Senator Pietro Grasso, President of the Italian Senate, arrives at a conference with a security detail that rivals an American President’s. And no wonder. He has spent more than four decades fighting the Italian Mafia. As a judge in the 1980s, he presided over the first mass trial of the Sicilian Mafia. It lasted 3 years, resulted in 19 life sentences and 2500 years of imprisonment.
An experienced crime fighter, Grasso has since broadened his horizons to “exposing the links existing between organized crime, corruption and the ethics of politics.” Speaking to an audience of more than eighty corruption fighters gathered by the Brookings Institution and Zaostreno (a Czech non-profit dedicated to the principles of good government) last week, Grasso made the case for a geopolitical approach to studying and combating transnational crime. “Corruption,” he argued, “is the means used by criminals to penetrate the inner workings of society, politics and public institutions… Combating the mafias and corruption today will increasingly be a matter of taking legal action against illegally acquired assets.”
Grasso’s focus on the geopolitics of corruption pervaded the Brookings-Zaostreno “World Forum on Governance” held on April 9 – 11, 2014 in Prague. The range of topics covered spanned the old and the new. There were sessions on prosecutorial initiatives and the role of judges, police and prosecutors in countering corruption and a consideration of transnational instruments such as treaties, courts and international organizations. But there were also sessions on fighting corruption with social media and the relationship between government reform efforts and corruption control. In addition there was an emphasis on the corporate side and on how to include the private sector in the fight against corruption.
This was the third World Forum on Governance in Prague. The first Forum resulted in the Prague declaration, an integrated analytical framework designed to reinvigorate trust in democracy and good governance. The second Forum resulted in a unique “investor road show” which connected institutional investors with government officials. This year’s Forum widened the perspective to include government reform as a means of getting at the underlying incentive structures in public sector corruption, a perspective highlighted by the presence of a delegation of Ukrainian reformers deeply committed to designing new institutions and laws to avoid another post-revolutionary collapse into pervasive corruption.
Thanks to the leadership of Stephen Davis and Tom Mann of Brookings, Norm Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute and U.S. Ambassador to the Czech Republic, Norm Eisen, the work of the World Forum on Governance will continue to grow and to explore ways to improve governance across the globe.