Twelve years after he founded it, Peter Eigen is stepping down as chief of Transparency International. The former World Bank director leaves behind an anti-corruption organization that has made a good name for itself.
Peter Eigen, right, plans to continue to work for Transparency
In 1993, after almost 25 years as World Bank regional director for west and east Africa and Latin America, Peter Eigen could simply not take it anymore.
The corruption that he witnessed during his tenure there and in the 1970s as a legal advisor to the governments of Botswana and Namibia, was something the lawyer thought needed special attention -- and the Bank, he said, wasn't doing enough about it.
So he quit his job and started Transparency International, a now global agency that has made noticeable strides in eliminating fraud and corruption in government hallways and corporate boardrooms. The point was to take corruption from being considered a minor offense to being treated as a serious crime, and he chose "Corruption kills" as Transparency's slogan to underscore the point.
If the impressive press coverage and anti-corruption measures accepted by numerous governments are anything to go by, Eigen has achieved his goal. After 12 years as the organization's chief, the 67-year-old said last week he will step down.
Transparency International, based in Berlin, is present in 122 countries, with bureaus in 87 of them. The organization's yearly index targets not only developmental countries, but major industrial nations as well. Germany ranked 15th out of 145 countries last year, two places above the US, and nine above Japan. Bangladesh and Haiti are on the bottom of the list.
Transparency International's Global Corruption Report
Critics have said that the corruption barometer, based on opinion polls, isn't always a reliable reflection of what is really going on. Eigen soft-pedalled such criticism by saying that Transparency's true service was advising companies and countries.
The organization has convinced local governments to accept so-called "integrity packages" that guard against pay-offs when public contracts are up for bids. Every company taking part in the bid has to sign such a contract. Those who break the rules are punished, either by being put on a worldwide blacklist, or having to pay damages to those who lose out on the contract.
"There are 200 companies on the black list at the World Bank that no longer receive World Bank contracts," said Eigen.
Stepping back, not down
He's even managed to make some progress in his own country. German companies used to be able to deduct pay-offs made as part of deals in other countries from their German taxes -- something not only widely practiced, but accepted in the past.
The organization will elect a new president at their annual meeting in November this year. Though Eigen no longer wants to be chief, he plans to continue working for his pet project.
"Corruption is the biggest cause of poverty in the world, of violence, of impoverishment and hopelessness in many societies, " he said. "And that's why we need to fight it together."