the venture capitalists way of doing things, if we increase the margin of error and risks, who are the implementers with international and American local decimeter, there will be maybe in a safer space, then there will be more honest and then maybe we’ll have a bigger impact.

MS. GREEN: Thank you, Achraf.  Those are all really practical recommendations and it is certainly a part of our agenda and intent to facilitate those local partnerships.  So thanks for those observations.  And then finally, Miranda, back to you to talk about the risks that you face and how you manage those risks.

MS. PATRUCIC: I have myself faced the risk where I was threatened that I would be killed for the work that I was doing.  And I have to say, when something like that happened, it’s not an easy thing to deal with.  But what’s encouraging is when you have a strong voice of support from foreign actors, local actors who come and basically strongly support what you work and they condemn the action taken by the others.  Also have to say that as a journalist, you know, our strength is in the power of a network, you know, working together.  You know, the previous investigations that we’ve been following, the murders of journalists like [unintelligible] like (inaudible) basically have demonstrated that when we join forces and aggressively report the stories that those reporters have done, it leads to results.  And I have to say that those stories get left behind because of the violence and attacks.

We also need to increase the cost of attacking reporters, which means that those who attack should face strong consequences for their actions.  But also, you know, as a journalist, we are dealing with a lot of stress and burnout.  And you really need to invest and help reporters deal with mental health issues, especially in the places where they’re facing crackdown and continued surveillance.  It’s a very, very difficult environment to work with.  So there’s a lot that needs to be done.  But what’s important is basically to raise a voice and speak in support of reporters who are targeted.

MS. GREEN: Thank you, Miranda.  Okay, Administrator Power, I’m going to turn it back over to you to close us out.

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you so much, Shannon, I’m so grateful for the specific suggestions that a number of you have made.  We’re already pretty deep into President Biden’s first year, and we really do bring a sense of urgency to this.  Old habits die hard.  And so I think, Ashraf, some of your comments in particular really resonate with me.  And I really hope we can bring those changes about.  It’s a culture shift to some extent, but it’s also there are a set of requirements, of course, that that we’re a little bit constrained by, but it’s I have a great expression, which is work the problem.  Let’s work on the problem.  So we will seek to internalize some of this.  And if any of you would like to follow up in writing kind of with these specifics, no pressure to do so.  But maybe if there’s anything you feel we didn’t get to because we could keep all day and just get your insights and be and be so better off for it.

So I just want to close, though, by just thanking you really, above all, for your work.  The work you do by definition, puts you at odds with some seriously powerful people.  Miranda just spoke to the stresses, the mental health toll, to the risks, not only to you, but your loved ones.  I mean, this is really brave stuff.  And it, of course, requires the strong moral compass that each of you brings.  What I’ve been struck by in meeting anti-corruption activists over the years is for all of that, I don’t know that any of you can imagine yourselves doing anything else, sort of.  So you can look at the toll.  You can try to mitigate some of the toll, as Miranda gave us some thoughts on.  But fundamentally, you all are so drawn to what amounts to the ultimate public service to honest governance, the rule of law and to the needs of your people, which corruption gets in the way of seeing fulfilled.

So Uzra and I are very inspired — Shannon are very inspired by you.  Again, we have the luxury of doing much of this work from far away.  And so the least we can do is lift up your voices, listen to you, try to put into practice some of the insights that you have shared with us today.  Keep an open door so that you can reach out to us and make sure our embassies are doing the same, our USAID missions around the world.  But just thank you so much for everything you do and for sharing your very specific and inspiring thoughts with us today.  And I must also just thank you, I think at one point we had 1,200, 1,300 people on this call.  We still have the vast majority who stayed on until the bitter end.  And I think that just speaks to the resonance of this issue, not just generally because it affects people’s lives, but the residents of this issue at this moment.  And that is a moment that we all want to seize together.  So, thank you so much and look forward to seeing you again and to hearing more about how we can work together.  

Thank you.

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Author: Editor
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