Thank you for joining us for this interview. As the new Dean of IACA, the IACA Alumni community would like to get to know you more. So, to get us started, may you tell us about yourself and your experience with anti-corruption issues.
For most of my professional career, I have worked on many different global issues including international security and disarmament, and all aspects of sustainable development. I also held multilateral positions in the Austrian Foreign Service and worked for international organizations within the global system. From 2008 to 2013, I worked as a Senior Official for the United Nations in New York. In 2001, shortly after having been appointed as the Austrian Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Vienna, I was drawn into the complex issue of fighting corruption. During this period, I chaired a meeting of the Crime Commission, which adopted a resolution concluding that “corruption is a structural impediment to sustainable development”. Later, I served in the Ad Hoc Committee for the Negotiation of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) leading the negotiations on the Implementation Chapter.
When the UNCAC was opened for signature in Merida, Mexico, I was privileged to sign it on behalf of Austria. I continued to support the implementation of UNCAC after it entered into force, as the Head of the Austrian delegations to the Conference of the State Parties (COSP), but implementation was tedious. It can be very frustrating to witness how the international community frequently stops short of implementing very useful global instruments like UNCAC, which were negotiated in arduous processes. Around 2007, we recognized the need for concerted effort to facilitate the implementation of UNCAC. Thus, together with UNODC and other players like Interpol, GRECO, and OLAF we came up with the idea to initiate a body or an institution that would dedicate itself to facilitating its implementation. That was the beginning of the idea that years later came to be IACA. However, I left for the United Nations in New York early in 2008 before the establishment of the anti-corruption institution could be completed.
Invited by Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, I joined the United Nations in New York as Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Inter-Agency Affairs at the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA). Even during that period, I continued following corruption-related issues, although not as closely as during the years I was in Vienna. Nonetheless,
I was privileged to participate in the founding conference of IACA in the Hofburg here in Vienna when I accompanied Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the event. So, I was there at the very birth date of IACA, and since then I always kept an interest in it. I continued to be in touch with the former Dean Martin Kreutner whom I had known well from the COSP process.
My appointment to my present position as Dean by the Board of IACA was a serendipitous moment. My appointment concluded a long circle and brought me back to a topic of great interest and sincere concern.
You have extensive experience working in various international organizations. What do you think makes IACA special, and what were the main factors that attracted you to the position of Dean of IACA?
I consider this a great opportunity to return to the global issues and specifically to the SDGs and Agenda 2030, the beginnings of which I helped conceptualize at the Rio+20 Conference because it was only after my departure from the United Nations in 2013 that concrete negotiations on the SDGs started; leading to the adoption of the SDGs and of Agenda 2030 by consensus in 2015. Notably the SDGs include fighting corruption in SDG16 target 5. This inclusion of anti-corruption in the SDGs offers a great challenge and opportunity for IACA. As the only international organization dedicated exclusively to combatting corruption, it assumes an important role, complementing the work of the United Nations and the UNODC in Vienna. As a cross-cutting agenda, corruption pervades all aspects of sustainable development and it is key to the successful implementation of all 17 goals. Considering the staggering amount of funds, syphoned away by corruption from productive economies, losses that can neither be compensated by Official development assistance (ODA), nor direct financial investments, nor remittances, success in fighting corruption appears to be the condition sine qua non for the successful implementation of the SDGs. This puts IACA in a very critical position and presents huge opportunities for the Academy.
Going back to IACA, you mentioned that you were a part of the team that conceptualized and established the organization. What do you think of IACA now versus the original concept when it was founded? Ten years later, do you think IACA is living up to its expectations?
During this first decade of its existence, IACA has contributed significantly to the global fight against corruption. It has established itself in the academic system as a recognized and proven institution of higher learning. Nevertheless, I think that IACA is still very much, in economic terms, an undervalued commodity. The Academy has many more opportunities and possibilities of contributing than it has realized so far. Two structural impediments have limited IACA from the beginning. Firstly, created as an international organization sui generis, IACA was not linked to the United Nations system. The seat of the Organization in Laxenburg, the beautiful historic village at the outskirts of Vienna, is far from the Vienna International Center, which houses the Vienna-based United Nations organizations. Secondly, based on voluntary contributions, IACA has as yet failed to secure a sustainable funding base. These two preconditions have impeded its work in its first decade of existence. IACA’s mandate is very much a concern of the United Nations system whereas its present structure has kept it outside the UN family.
The lack of predictable funding has made IACA vulnerable. Not long ago, quite a few of its constituents even doubted its viability. The system of voluntary contributions, which support IACA’s budget, needs more dedicated support. At the same time, IACA’s second source of income, created by its academic programmes and tailor made programmes, has been much stronger. In fact, the activities of IACA as an institution of higher education have been self-financing. This rarely receives the deserved recognition and this success is yet to be consistently complemented by voluntary contributions. Deplorably, since late 2018, the organization has faced a crippling financial crisis that nearly closed its doors and led to a downward spiral of negative perceptions and limited funding.
Hopefully this vicious negative cycle has now been broken. In 2019 an open-ended financial working group started its activities, with the mandate of creating a sustainable financial basis for IACA and a number of States Parties have been making important contributions since. Recently, also Austria, our host country, has again realized a considerable financial contribution, helping IACA to get past this critical situation. All of this augurs well and hopefully, this will turn the tide and help IACA to recover financially and to repair its image as viable institution.
As a follow up to that, what is your plan for changing the common perception of IACA?
The safest way to overcome negative perception is to perform a credible turn around and put the organization on a safe future trajectory. In our case, the key is to further improve IACA’s programmes and services and also to increase IACA’s delivery capacity. What IACA offers should be high quality and demand driven so that our States Parties recognize the added value. Adequate public information has to diffuse the good message and build a trusted relationship with our constituency. I strongly believe that if we are able, through consultations and dialogues, to make the constituency understand that our products are adding real value, then they might also consider it necessary to financially support the Academy. It is not my way to go around with a hat asking for money, I much more believe in offering high quality products and in building strong cooperative relations with our constituency that translate into robust financial support.
The moment of leadership change might also provide a good opportunity to introduce new vision, new concepts and new strategies. A new leader is always met with curiosity and new expectations. This might also help create good will and a renewed sense of cooperation. My arrival at IACA coincided with the government lockdown measures due to COVID-19. Unable to deliver our programmes face to face, we were blocked from important sources of income. In addition, all of the meetings I had anticipated with our States Parties and stakeholders had to be cancelled or conducted virtually. My team also moved to home offices before I was able to establish sound personal relationships. However, with the help of IT platforms, work could be continued, albeit in innovative ways. I am extremely encouraged by the support we have been receiving in these difficult times. States Parties and IACA partners have shown increased interest in our work and there is a lot of support, which hopefully will be translated into concrete financial support. But basically, I believe that making our products even better, scaling up our work and increasing our delivery capacities will be the basis for making us more relevant to our stakeholders, and to changing any existing negative perceptions of IACA.
Among your priorities are the enhancement of IACA’s interaction with its Parties, consolidation of the educational and research activities of the Academy, supporting the implementation of the UNCAC, and ensuring the financial sustainability of the organization. Can you share what are your exact plans for this year in particular?
2020 is a crucial year for IACA. This is the run-up to the UNGASS 2021. This will be the first Special Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations dealing with anticorruption.
We perceive these ongoing preparatory processes as a window of opportunity. UNGASS 2021 needs to define the future global anticorruption architecture, and IACA has offered strong contributions to the inter-governmental preparatory process. In Vienna, the UNODC, guardian of the UNCAC, has been coordinating UN system-wide anti-corruption initiatives, and it is leading this preparatory process. I plan to meet with the Director-General of the UNODC, as soon as conditions allow, to discuss how IACA can make itself relevant in expediting the implementation of the UNCAC and how IACA could support, in a complementary way, UNODC issues and efforts. I believe a precondition for UNCAC implementation is helping Member States to enhance their capacities to implement the provisions of the UNCAC, and this is within the scope of IACA and it is part of its mandate.
At the same time, as a member of the High Level Panel on International Financial Accountability, Transparency and Integrity for Achieving the 2030 Agenda (FACTI Panel), I have been participating in the mapping of existing institutions and initiatives to explore future possibilities for a better funding of SDGs implementation. Participating in this group of High Level experts also reflects well on IACA’s recognition.
In the past IACA has concentrated on the academic pillar of developing and offering anti-corruption and compliance courses and master’s programmes for professionals from around the world, as well as on the capacity building pillar of tailored trainings and courses. These programmes are very successful, their reception is very good, and nationals of more than 160 countries attended them. Many of our Alumni are now supporting our efforts globally. However, it is my opinion that in the past IACA has been rather conservative in its approach, delivering these programmes exclusively face to face, thus limiting its reach and impact. Now it is time for going on scale by developing e-learning platforms to deliver our programmes to many more interested students than in the past. It is my vision that already soon, every future diplomat, every future manager of the international system and of global companies, needs to receive anti-corruption training to slowly turn the tide against corruption, strengthen the rule of law and exclude impunity.
IACA needs dedicated focus on and prioritization of its research pillar. As it stands, for lack of budgetary resources, we have currently no one working in research. This concerns me a lot because I strongly believe that policy decisions need to be informed by strong facts, derived from research. IACA needs to provide a research hub for global, partially disconnected research
activities in the field of anti-corruption. At the same time, it needs to produce quality research itself. In the context of strengthening our research capacities, we also need to build a PhD programme, in cooperation with other research institutions. Our capacity to offer academic degrees within the Bologna system is a strong comparative advantage that makes IACA an attractive partner for many international institutions.
Lastly, as IACA is both a post-secondary education institution and an international organization, I would like IACA’s presence and efforts in the international system to be more pronounced. For example, I believe we can enhance our participation and contribution in the implementation of the SDGs.
You have talked a lot about synergies with other international organizations and the UN. But the private sector also has a key role to play. What are your plans to engage the private sector in fighting corruption?
We are already working with the private sector, albeit on a limited scale. This cooperation needs to be expanded in the future. As in the academic field, we do not need to reinvent the wheel, but we can build on already existing strong foundations. There are many opportunities for building cooperation, for example, The United Nations Global Compact which has been bringing together thousands of companies, has developed sound anti-corruption principles. I would also like to build working relationships with additional partners, like Forum Alpbach in Austria as well as the Davos Forum, the preeminent platform of the global business community. I see a lot of opportunities, but these depend on the willingness of our constituency and of our Parties to provide us with the critical financial resources to expand and grow our work and influence. Right now, we have a very dedicated but small human resources base, which needs to be expanded to carry out all these projects in the future.
You have great plans for IACA, for this year and beyond, but as we all know, your start coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic and the government lockdown measures. How has this impacted your plans and work, and as an organization how are you coping with this situation?
Well, nobody expected this crisis. It suddenly hit us and we all had to adjust quickly. One week after I joined IACA, we had to go on lockdown and work from our home offices. So many of my energetic plans had to be shelved. For example, I could not travel and hold meetings as scheduled. There is a saying that in every challenge lies an opportunity for change and growth, and this crisis has proved to be the most opportune time for us to delve deeper into e-learning. Within weeks we have completely changed the way we deliver our programmes; putting some of our courses online. Currently, we are delivering three modules of our master’s programmes on e-learning platforms, enabling our students to successfully continue their studies in spite of the global lockdown. Nobody knows how long this crisis will last, and how the world will be after this crisis, but we will remain flexible and use all the opportunities we have to grow and expand our work. I am very happy that my team quickly adjusted to the new normal of working from home, and in spite of it, the communication and results have been remarkable. It is instructive of how much work is possible from the home office.
How do you see the future of the IACA Alumni Association? What is your vision towards fostering IACA’s interaction and engagement with its Alumni around the world?
Our Alumni represent over 160 countries in total and they are our connection to their respective countries. Many of them are our real bridgeheads supporting IACA and its work. They are absolutely an important asset to us. They know what we do; they have experienced our services and are supportive of us – we cannot have better ambassadors! For this reason, we need to strengthen the network and to work closely with them on all different levels. Whenever I will be traveling in the future, I will make sure to reach out and connect with them. I also plan to invite them increasingly to participate actively in our work. We shall also strengthen the communication from Laxenburg through the consistent distribution of the Alumni magazine and outreach letters and, in general, I intend to dedicate a lot of attention to the Alumni Association and its activities.
As we conclude this interview, what are your messages to the Alumni community, IACA Parties and IACA Staff?
My message is that IACA has an important role to play, in the international system, of fighting corruption and supporting the realization of the SDGs. Its work and achievements to date attest to that. However, it can only be effective in its role with the support of all its stakeholders. I therefore call upon all the IACA Parties, Alumni, business and public sector partners to join hand in hand in developing and expanding IACA’s delivery capacity so that it fulfils its mandate and continues to make global impacts in the fight against corruption.