I am Neuroscience PhD, a humanist, skeptic, feminist, avid reader, science enthusiast, woolly-liberal über-nerd, and, as of October 2015, father to the Lykketroll.

I moved from England to Norway in January 2012 and live in Lørenskog with my wife, the Lykketroll, and our two aging rescue cats, Socrates and Schrödinger. 

I am on paternity leave from the 4th of July to the 18th of November. 

The job I am on leave from is as an  Associate Professor and Head of Studies at the Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences. My background is in child neurodevelopment (my PhD looked into the relationship between fatty acids like omega-3 and cognitive development in young children) but I now work on a hodge-podge of things roughly within the field of Universal Design of ICT 50% of the time, the other 50% of my time I am Head of the 'General' Studies (Allmenn in Norwegian) Unit, which is comprised of around 24 academics within a range of fields, including mathematics, physics, Norwegian, and technology and leadership.

In between working and doing the usual dad things,  I like hiking and running in the beautiful Norwegian outdoors, cooking and playing video games. 

If I believed in souls I would say that mine was born in Norway. 

I plan to sleep when I'm dead.

Human-Etisk Forbund Open Meeting: What are the impacts of conflicts of interest and corruption on the development of society?

I must confess that before this week’s open meeting I hadn’t heard of Transparency International (TI). An independent, politically neutral organisation, TI was set up in 1993 and operates in 100 countries around the world with a two-fold mission: to actively fight corruption and to raise awareness so that the public of those countries are better equipped to fight it themselves.

Guro Slettemark, Secretary General of Transparency International Norway, started the meeting with a quote from CNN reporter Haguette Labelle: “When people take to the streets to protest against their governments, the list of grievances is usually long and complex, but corruption is always at the top”. Written in early 2011 in reference to the Arab Spring, corruption in the electoral process that resulted in a crisis engulfing the Ivory Coast and Haiti, where the effects of corruption undermined recovery efforts after the devastating 2010 earthquake. Another quote that caught the eye when Guro was presenting definitions of corruption is this gem from the ex-Prime Minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi : “24 bottles is fine – more than that is corruption”.

The talk didn’t specifically address the question in the title, namely the impact of corruption, but was nevertheless fascinating for giving an overview of the work of Transparency International, how corruption is measured, and the positive impact the organisation is having in many countries in both ostensibly developed and developing countries.

Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) draws on an aggregate of surveys and assessments to create a standardised measure of the perception of corruption in the public sector, which can be applied across the 183 countries for which there is enough applicable data (at least three independent sources).

Here’s a visual of the CPI results, you can navigate an interactive map here and download the full report here

Squeaky clean New Zealand came out top in the world ranking for corruption, where the scale runs from 0–10. 0 means that a country is perceived as highly corrupt and 10 means that a country is perceived as very clean.

Norway was ranked 6th, the UK ranked joint 16th with Austria and Barbados, the USA came in at 24th. North Korea (unsurprisingly) and Somalia figure at the very bottom of the list, in joint 182nd place.

Efforts to tackle corruption are often based on the subtle distinction between corruption ‘by need’ and, perhaps the one that we’re quicker to recognise as it is rightly more condemnable, corruption ‘by greed’. A downward spiral links the two, which is why tackling inequality and ensuring an egalitarian society is the best solution to many a societal problem, including corruption. It is no coincidence that the countries at the top typically have the smallest difference between the haves and have-nots.

The infographic in the left shows the results of TIs Global Corruption Barometer (2010) which looked at the institutions perceived to be corrupt in different countries. It raised a big laugh in the meeting, not because the subject matter isn’t serious, of course, but because of the last line on the infographic: in Norway, ‘religious bodies’ are perceived to be one of the most corrupt institutions (ranked alongside the business and private sector).

That’s not to say that Norway doesn’t have corruption, but more often than not it comes in the form of conflicts of interest, which is equally, if not more, nefarious than garden-variety corruption. Two different examples were given by Guro. The first was Norway’s ties to the Angolan state-owned oil company, Sanagol, whose chairman of the board and director general, Manual Vincente, made himself a private shareholder in virtually all the multi-million dollar deals of the state-owned business, netting him a tidy sum. For those wanting to read a little more about Angola, the working report

“The Main Institution in the Country Is Corruption”: Creating Transparency in Angola”makes for a really interesting read. The second, comparatively benign example and centred in Norway, was the story of Lisbeth Berg-Hansen, the Norwegian Labour party’s Fisheries Minister, who benefited from investment companies tied to the successful fishing group Sinkaberg-Hansen AS. Is this a potential conflict of interest, or just Berg-Hansen being a good business woman? It isn’t always too easy to tell.

Those in the UK will all be familiar with the deeply troubling and apparently endless new revelations of conflicts of interest and corruption being revealed by the Leveson Enquiry. Whilst Britain is not likely to protest of the scale that Labelle referred to, we are certainly seeing a revolution in terms of the transparency and honesty that we require of our politicians and the media. The best way to see through the obfuscation and opaque dealings of the corrupt is be informed. I urge you to take a look at their webpage and have a read of their many information packs and pamphlets.

Book Review: Religion for Atheists by Alain de Botton

Human-Etisk Forbund Open Meeting: The Sun: From Static Structure to Dynamic Star