Originally posted on TED Blog:
When we talk about corruption, certain types of individuals come to mind, says Charmian Gooch, co-founder of watchdog NGO Global Witness. She gives some familiar examples of the type. There’s the (former) Soviet megalomaniac — such as Saparmurat Niyazov, the all-powerful leader of Turkmenistan, whose indulgences included erecting a 40-foot-high gold-plated statue of himself that rotated to follow the sun. There’s the African minister, dictator or official, such as Teodorin Obiang, son of the president of oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, where many live in dire poverty despite per capita income comparable to Portugal. Obiang junior owns an 18 million Euro art collection, million-dollar sports cars, a Gulfstream jet, and a $30 million Malibu mansion. Until recently, he was officially earning less than $7,000 a month. Then there’s the former Nigerian oil minister Dan Etete – a convicted money launderer.
It’s easy to think of corruption as something that happens “over there,” carried out by shady characters in countries we think don’t affect the rest of us. But is this true? Gooch argues that these leaders of resource-rich countries don’t act alone. She knows, because she investigates them. In 1993, she co-founded Global Witness to investigate and run campaigns against corruption, exploitation and environmental and human-rights abuses in timber and other natural-resource-rich industries, such as logging, blood diamonds and oil money. Over the years, she has seen that what makes corruption on a global, massive scale possible isn’t just greed or misuse of power or weak governance: “Corruption is made possible by the actions of global facilitators.”