Remembering McNamara’s anti-corruption fervour

Robert McNamara, best known for his role as U.S. Secretary of Defence under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, as well as his 13-year tenure as World Bank president, passed away on 6 July at the age of 93. Since then, there has been much public reflection on his legacy.

What may come as a surprise to many was McNamara’s lengthy involvement in the work of Transparency International (TI) and the anti-corruption movement, dating back to the founding of TI 16 years ago.

Travelling to Berlin in May 1993 to attend the launch convention of Transparency International (TI), McNamara spoke passionately of the need for an organisation devoted to fighting global corruption, and voiced regret that he had not addressed the issue more during his time at the World Bank.

Later on, as the co-chairman of the Global Coalition for Africa with Holland’s then minister for development, Jan Pronk and former president of Botswana Dr. Quett Masire, McNamara was a strong TI advocate, resulting in the organisation’s first grant from the Global Coalition, which was critical to firmly planting the seeds of our work fighting corruption.

McNamara continued to champion the work of TI well into his eighties, travelling with TI founder Peter Eigen and other TI leaders to Africa to challenge government leaders to address the corruption issue and promote TI’s work to build “Islands of Integrity“. He was also tireless in calling on the private sector to voice support of anti-corruption initiatives.

Within the organisation, McNamara was a tremendous resource, never hesitating to contact TI’s founding members and management to offer advice and assistance, and insisting that TI push more governments to support Integrity Pacts, an agreement for companies and governments to keep corruption and bribery out of public contracting. McNamara also added his voice to those of TI’s leaders, calling on his successors at the World Bank to strengthen that organisation’s anti-corruption efforts.

McNamara’s views on the importance of active anti-corruption measures are clearly outlined in his 2001 speech to the Ministerial Board at the Global Forum on Fighting Corruption and Safeguarding Integrity II. In that speech, McNamara stated, “we should never forget that it is the ordinary people – and especially the poor – who suffer the most from weak government. So I believe that we all have a moral obligation to them to make some headway in fighting it.”

It is with appreciation for McNamara’s tireless efforts for the anti-corruption cause and gratitude for his dedication and belief in the work of this organisation that Transparency International recognises McNamara’s crucial efforts, particularly at a time when it was essential to break the silence on the fundamental need to fight corruption, in all of its forms.

Frank Vogl is a member of Transparency International’s Advisory Council, former Vice-Chairman of the organisation and President of Vogl Communications.

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