A Personal Note on Why I Had to Quit Transparency International – Austrian Chapter

As an avid activist against corruption, I joined TI-AC in 2005 when I had returned to Vienna from the World Bank. I was involved in the conception of a TI-AC study on anti-corruption measures in Austrian development NGOs. When I moved to London in 2008 to the EBRD board, I quit TI-AC, but rejoined in 2013 (and also became a member of TI-ACs Advisory Council), back in Vienna, when my friend Edith Kitzmantel, former Director General at the European Commission, invited me to her TI-AT working group on economic policy and financial markets. Edith had assembled a group of up to 8 experts on financial markets, economic policy, taxes, banks and insurance. We produced a number of expert papers on the Austrian and international bank secrecy situation, on tax evasion, on bank accounting, plus a conference on Corruption as a Driver of the Financial Crisis. Things were complicated with the Chair of the TI-AC Advisory Council who did not appreciate our work and made publication difficult or impossible. When he left, the new chair promised speedier processing of our work and more leeway for the working groups.

Edith as the chair of the working group fought a fruitless battle for more flexibility in the organization, more self-determination of the working groups – but in vain. The executive board of TI-AC insisted on tightening control of the content of the working groups (but lacking know-how to judge it), on the membership and the work programs. I myself wrote a number of mails asking for more transparency in the procedures of selecting board members, which on the two pertinent occasions were co-opted by the existing board, without prior consultation or calls for nominations by the members, to be approved at the annual membership meeting. A number of proposals by our working groups, also to issue press releases together with like-minded organisations, like Attac or the Tax Justice Network, were rejected – without substantial arguments.

On February 13, Edith and myself were invited to meet TI-AC Chair Eva Geiblinger and Advisory Board Chair Bettina Knotzl, purportedly to iron out conflicts. Instead, we were confronted by 4 board members who issued a large litany of accusations against us, like disturbing the peace of TI-AC, instigating other members, wanting to cooperate with (horribile dictu!) Attac, and even asking for more transparency in the selection process of board members. (This latter point met with complete non-understanding by the board.) When we answered that we had expected the work of bona fide, experienced members to be appreciated and even encouraged by the board, the Chair invited us to leave TI-AC. Edith and I accepted immediately and left the meeting, which obviously had decided beforehand to force us to quit.

I still believe in the mission of Transparency International and its work. But I find it impossible and unacceptable to spend much time waiting for substantial work “to get approval” from persons who do not possess the relevant know-how, who make their own opaque decisions on what was “too political” without consultation, to ask for permission with whom to work and cooperate, to have a self-replacing process for the leadership without any transparency (this in an organization which has Transparency in its name!) and to spend time not on work of substance but on power issues. A 21st century NGO must be run in an open and transparent manner, giving as much leeway to those working for it and be built on mutual trust and respect. Since none of this exists in TI-AC, I am no longer a member of TI-AC. I will carry on substantial work in this area, together with likeminded persons, outside of the TI-AC framework.



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9 responses to “A Personal Note on Why I Had to Quit Transparency International – Austrian Chapter

  1. Bruno Rossmann

    Echt schlimm!

  2. David Evans

    Wow…the response from an “American in Vienna” is very weird. As the “American” explained they don’t know the players and apparently don’t know much about the situation. Despite this ignorance and probably not knowing the author, the “American” launches a nasty attack on the author as old school corrupt and self-important? Even Edith Kitzmantel is nothing more than a cronie. Moreover, the “American in Vienna” apparently doesn’t believe in transparency (or even might be a TI-AC board member) because they don’t state their name and hide their country (America is a hemisphere).

  3. American in Vienna

    Without knowing any of the players, this article, on its face, reads like the type of “sour grapes” one might expect from any self-important, former office-holder of the “old school” when corruption was simply a part of the landscape, as he struggles to maintain, or re-establish a presence that is clearly disruptive to and unappreciated by new players, whose interests are in the public good. It seems, only by reference to the article, to be a consistent rejection of the author’s self-importance (and, maybe (?) wrongly-influenced or motivated cronies).

    • kurtbayer

      Well, Tim, you could not be more wrong. I certainly do not appreciate your assessment of my motivations, but leave that to you. I will work on my future presentations and writings, in order to be clearer so that also people as bad-mouthing as you get my point.

      • kurtbayer

        Since I have been asked by several readers: no, I do not know the “American in Vienna”. I probably should not have addressed him in my brief reply as “Tim”. The seeming familiarity was supposed to be an ironic aside to his speculation about my motives – which he cannot know because he never asked me.

    • What a poor play by the “American in Vienna” making believe that she/he does not know any of the players mentioned in the article and at the same time attesting that these (“unknown”) players’ interests were in the public good. Poor disguise!
      Peter Moser

  4. Gabriele Matzner

    sehr traurig!

  5. David Evans

    I dunno…why just stop a resigning…why not expose the Board for what they are…sounds like a good article for the press. I realize that Transparency International is a bunch of locally run chapters with only a secretariat in Berlin but the Austrian Chapter sounds like is is giving the whole organization a very bad name. Moreover, you and Edith are not exactly irresponsible lightweights. Seems to me it is worth going an extra step ot two.

  6. Meredith Schneeweiß

    Bravo Kurt! Well done!

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