Face to Face with the Fellows: Moussa Kondo and Sandor Lederer

Fame, Shame and Corruption

Years ago in Bamako, Moussa Kondo had the opportunity to study abroad after working tirelessly with his family to raise the funds he needed for his passport. Five days before he was set to depart, his name mysteriously disappeared from the list of students registered to travel, rendering him ineligible for the program.

In Budapest, Sandor Lederer started noticing that historic buildings in his community were being torn down for no apparent reason, only to be replaced by new developments with no public information or notice.

Moussa Kondo and Sandor Lederer, 2018 Obama Foundation Fellows.

Even though we're in different places, corruption still has the same face.”

— Moussa Kondo on Sandor Lederer
2018 Obama Foundation Fellows

What do the sudden disappearances of education records and buildings have in common? Corruption. When Moussa tried to track down why his name was removed from the travel list, no one could give him an answer. Sandor looked into why the buildings in his community were disappearing and learned that local government officials were selling the buildings to friends for personal gain, while displacing poorer, older people in the process.

Though their encounters with corruption were unique and their efforts separated by continents, Obama Fellows Moussa Kondo and Sandor Lederer are driven by a common purpose to build a more transparent and just future for their communities.

In Sandor’s case, that involves a modern take on the classic anti-corruption technique of naming and shaming, using comprehensive databases and innovative tools to track and publicize government corruption in his native Hungary.

In Mali, where Moussa runs the local chapter of Accountability Lab, corruption is so widespread and enforcement so rare, that naming and shaming has little effect. Instead he’s led a “naming and faming” effort, creating a show called “Integrity Idol,”which spotlights honest and accountable civil servants in order to boost their influence and inspire others.

We sat down for a conversation with the two Fellows to dig into their work and to explore their unique approaches to combating a notoriously pernicious and intractable issue.

Q: Clearly, there's some overlap in the work you guys do. I'm curious about the first conversations you had when you met as part of the Fellowship program?

Moussa: I remember the last time we were together we had a similar conversation, Sandor. I definitely believe we should fight openly against corruption in whatever form it takes. But the situation in Mali, as I mentioned before, is really unique. Every single government institution in Mali at every level—local, regional, and national—has agreed to fight corruption and has ratified laws to do so. It looks great on paper, but that’s not how it’s playing out in the field. Reports for donors and investors are showing one thing, but the reality is entirely different.

Sandor: You meet 20 new people and of course you’re going to look for something that connects you with someone else. Sometimes it’s a country where you’ve been, or a familiar topic, but with Moussa it was really easy because it was clear that we have the same commitment to fighting corruption. It was particularly interesting for me because I’m well-connected in eastern Europe, but Africa is quite new to me, so I was happy to learn how this work was happening in a community so different from my own. Most of us look to western Europe or the United States for innovation, but we often forget that a lot of innovation is actually happening in eastern Europe, Asia, and Africa. I was happy to learn about Moussa’s work.

Q: Though you both work on anti-corruption, you approach the issue differently. Can you tell us about any ideas you’ve shared with each other that you’ll take back to your work?

S: Well, the original idea behind K-Monitor focused on our public spending database and collecting relevant data for it, and we tended to focus more on the “shaming” approach than the “faming” approach Moussa uses. In Hungary we felt the need to put pressure on the political class because our community has never seen corruption cases with tangible consequences—I can only think of a handful of people who have been sentenced to jail for political corruption since the ’89 transition. That’s what really motivated us to start this work at the time.

Now that corruption practically became raison d’état and everybody knows about it, we’ve actually turned much more toward the “faming” approach Moussa discussed to try to work with and lift up honest civil servants or decision makers to show citizens that there’s an alternative to corrupt governance even these days and that we shouldn’t lose hope or remain apathetic. I think that’s a very important method that we’re going to use more and more. We will always maintain this database, however, because it’s important to track and record corruption cases for future generations, so that they might have real consequences at some point.

M: It’s very interesting to see what Sandor is doing with K-Monitor in Hungary, because when we meet with local community leaders, women’s organizations, and workers unions, we have to make the case for why everyone should work with honesty and integrity. We’re often asked why, and that’s where we want to and need to provide figures and hard numbers on the financial damage corruption inflicts on their community. It would allow us to show how much money has disappeared from the healthcare sector, for example, and how that money could have been used for the greater good had it not been stolen by corrupt systems and officials. We think that’s the best way to help community members understand their role in responsibly managing public affairs.

S:It then becomes a moral argument that is directly connected to the decisions a single person chooses to make.

M:Yes, exactly.

S:Just as a reaction to what Moussa just described, I think what’s really interesting about corruption is that it’s always a cat and mouse game. You’re always one step behind corrupt people. Corruption takes away resources from education, health care, schooling, housing, things that are so important in developing poor countries and every society.

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Q: Could you give us an example of the “faming” or praising technique working particularly well?

S: Sure. We’re currently working on a project concerning gratitude payments in maternity care. Gratitude payments are a kind of corruption that involves having to pay a public doctor extra money to get quality service or to even get access to service. It’s especially prominent in maternity care because everyone wants a healthy child, so families just pay it and look the other way. There are very few doctors or nurses who refuse to take these payments.

Our project is focused on showing that this isn’t a normal practice and you shouldn’t have to pay for something like that. A part of that is highlighting doctors who deliver care without accepting gratitude payments. It’s a form of corruption that has become common in Hungary. It’s an everyday issue.

M: Doctors in Mali have their own ways too. You may see a doctor working in a public hospital, but they have their own private practice as well. So when you go to them for an appointment at the public hospital, they’ll refer you to a private practice…

S: …And you go and they’re sitting there as well! (both laugh)

M: Yes! They’ll be there, but the difference is you pay consultation fees at a private practice. Public hospitals are free in Mali, mind you.

S: This example shows you how similar these countries are. Guess what happens next? You have the consultation at their private practice. You pay there, and then you actually go back to the public hospital because the surgery is done by the same doctor there.

M: Exactly. So you get the picture. There are certainly doctors and nurses who refuse this. They are 100% dedicated and honest. So we’re sure to lift them up and praise them for their service in the same way Sandor mentioned earlier. They then become an example to others and hopefully it changes other people’s actions when they find themselves in a similar situation in the future.

Q: To close, how do you think the Fellowship program has changed your work or your outlook on your work?

M: Since the Fellowship, we’ve seen a lot of mobilization and engagement around our work. This kind of engagement is really hard to do in Mali because of the underlying mistrust of institutions and the people who make decisions. The way people see our work has changed—we’re a more credible entity and I think it’s helped us build trust between our organization and the people and communities we want to help.

S: I’d also add that the support and coaching I’ve gotten through the Fellowship has been incredibly valuable to myself and to my organization. A lot of ordinary people in Hungary who start NGOs haven’t studied these things. You just start doing it, and depending on your skills and expertise, some people are better at it and are able to succeed. It’s been such a precious thing to be connected with other Fellows because their stories are deeply inspiring; it’s a huge gift to me that I can work with them to learn and grow together.

You can learn more about Sandor, Moussa and meet our other current class of Fellows here.

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