Watchdog / Monitoring
“Civic pressure on corruption and incompetence at local and state administration levels regarding illegal construction”
Civil Association against Corruption and Illegal Construction, Bulgaria
Corruption in the construction sector remains widespread in Bulgarian municipalities and all across Eastern Europe. However, a lot can be learned from the strategy of the Civil Association against Corruption and Illegal Construction in Bulgaria when it comes to tackling the lack of transparency in the urban constructions sector. One of their projects, supported by USAID and implemented in 2002–2003, comprised of various actions meant to combat illegal construction in the municipality of Sofia, including the creation of an expert group that monitored the issuance of construction licenses in Sofia, surveying corrupt practices in cases of illegal building, setting up a citizens’ “Complaints and Information Desk” for legal assistance, and intensive media campaigning.
The mechanisms developed within the scope of the project assisted in bringing more transparency to the process and the media campaign was successful in raising awareness about the problem and educating citizens about their rights in cases of illegal construction.
“Local ombudsman in the Rhodope region municipalities – establishing a best practice model for monitoring, civil control and partnership”
Bulgarian Youth League “Stefan Stambolov”
The project implemented in 2002–2003 by the Bulgarian Youth League “Stefan Stambolov” focused on creating and legitimising the institution of the Local Ombudsman in three Bulgarian municipalities – Chepelare, Banite, and Nedelino. To that end, the organisation met with local authorities, broadcast a radio show on the issue, and developed an anti-corruption website. As explained above, the project reached its expected result, with its activities leading not only to the institutionalisation of the Ombudsman at the local level, but to the replication of the model in other Bulgarian municipalities.
The success of the local Ombudsman institution, the current project being among the first of its kind, gained significance in the last years. The success of this type of project is reconfirmed by the creation of a functional network of local Ombudsman offices that was developed in 2006 under the project “Promoting European Standards in Human Rights: Establishment of Ombudsman Institution in Bulgaria”, implemented by the Centre for the Study of Democracy with the support of the European Commission. The Ombudsman Information network has three main functions: to facilitate awareness, advocacy, training, and education in the field of human rights protection; to collect relevant information; and to disseminate information and knowledge to citizens, public administration, and relevant organisations. Although the institution is not directly related to anti-corruption activities, it is worth noting that by providing a mechanism for collaborative research, dialogue and consultations, the Ombudsmen network links different stakeholders, helping them to identify research and training needs, to understand emerging problems, and to specify policy options and actions for change.
“Monitoring of electoral campaign promises”
AKOP Anti-corruption Coalition of NGOs, Poland
This initiative has been running since 2001 in order to present anti-corruption-oriented proposals of political parties in an unbiased and unpartisan fashion. For this purpose a single-issue coalition of Polish NGOs, called AKOP, was brought to life. AKOP (Antykorupcyjna Koalicja Organizacji Pozarzadowych/Anti-corruption Coalition of Non-governmental Organisations) consists of major domestic NGOs, such as Batory Foundation, the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, the Foundation for Social Communication, Centre for Citizenship Education, and the Association of Leaders of Local Civic Groups.
It began with monitoring of the parliamentary electoral campaign in 2001 in order to hold politicians accountable to their electoral promises pertaining to the fight against corruption. Since then, before every parliamentary election AKOP has been asking political parties about their position on issues related to anti-corruption and substantial measures that a party would take during the new term. The promises received from parties have been published on the organisation’s website and the coalition has been elaborating annual reports on whether promised targets and actions were fulfilled. The reports are published at press conferences that usually gain wide coverage from media. Consequently, political parties also comment on the publications and spell out their remarks and observations.
Additionally, AKOP also keeps track of the developments in the law-making arena. It submits its remarks on legislative projects that are important for the anti-corruption sphere. The coalition also issues statements on government’s (non-)implementation of anti-corruption strategies/plans. By and large, AKOP is an important watchdog of activities and declaration aimed against corruption that happens at the political level.
Independent group of individuals, Hungary
It only takes a little bit of commitment to reveal certain aspects of corruption, such as the size of the market for corruption in certain sectors. Provided with self-financing alone, a group of Hungarian citizens put up a website where “givers” can publish the amount of money they give as “gifts” in the health care system. This way, the group argues, a more transparent market can arise in the place of private deals and obscure rules. Beyond gift amounts, users share opinions on the quality of the health services and discuss issues of corruption throughout the sector. The project was attacked by the Ombudsman and doctors, and consequently had to be moved to servers outside the reach of the Hungarian authorities. Its extensive media coverage shows how influential the project was for bringing these issues out into the open.
Naming and shaming / disclosure campaigns
Professional Journalists Regional Association, Albania
The Albanian media had their say in the fight against corruption. With the support of the Balkan Trust for Democracy, the Professional Journalists’ Regional Association of Albania ran a 9-month long project that led to the identification of corruption cases in the judicial system in southern cities of the country. Journalists and citizens were encouraged to denounce cases to the media and to state institutions responsible for investigation corruption cases.
“Against corruption” mobilised the public and encouraged it to condemn corrupt behaviour. Following a naming and shaming strategy implemented through the project’s newspaper (‘Anti-corruption’), some of the cases made public were brought to justice. This is a clear example of both the effectiveness of disclosure campaigns as well as of the role of the media in building public support for the fight against corruption.
Oživení – Bez korupce (Activation – Without Corruption, AWC), Czech Republic
The Fair – Play Database proved to be a top notch tool for monitoring conflicts of interests. Needless to say how handy it came to the Czech civil society during the pre-election period, when it helped track down campaign financing and pinpoint potential corruption acts. Despite the challenges that stood in the way of completing the database, its results were highly rewarding; maximum efficiency was reached with high rank officials (e.g. Prague Town Hall). The database made it very easy for journalists to pick up a certain lead, investigate further and discover even more corruption cases. The project was replicated in other Czech cities as well, in relation to local and regional officials.
“Detection of Corruption in the Czech Public Administration”
Růžový panter (Pink Panther), Czech Republic
The Czech “Pink Panther” proved that the cartoon detective skills are far from being forgotten. Simple and effective: civil society undercover in the public administration, chasing down corruption. The staff members of the organisation, all working undercover in public institutions, monitored and mapped the spaces for corruption in the Czech public administration and evaluated potential systemic risks. The effectiveness of this project was reflected in the discovery of actual corruption cases and follow-up activities, such as the initiation of a petition demanding the resignation of the head of the National Security Office, and the creation of a lobby for transparent staffing in the Financial Police.
“Coalition for a Clean Parliament”
Romanian Academic Society (SAR)
On the occasion of the legislative and presidential elections in November and December 2004, Romanian civil society organised itself for the first time into a broad coalition for integrity in politics: the Coalition for a Clean Parliament (CCP). Frustrated by the government’s lack of effectiveness in fighting large-scale corruption, civil society took matters into its own hands.
The CCP first determined the criteria that would make a candidate unfit for a clean parliament. These criteria were: 1) having repeatedly shifted from one political party to another in search of personal profit; 2) having been accused of corruption on the basis of published and verifiable evidence; 3) having been exposed as an agent of the Securitate (Ceauşescu’s former secret service); 4) being the owner of a private firm with important tax arrears to the state budget; 5) being unable to account for the discrepancy between one’s officially stated assets and one’s income; 6) turning a profit from conflicts of interest involving one’s public position.
The second step was to discuss these criteria with the leadership of the political parties represented in the Parliament. The most important ones — the Social Democratic Party/Humanist Party of Romania coalition (PSD/PUR), the Justice and Truth Alliance (DA), and the Hungarian Democratic Union of Romania (UDMR) — agreed with the criteria and the process designed by the CCP, and they publicly announced their support to the campaign.
The third step was to gather information about the candidates of these parties. Members of the coalition collected material published in the press over the years and researched the websites of various public authorities in charge of financial and commercial matters. The next stage was to draw up lists of those candidates who met one or more of the agreed-upon criteria for being unfit to hold a seat in the future Parliament. The resulting “black lists” were sent to the political parties, with the request that they re-examine each case and decide whether to withdraw the candidate in question. The CCP also offered to analyse any cases where individual candidates contested its findings.
Step five consisted of the withdrawal by the political parties of significant numbers of their initial candidates. Some of the candidates appealed to the CCP, which approved or rejected their appeals and adjusted its lists accordingly. The last step was the release of the final CCP black lists in the form of nearly two million flyers, distributed in most of the 41 counties of Romania.
The project had great international repercussion. It won the title for the most significant civil society campaign at the yearly Civil Society Awards. Many domestic and international media outlets covered the coalition’s activities, among them the BBC, Reuters, Associated Press, Le Monde, Financial Times, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Die Presse, The Economist, and countless other European newspapers. Throughout this campaign, Romanian civil society demonstrated management, planning, and fundraising capacities, all at an unexpectedly high professional level for what was allegedly considered an inexperienced and grassroots civil society.
More than 2000 people participated as volunteers on this campaign (students, union members, civil society activists). Out of the approximately 200 candidates that did not meet the criteria, 98 were withdrawn from the lists by their respective parties or were sanctioned by the electorate. However, 104 of them did enter Parliament. Therefore, the success rate was slightly below 50%. Also, a few months after the 2004 elections, a book in English comprising the story of the project, threats received by SAR, press articles and the biography of ‘unfit’ candidates was published.
The CCP project also became a ‘good practice’ implemented in several Eastern European countries. Similar projects were implemented in Bulgaria (BCIG – Bulgarian Coalition for Integrity of the Government, BICEP – Bulgarian Initiative for a Clean European Parliament), Croatia (BURA) and Kosovo.