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The fight against corruption: ‘Broad awareness has emerged’

How can we counteract corruption at an international level? What progress is being made in anti-corruption measures? Martin Kreutner, Chairperson of the International Anti-Corruption Academy (IACA), answers these questions and more, in a discussion with Alumniportal Deutschland.

Mr Kreutner, where does corruption start? Are there any definitions?

Martin Kreutner: A single, universal definition of corruption does not exist – even though nearly all of us has a gut feeling if someone is overstepping the boundary to corruption. Widely and internationally accepted is the definition of corruption as the ‘abuse by an individual of power or decision-making capacity entrusted to them, to obtain their own advantage.’ And this includes initial actions to test the ground, or the provision of ‘sweeteners’. To me, it seems profoundly important to do more than just define the word in legal terms. After all, something that may in fact still be legal isn’t necessarily socially acceptable in itself.

Are there any good ways of addressing corruption, internationally?

Martin Kreutner: In expert circles, there is a widely recognised approach that builds on four pillars: (1) prevention; (2) education; (3) repression; (4) cooperation – both international and inter-sectoral. This is equally valid for the private sector, where the term ‘compliance’ is often used. For strategic anti-corruption measures and measures enshrined in legislation, as well as for the prosecution of cases across borders and internationally, there is a particular onus on states. For this reason, international cooperation takes on a special significance.

 ‘The fight against corruption is not something that happens in weeks or months’

Have any measures brought visible success in recent years?

Martin Kreutner: Here it is important, first of all, to mention the international conventions. The mid-1990s saw the creation of binding regional frameworks by the Organization of American States (OAS), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the Council of Europe. In 2003, the African Union also followed suit. In terms of global validity, this process undoubtedly reached the peak of its success with the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC). This is also the first convention within the UN family which involves a self-assessment process – the ‘peer review mechanism’. Currently as many as 170 states use this mechanism to ensure one another’s adherence to and implementation of the Convention.

Have these activities had any influence on the public debate surrounding the topic?

Martin Kreutner: Away from the purely legal context, a broad awareness has emerged regarding the disastrous consequences of corruption. We should remember that the so-called Arab Spring was triggered by an outcry at everyday corruption; that in India, a broad-based, popular movement against rampant corruption is developing; and that people have also taken to the streets in their tens of thousands in a number of European capitals. Things are happening in these places.

So which countries provide the best examples? And which still have a lot to do?

Martin Kreutner: I’m very reluctant to start comparing specific countries, not least because that usually ends in simplified, superficial judgements. I think that, in the western countries, we have taken our institutional achievements for granted too long. To an extent, we have failed to keep up with the changing times. In recent years, many emerging economies and some of the least developed countries have undertaken a number of credible, often successful efforts to fight corruption. In these places, people are usually ready to call a spade a spade – unlike in many countries of Western Europe were a lot of taboos still exist. But let me state clearly: the fight against corruption is not something that happens in weeks or months; it is not a matter of an election or the term of a government or board of executives. The only prospects of success come from medium-term and long-term concepts and strategies.


With its seat in Luxembourg, the IACA is, on the one hand, an independent international organisation with more than 50 member states from around the world; on the other, it is also a training institution specialised in anti-corruption measures. Its activities include the provision of training courses, communications work and areas such as technical assistance. It has a broad target group, ranging from public prosecutors, investigative journalists and compliance officers, to police officers and members of NGOs. In addition, the IACS has set up the first international masters programme in anti-corruption studies (MACS).

Where does Germany stand on the Corruption Perceptions Index?

Martin Kreutner: Among the 175 states assessed for the 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), Germany was ranked at a good 12th position, which represents a slight improvement on recent years.

And what is your assessment of Germany in the fight against international corruption?

Martin Kreutner: Germany is doing more in real terms than our current reputation would suggest. This is particularly true of German development cooperation and German enterprises. However, since Germany is one of the last countries still to ratify the UN Convention against Corruption, there is a gaping hole for international criticism.

Why hasn’t Berlin ratified the UN Convention yet?

Martin Kreutner: It is not my job to pass comment on the official reasons. Ultimately, it might take as little as an extra paragraph in the German penal code. To put it simply, the UN Convention requires that everyone, including parliamentarians, can be held criminally accountable in cases of bribery. Some people have mistakenly seen this requirement as a limitation on the ‘freedom of mandates’, and therefore also on the independence of the MPs.

However, things are changing in this respect, because in May 2014 the German Government has reviewed the regulations regarding ‘criminal accountability for the bribery of parliamentarians’. Therefore Germany is going to ratify the UN Convention against Corruption before the G20 Leaders Summit in Brisbane/Australia at the end of the year.

Discussion in the community about corruption

Transparency International is committed to fighting corruption at national and international levels, and each year publishes the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). In a contribution by its chairperson, Edda Müller, at the Friedrich Ebert Foundation’s conference ‘Werte und Politik’ (Values and policy) she said:

‘Avoiding corruption and achieving sustainability go hand-in-hand, because corruption is always a burden for the community, and as such it can never be sustainable.’

Where does your home country rank in the current CPI? Join the Community ‘Zukunftsthema Nachhaltigkeit / Sustainability’ in a discussion of anti-corruption measures.


Interview: Torsten Schäfer

June 2014

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