I have established contact with the excellent Tiri, an organisation which works with governments, business and civil society to find practical solutions to making integrity work. Improvements in integrity offer perhaps the single largest opportunity for sustainable and equitable development worldwide.
Which reminds me of Robin Cook’s famous visit to Sarajevo in 1997, soon after the Labour elections victory. My first encounter with New Labour.
On the Friday evening before the visit started on the following Tuesday, the Embassy had an urgent call from HQ in London. The visit needed an angle for the new Foreign Secretary to use with the Sunday Times. Give us one! Now!
I suggested the issue of transparency/corruption – there was plenty the new Bosnian authorities at all levels could be doing to improve public finances and so help generous international assistance be spent effectively. I offered some ideas on where changes for the better readily could be brought in.
However, the Sunday Times on the eve of Robin Cook’s visit noisily proclaimed: "Bosnian Aid Millions Go Missing!"
Reading the article closely there was nothing to suggest that the Foreign Secretary himself had made this dramatic and not obviously true claim. But the article did spring from an interview with him, so not surprisingly this cased a furore in Sarajevo.
Thus on the Monday the Bosnian corruption story was splashed all over the Sarajevo media, the general line being that the new Labour Government were bent on following the Major Government in anti-Muslim perfidy of a high order. Plus there was the unambiguous insinuation from media sources close to the Izetbegovic team that these insults to Bosnia might well come directly from me, and that if this was proved I would be PNG’d.
This was a hollow threat. There was no prospect of the new Boaniac/Serb/Croat collective leadership all agreeing to it, or to anything else. But for a few hours it made life interesting.
Robin Cook duly arrived to vast media excitement. He went to see President Izetbegovic.
This meeting was noteworthy because Izetbegovic unusually chose not to use an interpreter. Robin Cook worked his way through the corruption story, painstakingly making it clear that nothing disobliging to Bosnia in the Sunday Times article had been said by him and offering constructively my ideas for Bosnia to clean up its public financing act in its own interests.
Izetbegovic of course quickly realised that the Sarajevo over-reaction to the story had been absurd and had given Bosnia an even worse name than it deserved. But when they then walked out to a packed press conference he persisted with saying (in Bosnian this time) that Cook had made serious corruption allegations during their meeting.
I, propping up a pillar, was amazed. I was shocked. I was taken aback.
Here was a Balkan leader deliberately misleading the public (if not lying?!) about what our Foreign Minister had just said to him, just minutes previously!
Then I realised why President Izetbegovic had not used an interpreter in the meeting. He needed not to be embarrassed about downplaying the whole story after the ridiculous fuss his own people had made in the run-up to the visit.
His best Balkanic way out was to say that he had not understood what R Cook had said to him during the meeting, by not using the interpreter. Awesome.
Robin Cook saw what was happening. He brushed aside Izetbegovic’s banal distortions and politely but firmly offered to help Bosnia improve its public financing transparency.
And he departed home satisfied, having achieved the early New Labour dream result.
A direct tough example of a Moral Foreign Policy in action, plus loads of favourable publicity. Sorted.