an interview with LEMARQUE CAMPBELL – Lawyer & Analyst Transparency International Georgia and TEDxGrandBahama Speaker

I came across LEMARQUE CAMPBELL when I saw his TEDxtalk at TEDxGrandBahama. As someone who is interested both in the TED Prize Global Witness campaign and transparency in different contexts, I thought it would be interesting to find out more about him, and requested an interview.

You can see his TEDx talk here  and his biographical details are available here on the TEDxGrandbahama web site  and are as follows: Lemarque Campbell is a Bahamian international human rights lawyer. He is currently based in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, where he works for Transparency International (TI). Lemarque joined TI Georgia in January 2013, where he provides legal opinions on public policy issues and specializes in international and comparative law, human rights law and property rights violations. Originally from Freeport, Grand Bahama, Lemarque holds a BA in Sociology, a Postgraduate Diploma in Diplomacy, as well as an MA in Law. Lemarque was admitted to the Bar of England and Wales, Lincoln’s Inn. Additionally, he has lived, studied and worked in the US, Canada, Saint Lucia, Thailand, Malta, and England.

1 Please introduce yourself. You have lived and worked in so many places. Why? What led you to move around, and what bought you back to the Bahamas for a TEDx? How did they get to invite you and why did you agree to speak.

I’m originally from an island in the Bahamas called Grand Bahama, with a population of less than 75,000 individuals. I left the Bahamas at the age of 15, in order to complete my secondary education in the United States, an idea that I had suggested to my parents. I wasn’t obliged to leave, but from that age I had developed the passion to experience and explore the world – maybe this came about from growing up on such a small island, where I felt that options were limited. I always feel most alive being immersed in diverse societies. Even though I’ve been living abroad for 14 years now, I still stay connected with current events at home. In April of this year, I wrote an op-ed titled, The lack of transparency in the Bahamas: An affront to democracy. I found it very fitting to write on such a topic because of the number of high political corruption allegations that were and continue to flood the front pages of Bahamian newspapers; also, I currently work for Transparency International Georgia, which has provided me with an invaluable experience in anti corruption reforms.  This op-ed was subsequently published by one of the leading Bahamian online news sources and caught the eye of many Bahamians, including local civil activists. I was then invited by the curators for TEDxGrandBahama to give a talk on the topic of anti corruption. I was very excited to return to the island I had left so many years ago and give a talk about something I’m very passionate about.

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2 How was your speech received? What feedback did you get about its impact? 

The speech was well received. Later, many individuals in the local community approached me with questions about the various anticorruption reforms, and questions on how we could effectively pressure our government to make the necessary changes. This experience has solidified an idea that I had contemplated for quite some time – there’s a great need for a Transparency International chapter to be established in the Bahamas.

3 What is your connection with and view of and TEDx? Do you remember the first TED talk you saw. What ones are your favourite?

I must say, that prior to giving my TEDx talk, I didn’t watch many TEDx talks. But now, after being a part of the event, I watch TED talks on a weekly basis.  I find it to be such a great forum to get ideas across, especially ideas that have the potential of challenging individuals to think outside of the box. My favourite talk has to be the short and practical talk by Joe Smith on How to use a paper towel:

4 How did you get involved in TI? What are your responsibilities? Why Georgia?

About two years ago I had completed my qualifications as a Barrister in England. I wanted to gain international work experience in the area of Public Law, but hadn’t yet developed a focus on corruption. After sending out applications to all corners of the world, I finally narrowed it downed to the TI position in Georgia. I was quite fascinated with the thought of living in a region of the world that most people don’t know much about. Moreover, Georgia is a country that has gone through so many political changes in the past 11 years. Through the political will and an active civil society, Georgia has become one of the world’s leading countries in implementing anticorruption reforms. In 2003, Georgia was ranked 124 out of 133 countries and territories on Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI). As a result of an active civil society, along with the political changes in the country after the 2003 Rose Revolution, the country currently holds spot 55 out of 177 in the most recent CPI. It is even perceived as less corrupt than some major developed western countries. Currently, I provide legal opinions on public policy issues – more specifically, on recommendations for various anticorruption reforms that TI makes to the Georgian government. I base my opinions on international law and best practices.

5 Who are your heroes, role models people who inspire you?

Gandhi would definitely top the list, for his principles and practices in nonviolent civil disobedience.

6 What particular issues topics do you want to draw attention to in your work for TI?

Currently, I’m involved in the court monitoring project, where we monitor and provide an analysis on administrative court cases across Georgia. TI Georgia has been producing analytical reports on administrative courts since 2012, and has observed an improved trend in the administration of justice and judicial independence in Georgia. Our first monitoring period came at a time when no organization monitored and reported on the administrative courts’ activities. There was a complete lack of judicial independence, which resulted in governmental parties being entirely successful in over 85% of administrative cases monitored by our team across the country. Today, this percentage has significantly decreased, with the governmental parties being entirely successful in only 53% of cases. Through our efforts in monitoring the courts, we’ve also witnessed improvements in other areas, such as the ways in which the judges handle cases and use their powers.

7 TI is perceived as focusing on governments. Sometimes international and aid organisations, NGOs, foundations and companies are less than transparent in providing information about their funding and expenditure. What can TI do to help improve standards of transparency in these areas?

As TI Georgia uses in-depth analysis and targeted advocacy to promote accountability and transparency in Georgia, it’s only fitting that the organization leads by setting an example through ensuring financial transparency in order to maintain its high credibility.   Through internal regulations, such as a procurement policy and annual independent financial audits, we ensure that integrity is at the heart of all financial decisions. Additionally, we disclose all the information about our financing through the ‘Our Funding’ section of our website which provides the full list of our donors and the exact amounts that we have received from them, as well as all private donations above EUR 1,000. We have also made it our policy not to accept donations above EUR 50 if they come from anonymous sources.

8 Some argue that there is some tension between ideas of privacy and ending government surveillance and transparency?  Do you agree? Should people companies and governments have the right to privacy and if so under what circumstances?

Definitely, people should have their right to privacy upheld. This is an area in which I am currently working on, which is a pressing issue in Georgia at the moment, where the government has complete control over black boxes installed at telecommunication companies.TI Georgia, along with other local NGOs have a campaign, that seeks to push for regulation in government surveillance activities, entitled, “This affects you too”. Senior members from our staff are on a committee, comprised of politicians and other civil society organizations, which provides the Georgian government with recommendations for reforms in this area.There needs to be a transparent process in which governments are only allowed to monitor communications between citizens on a legal basis of proportionality and necessity. This should not be carried out arbitrarily.

9 Who are your and TI’s most powerful allies in the campaign to improve accountability and transparency.   

TI Georgia not only collaborates with other civil society and international organizations, but also various governmental agencies. It’s not always about criticizing the government, but also working along with the various government agencies in supporting their efforts for accountability and transparency.

10 Where is your career taking you? What would you like to be doing in 5 or 10 years from now?

With the experiences I have obtained from living abroad for the past 14 years, I would like to return to the Bahamas soon and aid in the country’s development. Initially, I would like to establish a TI Bahamas chapter, pushing for the necessary anticorruption reforms. Most people think of the Bahamas as a paradise; however, being such a small country, where everyone is connected, generates a high level of corruption, which is currently stagnating our national development.

11 When you get old looking back, what would you regard as a successful outcome from your life’s work?

A successful outcome for me would be to have a positive impact on the overall development of the Bahamas. Where I can say that I’ve actually made a difference in my own community.

Richard Lucas  comments

It’s interesting how well Georgia has done in its fight against corruption. It shows what  can be done. Hong Kong had a similar campaign 30-40 years ago.  It’s exemplary that TI is so open about its funding – a lesson for NGOs, Foundations,  Think Tanks, non-profits and research bodies the world over.

About richardhlucas

business and social entrepreneur
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