newritings

May 2, 2008

Learning from each other – The interview: Hansjörg Elshorst

Filed under: interview,Mwalimu (Vol 1.1. - First Quarter 2008) — newritings @ 1:52 pm

Hassen Lorgat posed these questions to Hansjörg Elshorst during March 2008

In this first interview we talk to one of the founding members of Transparency International (TI), who was member of its Advisory Council until 1997. From 1998 to 2002 he served as Managing Director of TI, and from September 2002 until Oktober 2005 as Chairman of TI Germany. Presently he is Chairman of the Advisory Council of TI Germany and Senior Advisor on Poverty, Development and Corruption in the International Secretariat of TI. Since October 2003, Elshorst teaches at the Potsdam University in the area of International Politics – since 2006 as Honorary Professor.

Prof. Dr. Hansjörg Elshorst was born in 1938 in the Ruhrvalley and raised in Dortmund. He studied German Literature, History and Philosophy and received a PhD in German Literature. Interested in journalism, Elshorst wrote articles during his studies and was afterwards trained as an editor in a regional paper for one year. He then studied and received a MA in Sociology and Economics at Louisiana State University.

From 1967 to 1969 Elshorst taught Sociology at the Catholic University in Santiago del Estero, Argentina. During this time he was strongly involved in the work of community based organisations and NGOs.

After returning to Germany in 1969, Elshorst worked as an Assistant to a SPD-deputy in the Bundestag. In 1974 he was involved in the foundation of the German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ), which he headed until 1995. 1996-1997 Elshorst joined the World Bank in Washington as Senior Advisor, focusing on the promotion of partnerships with local organisations and other development agencies.

THE INTERVIEW

Learning about our movement. Urgent priorities: Continue the fight against Northern Dominance of NGOs and work with the poor, says Elshorst, one of the founding members of TI

Hassen Lorgat: Tell us a bit more about you and your history in the formation of TI

Hansjörg Elshorst: About myself… I grew old spending most of my energy on public interest orientated international cooperation. Not satisfied with the results I continue a bit on this, offering my experience to the generation in charge. Regarding the formation of TI, I was among the first people promising Peter Eigen concrete contributions to the new initiative: secure political backing in Germany, out of funds from GTZ-consultancy profits, co-finance TI’s preparatory phase and early years. In my own assessment, already in those years my contribution to shaping TI’s structure and institutional strategy was most relevant. This continued during my turn as MD: I contributed to translating the trial and error culture of TI’s early years into a flexible but accountable organisation.

Hassen Lorgat: Given that you are currently retired, what do you think the priorities are for the TI movement now?

Hansjörg Elshorst: Continue to avoid the Northern dominance syndrome so prevalent in many global NGOs. As part of that, don’t imitate the planning and control fancy of large public and private bodies, retain the flexibility to respond to opportunities, among them voluntary engagement. While struggling for funds give highest priority to independence and public interest orientation. Expand working against corruption on political level, using our comparative advantage in this area. Widen our early focus on the giving hand from abroad and also expose private-sector interests in multilateral institutions. As a new priority: discover the poor and their organisations as partners in fighting the corruption that hurts them most.

Hassen Lorgat: As a broad movement – a broad church if you like – what must be the minimum principles we must keep in mind when tackling poverty and inequality?

Hansjörg Elshorst: Corruption increases poverty and inequality. However, fighting corruption does not automatically and always reduce them as a side effect; privatisation may reduce public sector corruption but may increase poverty and inequality. Aid has been challenged to at least do no harm; that could be a minimum but by no means self-understood principle when fighting corruption. In addition, TI should respond with priority to requests from people and institutions mandated and determined to fight poverty and inequality. And TI activists should respond positively to initiatives from within and outside the movement to make poverty and inequality a specific target of TI-tools and innovative work.

Hassen Lorgat: How do we deal with the structural inequalities endemic within capitalism (its way of doing business, over emphasis on competition in sports, life, etc.) ?

Hansjörg Elshorst: Capitalism has also seen phases where its dynamics were turned by countervailing powers to mitigate risks and reduce inequalities. Normally, the state played a crucial role as such a power, often challenged by what was civil society in those times. Relying on self-interest alone turns society into a predatory exercise. If only for self-interest as corruption fighters we should not allow the preachers of such a world in politics, media, universities to go unchallenged. In a world aching under poverty and threatened by conflict and environmental destruction it is unacceptable that huge resources serve nothing but self-interests, as quite frequent for instance in financial markets. TI is expert in where it leads when private gain overtakes responsibility. TI could thus play a role in the growing chorus challenging predatory capitalism.

Hassen Lorgat: What about collaboration with other mass organisations. is it possible and desirable for TI to do, and how do we do it?

Hansjörg Elshorst: It is remarkable that in most parts of the world Unions play such a small role in the fight against corruption. At least in Germany’s widespread corporatist society many other mass associations react the same way. But there are also examples of sections of society being shaken up by scandals. TI should not invest too many of its scarce resources in lobbying the mass organisations. However, it should stand prepared if they show interest or when joint interests can be identified. An example: there are many large civil society organisations fighting poverty in development. Many run into corruption but don’t consider it their role to fight it. That is particularly true when the political level is involved. In a division of labour TI may contribute its experience in fighting corruption and mass organisations may strengthen TI’s clout.

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1 Comment »

  1. […] Filed under: Mwalimu (Vol 1.1. – First Quarter 2008) — newritings @ 2:50 pm · Learning from each other – The interview: Hansjorg Elshort · The South African Update · The UN turns 60: UBUNTU’s Statement · The South African […]

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