For an organization with the word “transparency” in its name, Transparency International has chosen to remain pretty tight-lipped about its highly unusual decision in January to strip its longtime U.S. affiliate—Transparency International-USA—of its accreditation.
The move is not insignificant, especially since TI’s U.S. national chapter has been in existence since 1993. Only in rare, “exceptional circumstances” does TI initiate a process to disaccredit a national chapter, according to TI’s National Chapter Accreditation Policy.
In a statement issued by the TI Secretariat, the global anti-corruption watchdog would only confirm—two weeks after its final decision—that its international board of directors decided on Jan. 10 to strip TI-USA of its accreditation. As a disaccredited affiliate, TI-USA cannot use TI’s name and logo or claim affiliation with it and must take “any action necessary to make sure that it does not continue to be perceived as associated with TI,” the accreditation policy states.
According to TI, the move to disaccredit TI-USA included an initial board decision in November 2016 and a subsequent recommendation on Jan. 2, 2017, by a “reconsideration panel,” as allowed under the accreditation policy. Although the Membership Accreditation Committee (MAC) recommended TI-USA for reaccreditation, TI’s international board of directors had a different opinion.
As stated by the former chapter, the basis for the dis-accreditation was the board’s recognition of differences in philosophies, strategies, and priorities: “The process has confirmed that TI is pursuing a fundamentally different strategy and approach to combatting bribery and corruption than that being followed by TI-USA. We, therefore, have decided it is in our interest to pursue our mission independently.”
As with many relationships, however, the break-up leaves more questions than answers. Nowhere in any statement has TI or its former national chapter publicly divulged the specific ways in which their differences in philosophies, strategies, and priorities diverge. But a closer analysis of TI’s “Statement of Vision, Values, and Guiding Principles” (referred to as the “Umbrella Statement”) may carry with it some clues.
Under the Umbrella Statement, values comprise “transparency, accountability, integrity, solidarity, courage, justice, and democracy,” whereas the guiding principles include “coalition-building, political non-partisanship, independence from funders, respect for fundamental rights and freedoms, and balanced and diverse representation on our governing bodies.”
“It is in the interest of the entire movement that these values and principles are adhered to throughout the movement and enforced,” the accreditation policy states. As part of that process, the “National Chapter Self-Evaluation Form” contains an extensive list of questions.
Independence from funders is one particular principle that can be a point of contention. The former chapter, itself, is funded by several multinational companies—some of which have come under anti-corruption investigations in the past.
In 2015, its biggest corporate supporters included, for example, Bechtel, Google, and Pfizer ($50,000 and over); Citigroup, ExxonMobil, Fluor, General Electric, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and Tyco ($25,000 – $49,999); and Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold and Johnson & Johnson (up to $24,999).
As with many relationships ... the break-up leaves more questions than answers. Nowhere in any statement has TI or its former national chapter publicly divulged the specific ways in which their differences in philosophies, strategies, and priorities diverge.
Moreover, the former TI chapter annually doles out a “Corporate Leadership” award, given to a company that often happens to be one of its biggest corporate funders. In the past, these companies have included Bechtel, General Electric, Fluor, and Raytheon.
To be clear, corporate supporters are not prohibited by TI under its “Private-Sector Donors Approval and Due Diligence Processes,” as long as certain, stringent requirements are met. It’s a slippery slope to be on, nonetheless, when an organization, whose entire mission is to combat corruption and avoid conflicts of interest, is overseeing the very companies that fund it.
The former chapter has made it clear, however, that such an argument is moot. “We have been and will continue to be an organization committed to building coalitions, including with responsible business organizations,” said Fritz Heimann and Michael Hershman, founders of TI-USA and Berlin-based TI. “We believe the private-sector has an indispensable role in creating a corruption-free economy.”
In addition to adopting the Umbrella Statement, TI’s national members are also expected, among other obligations, to “demonstrate its determination, diligence, and competence to combat corruption in its own country/territorial entity,” according to the accreditation policy. Herein lies another potential area of divergence, as TI-USA’s anti-corruption efforts often are focused on territories both inside and outside the United States.
Furthermore, TI-USA Chairman Alan Larson indicated that this is the new direction the organization intends to take moving forward. “We are converting our structure to become a national membership organization that will be a broadly based coalition dedicated to fighting against corruption wherever it occurs—locally, nationally, and internationally,” he said.
“We are going to deepen and expand our strong relationships with a variety of organizations and individuals, at home and abroad, including other civil society organizations, businesses, labor union representatives, academics, youth, and professional groups,” Larson added. It’s still not clear at this time under what new name the former TI-USA will operate.
According to TI’s accreditation policy, “when all efforts to strengthen a national chapter and bring it into compliance with the Umbrella Statement, all basic principles of TI, and the requirements of the accreditation process are unsuccessful, TI will consider voluntary withdrawal, suspension, or dis-accreditation of the national chapter.”
All told, it would appear this relationship had ended for good. Instead, each group will now commit to their own anti-corruption efforts moving forward.
“As a committed civil society organization, we will continue in the United States to advocate for public-sector integrity, greater politician integrity, and reform of electoral financing at all levels of government, and ending anonymous shell companies which allow corruption to flourish, among other issues,” said Claudia Dumas, the former chapter’s president and CEO. “We will continue our work at the international level where U.S. interests are implicated.”
The former chapter also will continue with its commitment to the rule of law as an essential tool in fighting corruption. “We will continue to advocate for strong and vigorously enforced anti-corruption and pro-transparency laws and regulations, both domestically and internationally,” said Lucinda Low, a director of TI-USA.
In a separate statement, Berlin-based TI stressed that it “remains fully committed to supporting the fight against corruption in the United States, alongside U.S. civil society organizations, individuals—including its individual members in the United States—companies, and government agencies, based on Transparency International’s 2020 Strategy and its mission, values, and principles.”