With the turmoil besieging boardrooms, governments and stocks markets the world over showing no sign of abating, calls for greater transparency increase exponentially with every new sordid revelation of phone-hacking, corruption-busting, bribe-taking and whatnot. Here, we speak to four local heroes about their work in making society a more accountable, and responsible one.
The campaigner: Chantal Hebette Chair of Transparency International, Belgium
It’s much easier to raise funds for cancer. Corruption seems a little bit abstract and theoretical. How do you represent it? You could show people passing money under the table, or have a picture of a man with a white collar. Many people think that this is a problem for developing countries, like in Africa (or perhaps for Greece), but not for us. When you want to call the police to report a corruption case, there is no specific number, you get connected to an operator saying “I will try to transfer you” and you’re lucky if there is someone on the other end of the line. It’s not at all userfriendly. People prefer to do nothing when they are afraid, when they have no confidence in the people in charge. There is a lot of soft corruption. The people may not be corrupt but they’re not shocked by evident conflicts of interests, and though the trend is decreasing, it’s still a type of sport in Belgium to not pay what you are supposed to pay.
The law enforcer: Johan Denolf, Director of the department for Economics and Financial Crime Division (DJF) of the Belgian Federal Police
In normal fraud, you have an author and a victim. A guy wants to marry a Filipino girl he finds on the internet. He is asked for 500 euro for a flight, but the Filipino girl is only 20 and her mother will need to come as well, so they need another 500 euro. He goes to the airport with flowers to wait for his future bride, who never turns up. That’s normal fraud, the local police would deal with that. If there were several similar cases, we would make the link, through collaboration with institutions like Interpol. But corruption is different. It’s fraud committed by two parties who both have an interest in keeping silent. The one who is bribing and the one who is accepting are both part of the scheme. The biggest challenge is to follow the money. And to actually get things not only seized, but also brought back to the Belgian government. Sometimes we’re too late and the money is already gone. It happens.
The lawyer: Francois Vincke, Member of the Brussels Bar and Chair of Anti Corruption Commission of the International Chamber of Commerce
Recently, after the wedding of a nephew, I went with my family to a restaurant. The bill comes and the lady says “I didn’t split the bill – I have only one VAT receipt.” And I said “I don’t need it” and she looked at me and said, “Why don’t you need it?” I know very well that there is not a trace of professional deductibility. Everywhere there is this “Everybody does it,” – so if everybody does it, and I’m not doing it, I will look stupid, or, “The laws are conceived in this way that it is assumed that everyone will deduct… and so on.” Corruption is everywhere. It is wrong to think that white collar crime is related to a religion or culture, industrial sector, or social origin. Corporate ethics and compliance. What does it really mean? It’s important not just to have lists of rules; but to create a cultural attitude of ethics. I am convinced that law is not only a list of small goals which say he’s right or she’s wrong… “ubi societas ibi ius”.
The journalist: David Leloup Freelance investigative reporter
I like to find the truth, to dig beneath the surface. I studied cognitive psychology at university, and worked for two years as a researcher. The job is basically the same. In investigative journalism, you also work by hypothesis, and you try to prove it wrong. Sometimes the lead is not provided, so you need to do a lot of preliminary research to see if your hypothesis has a chance. Each time I expose misconducts by someone, I call them and give them the opportunity to express their point of view and to challenge my perception. But sometimes questions are often just forwarded to the press department which give me a ready-made answer. I think people would care more if the Belgian press exposed more cases of corruption, but they don’t. I’m not an activist, I am just trying to improve democracy and democratic principles. But my work might encourage activists to build up that momentum.