The Splintering of Postcommunist Europe

There are two radically different versions of the postcommunist narrative. One tells the triumphal tale of the only world region in which the reforms recommended by the “Washington consensus” worked. The other and more realistic account speaks of a historic window of opportunity that lasted for only a quarter-century, during which efforts by the West and patriotic elites of Central and Eastern Europe managed to drag the region into Europe proper, leaving Europe and Russia pitted against each other along the old “civilizational” border between them. This essay argues that while Institutional choices matter in the postcommunist world, geopolitical and civilizational boundaries still set the horizons of political possibility.

Background paper on Latvia

Latvia’s political system has been functioning in a relatively inclusive and democratic way for about the last two decades. However, corruption has been a continuous concern. In the allocation of public resources such as public procurement contracts, public jobs and social services, fairness and impartiality are observed but not uniformly adhered to. Public agencies differ in their perceived degree of capture v. impartiality. The separation between the public and private sphere is the adopted principle but deviations from it are frequent (even if nowadays often hidden). Hence, within the distinction between the limited access order and open access order, Latvia fits as a borderline case.However, along several parameters, Latvia has experienced gradual long-term improvements. Its anti-corruption legislation is well developed. Administrative corruption remains a problem but on a considerably lesser scale than in the end of the 1990’s when solid surveys began. Corruption-related investigations and prosecutions of influential people in power positions have shown that no group is entirely above the law. Occasional expressions of the public outrage against corrupt politics are strong enough to serve as at least a modest restraint on the political elites and the grip of captors of political decision-making eased in 2010-2013.Among the factors which hold back Latvia from becoming a governance regime of the open access order, seem to be the rigid ethic division in the political competition, widespread sense of relative personal economic deprivation and high level of informal economy, the deficit of general interpersonal trust and related difficulties to overcome collective-action problems. Moreover surveys reveal mixed public attitudes towards corruption with both condemnation and tolerance common.

Corruption °C Publishes Data on Corruption Trials in Latvia

The portal Corruption °C, maintained by the Centre for Public Policy Providus from Latvia, has recently made available statistics on trials for offences committed in the public service in Latvia. The data has been collected by Providus and covers the period from 2004 to 2011.

The statistics show the trend in total number of trials, convictions and acquittals over the selected time period (see graph below), and also provides an overview of the distribution of cases according to the department or agency of the public officials involved. They also show in detail the amount of bribes associated with each criminal case. The portal highlights the relevance of the conviction of officials from the Development Department of Riga City Council, which was considered the most important corruption case in 2011 and involved a gross amount of bribes of about EUR 1,000,000, the largest amount of bribes in a criminal case with a verdict of guilty since the restoration of Latvia’s independence.

In addition to these statistics, Corruption °C also offers a series of reports on corruption, written by top Latvian experts as well as international authors. The portal, initiated in 2005, follows and analyses key trends in the area of corruption and anti-corruption policy in Latvia, and tracks flows of corruption-related news, identifying and providing in-depth analysis on the most important developments in the country. The website also focuses on placing Latvia’s developments into the European context.

Corruption in Public Construction Target of Creative Initiatives in Eastern Europe

Public construction contracts are typically among the government activities most vulnerable to corruption in most countries plagued by this phenomenon. Scandals involving procurement fraud and embezzlement of funds from public works have become more and more common, and in some cases indications of corruption are so flagrant that the resulting buildings, bridges and other landmarks are seen by the public as true monuments to corruption. Recent initiatives in two Eastern European countries are now making use of that to increase awareness about the problem and insure that old abuses are not forgotten.

Delna Society for Transparency, Transparency International’s national chapter in Latvia, is one of the organisations exploring this issue. Already in 2009, Delna organised an exhibition entitled ‘History of Ugliness’, which featured photographs of 17 landmarks in Riga, all of which were suspected of having been built under severe irregularilities. According to the article “The ugly face of Latvia’s landmarks”, recently published by Delna’s representative Aiga Grisane on Transparency International’s blog, “[t]he aim of the exhibition was to bring the public’s attention to sites and buildings in Riga which are suspected of having been constructed using corrupt practices and to fuel discussions of urban planners of how to make the urban environment not only aesthetic but also ethical”.  Now the organisation has revisited its earlier initiative and has made all photos available on the online platform Foursquare, where users can spot the location of each landmark on a map of the city. This step is a great opportunity to give more visibility to their initiative.

Another initiative initiated in Prague, Czech Republic, takes a more satirical approach to putting corruption in public works in the spotlight. Theatre director and philosopher Petr Šourek is the creator of CorruptTour, an agency that takes Prague’s visitors and locals to see “the best of the worst” in the city, according to their slogan. In addition to the ‘Prague Corruption Tour’, they organise the tour ‘Hospitals on the Edge of the Law’, which takes people to three Prague hospitals where state money is allegedly being misused, and also lead visitors to addresses of individuals who have been involved in corruption cases. In an interview to Czech radio Mr. Šourek highlighted that “the main aim [of the project] was to find a fresh way to present the urgency of this issue to the public”. More details on this project and the motivations behind it are available in the interview with Mr. Šourek published by Radio Praha.

The pictures above are featured respectively in the article by Aiga Grisane and in the interview by Radio Praha.

 

A Diagnosis of Corruption in Latvia

Latvia stood still in the past two years. As an overall conclusion, the corruption diagnosis identified by a KNAB 2008 report seems still accurate today. Thus, on one side, petty corruption is diminishing and at the same time grand corruption is developing.

A Diagnosis of Corruption in Latvia

Latvia stood still in the past two years. As an overall conclusion, the corruption diagnosis identified by a KNAB 2008 report seems still accurate today. Thus, on one side, petty corruption is diminishing and at the same time grand corruption is developing.

How democratic are political parties of Latvia – procedure and criteria of nomination of election candidates in the municipal elections of 2009 in Riga and Jurmala

The project addressed the selection of candidates on party lists for the 2009 municipal elections in the 2 largest cities of Latvia. Interviews with 30 party members of different statuses were conducted on the practices of candidates’ selection and the statutes and bylaws of parties were analyzed. A public data base was compiled with information on the candidates proposed by major political parties by using public available information (media, news agencies). The data base was intended to draw public attention to cases where the lists included candidates with mixed reputation. The candidates were evaluated based on 6 criteria: charges of corruption, conflicts of interest, large tax debts to the state, repeated changes of political party, cash reserves of over 10 000 LVL or seemingly confusing financial transactions.

I have the right to know! – a survey of access to information in Latvia

The grantee investigated how FOI law was applied in practice, by making requests for information to around 200 state and municipal organizations. The results of the survey were compiled in a report which was made available to the press and discussed at a number of public forums. The survey was carried out by ten students under the supervision of a project manager.

Implementation of Integrity Pacts in Three Large Construction Projects

The purpose of the grant was to improve transparency and increase efficiency in procuring and constructing three public projects – the National Library, the Acoustic Concert Hall and the Contemporary Arts Museum, all under the responsibility of the Latvian Ministry of Culture. This was to be accomplished through an “Integrity Pact” signed in September 2005 between the Ministry and DELNA.
The grant was expected to result in:
• More transparency in the procurement processes for the three projects resulting in lower project costs.
• An enhanced dialog between the public and private sectors and NGOs on transparency matters
• Anti-corruption policies and guidelines adopted by a number of private companies
• Based on the experiences of these projects improvements in the Latvian legislation and procurement practices.

Monitoring Government’s Initiatives to Address “State capture” Issues

The project was set up to help draft Anti-Corruption Legislation and to allow the grant receiver NGO to participate in three working groups set up by the Latvian Government to prepare legislation on political party finance, a new corruption law on public officials’ conflict of interest and a proposed new anti-corruption bureau to investigate corrupt officials. The objective was both to monitor the legislative process and to have an impact on the shape of this legislation. The main goal was to create a basis and a structure for closer cooperation and dialogue between the government and civil society. About half the funding was spent on expert services and the other half on support services, communications and distribution of reports.

Observation of administrative resource use before the 2005 local elections and the 2006 parliamentary elections

The project represents an analysis of how incumbents use the advantages they have as officeholders to either attract positive publicity for themselves or generate negative publicity for their opponents. The goal is to establish the facts which can then serve as a basis for programmatic action and public naming and shaming. The fieldwork is being done by volunteers. Examples: working visits before the election; the granting of benefits, bonuses to socially vulnerable groups; extensive public opinion polls just before elections, which at the same time contribute to raising awareness of different ministries, such as questionnaires giving information on curriculum.

Anti-corruption measures at the Naturalisation Board of Latvia in the process of acquisition of citizenship

The project consisted in training seminars and an analysis report. Its goals were to: identify specific corruption risks within the process of acquisition of citizenship, evaluate their occurring probability and their level of harmful effect; develop probable solutions and propose short and long term recommendations; sensitize and train the staff of the Naturalisation Board on the issues of corruption risks and their minimization.

Corruption in the Process of Issuing Building Permits

The project represents a policy analysis of the process of issuing building permits. Formal standards, laws, and rules which regulate the receipt of building permits are unclear, contradictory, and at times even impossible to fulfill. At the same time, hardly any conflicts between the issuer and the recipient of a building permit are taken to court. Official arguments and differences of opinion are a very rare occurrence, and the question is why. The study offers an explanation – practice is regulated not so much by official rules, standards and legislation as by habit and a variety of corrupt practices to resolve or avoid disputes. The study is based on data compiled from surveys, observations, analysis of documents, interviews with experts, and focus-group discussions. The study maps the construction approval process.

Transparency of local governments’ budgets

The project’s main aim was to increase local government budget transparency and accountability to local community leaders, to promote public participation in important decision-making of the municipality, to promote the role of non-governmental organizations in planning and control of local government budget; to expose Delna to local government budget analysis; to introduction disclosure rules. The project brought together four Latvian municipalities – Balvi, Bauska, Tukums, Cesis, thus representing all Latvian regions. Delna in collaboration with local government representatives took the draft budget for public consultation, and prepared an educational material “How to understand your local government’s budget?””.”

Monitoring Anti-Corruption Law-Making

The project aimed at enabling the grantee to be physically present in parliamentary committees, track legislation and stop problems as they happen or before they happen. In particular – the new legislation under consideration was a draft Law on Political Parties, draft Law on Pre-election Agitation, amendments to the Law on the Prevention of Conflict of Interest. A analyst was employed to carry out the following tasks:
• Analyze particular relevant provisions in the above draft laws;
• Monitor the preparation and adoption process of these drafts in the Government and Parliament;
• Prepare and submit concrete proposals to the Government and Parliament;
• Participate in person at the deliberations over the draft legislation;
• Publish articles and/or organize public debates on particular aspects of draft laws to raise public awareness and mobilize expert opinions on the issues in question.

Openly about the finances of the 2005 local authorities elections

The project collected publicly available information on party revenues and expenditures, covering the following data: amount of advertising placed, recoreded via monitoring electronic media and press; partially collected information on the outdoor advertising placed by parties; public events organized by parties; analysis of declaration submitted by parties; analysis of information on donors available from public data bases.

Openly about the finances of the 9th Saeima elections

The project collected publicly available information on party revenues and expenditures, covering the following data: amount of advertising placed, recoreded via monitoring electronic media and press; partially collected information on the outdoor advertising placed by parties; public events organized by parties; analysis of declaration submitted by parties; analysis of information on donors available from public data bases.