The advertisement for my replacement as Secretary General of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO) has precipitated numerous questions as to why I am leaving. So, I thought it might be helpful – not least to applicants – if I briefly tried to explain my decision here. In so doing, I should stress right at the beginning that many members of the CTO’s Council and our Executive Committee were rather surprised by my decision, and did their best to try to persuade me to stay on. I am immensely grateful to them for their support. It is a huge privilege to be Secretary General of the CTO, and I have learnt a phenomenal amount doing the job. I have also met some absolutely outstanding people – and to be sure, some less outstanding ones! The chance to lead an international organisation, committed to using ICTs to support people across the 53 countries of the Commonwealth is absolutely amazing, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the challenges that this has involved. However, there are two fundamental reasons why I have decided to serve only one four-year term. These are what I have shared with members of our Council:
- First, it is very important for there to be clarity and certainty over any transition in leadership of an organisation. Changes of Chief Executives – or Secretary Generals – must be handled with very great care so that there is a smooth hand-over, and that confidence and trust in the organisation remains high. I am going to be 60 this year (the truth is now out!), and I would like to have the opportunity to be considered for other jobs before I retire! Sadly, some international organisations still have relatively low upper-age limits, with the UN, for example, having a mandatory age limit of 62! Hence, I took the view that I should not stand for a second term as Secretary General of the CTO. I simply felt that it would have been destabilising and damaging to the CTO if I had indeed been appointed for a second term, and then people had heard that I might be applying for various other jobs a year later, whether or not I actually got them.
- Second, I think that eight years is too long for a single person to head an international organisation such as the CTO. With such a long term of office, there becomes a real danger that the incumbent can begin to treat the organisation as his or her personal fiefdom, and I do not think that this is a particularly healthy situation. Having just completed a three-year plus three-year stint as Chair of the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission, I am all the more convinced that six years (in a three plus three format) should be the maximum term of office for heads of organisations. Fresh ideas, and new ways of doing things are definitely needed after this length of time! I also think that any organisation should be bigger than its leader. After a long period at the helm, there is a very real tendency for a leader and ‘their’ organisation to be seen as being very closely associated if not one-and-the-same, and I simply do not think that this is particularly healthy for the organisation.
I know that not everyone agrees with these views, but two of the things that I have sought to bring to the CTO have been trust and transparency, and it seems to me that both of these are absolutely central to the decision I have made. Of course there are other reasons as well. The strategic plan that we created back in 2012 had at its heart an expansion in membership. The aim was to bring back countries and organisations that had previously left the CTO, such as India, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Without them, the CTO is but a fraction of what it could be! Not least, the additional membership fees would enable the CTO to expand its staffing and thereby deliver more and better services to all of its members. Furthermore, since people can only be employed at the CTO if they are nationals of Full Member Countries, the absence of these countries means that the organisation is more restricted in its employment potential than need be the case – and membership is only £20,000 a year! Despite encouraging words, and indeed promises from some countries to rejoin, these have not yet materialised. Having banged my head against a brick wall on this, and one or two other matters, for nearly four years, I think it is time that I moved on and let someone else build on the foundations we have laid. As I began, let me conclude by stressing once again that the post is an amazing one. It provides an opportunity to work with some fantastic people, to deliver real on-the-ground solutions that can help poor and marginalised communities use ICTs effectively for their development aspirations. When eventually I leave in September this year, I know that I will have many regrets. I have done my best to lead the CTO forward, so that it will be in a better position than when I started. It is now time for someone else to take the CTO forward so that it can indeed achieve its full potential. Oh yes, and the deadline for applications is 26th January!
I have long argued that people tend to use the word “corruption” mainly to describe cultural practices that differ from those with which they are familiar. It is a term that is almost always used negatively. Re-reading Transparency International‘s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index has very much reinforced this view, but in a way that I suspect will not be expected by those who read what follows!
I have huge admiration and respect for the work of Transparency International. The map above shows the perceived levels of public sector corruption in 177 countries in the world. In brief, it indicates that 69% of countries have a score of less than 50%, indicating a serious corruption problem.
However, what stands out most to me about this map is that it is very largely the countries of northern Europe, northern America, and Australasia that are perceived as being least corrupt. The yellow “holiness” is so marked against the “evil” red of corruption that swathes most of the rest of the world!
Corruption according to Transparency International can be defined “Generally speaking as ‘the abuse of entrusted power for private gain’. Corruption can be classified as grand, petty and political, depending on the amounts of money lost and the sector where it occurs”.
Three ideas seem particularly pertinent in this context:
- The notion of corruption is intimately tied up with the nature of capitalism. Put simply, the apparently least corrupt countries according to this definition are generally the most advanced capitalist countries. This suggests that it serves capitalist interests to try to reduce “corruption” as much as possible. It is interesting to ponder why this might be. One reason may be that reducing the abuse of entrusted power for private gain actually reduces the tendency for the rate of profit to fall. However, it is difficult to see how this might happen, and it seems in stark contrast to a fundamental characteristic of capitalism which is that it is actually designed to ensure the maximum possible private gain for the capitalists. I guess the reality may be that limiting or preventing private gain from entrusted power actually enables the market (i.e. the principles of capitalism) to flourish as effectively as possible. By extension a reduction of all entrusted power (i.e. limiting the power of the state) could be seen to enhance the power of the market, and therefore increase the potential for private gain of those who do not hold political power. Hence, keeping the power of the state as small as possible, and ensuring that it functions in a way that does not lead to private gain for the holders of power in the state, will ensure that the maximum surplus profit is available to the leaders of global corporations and their shareholders.
- However, it is very clear that there is also corruption in the leading capitalist states. The countries shaded yellow on the above map may be perceived as being less corrupt than others, but corruption still abounds in them! Hence, there is huge hypocrisy when leaders (and indeed others) in the “yellow” countries accuse those in the “red” countries of being corrupt. Those in the banking sector, for example, who pay themselves and their staff huge salaries are surely also using their positions of power for private gain? The amount of money spent in US Presidential elections is also an indication of the way in which “money speaks”: Obama thus raised $715,677,692 in the 2012 elections, and Romney raised $446,135,997. Together, this sum of money was worth more than the GDP of 25 countries in 2012 (according to UN figures). One needs huge amounts of money to be elected President of the US, and those who contribute this money expect the policies that the President introduces to benefit them – for private gain. Likewise, in the UK in 2012, Michael Meacher in a letter to the Guardian newspaper noted that “that the richest 1,000 persons, just 0.003% of the adult population, increased their wealth over the last three years by £155bn. That is enough for themselves alone to pay off the entire current UK budget deficit and still leave them with £30bn to spare”. Is not this also a form of corruption?
- Corruption is seen differently in countries where rampant capitalism and private financial gain may not be seen as the most important priorities. According to the Transparency International report, most countries in the world are perceived as having a serious corruption problem. This poses an interesting question: might their systems of priorities actually in some ways be better? If they were not, why do these systems persist? For a person living in a culture where ties to family and tribe are more important than individual private financial gain, it must seem very wrong not to give employment opportunities to members of one’s family, regardless of actual ability. Likewise, where personal loyalty matters more than direct monetary return, supporting a friend to achieve their particular job aspirations would seem much more appropriate than ensuring that there is a “fair” competence based application process. Giving gifts to reciprocate for generous hospitality is merely a different way of redistributing and sharing financial benefits. Moreover, much of what passes for probity in the “yellow” countries actually tends to be a smokescreen for traditional modes of “corruption”. The appointments process is invariably biased through friendship ties – not least through the reference system and the use of headhunters – and is never purely competence based. Likewise, the UK’s honours system is still very largely determined by personal friendship networks, rather than necessarily by ability or contribution to the common good.
In short, I am more than ever convinced that “corruption” is simply a pejorative term that people use to describe political, social and economic systems that are different from their own. In a world dominated by capitalist interests, it is scarcely surprising that less-advanced capitalist economies are perceived as being more corrupt than those where the search for individual gain and success is highest. Yet this very focus on individual gain in capitalist societies is itself fundamentally “corrupt”, since it detracts from the communal good which, at least for me, is ultimately far more valuable. I suggest that we may have much more to learn from the mutually supportive social and cultural networks that underlie such “corrupt” regimes, than we do from the economic interests that determine definitions of probity in the capitalist heartland. However, this is because I believe that the common good is far more important than private individual gain.