Red tape, bribery and government favouritism: evidence from Europe

Red tape has long been identified as a major cause of corruption, hence deregulation was advocated as an effective anticorruption tool, an advice which many country followed. However, we lack robust systematic evidence on whether deregulation actually lowers corruption. This is partially due to the difficulty of defining what is good regulation, but also to the lack of theoretical clarity about which type of corruption regulations impact on and to the deficient measurement of different types of corruption. In order to address the latter two gaps, we differentiate petty corruption from government favouritism and propose novel measurement of the latter by developing two objective proxy measures of favouritism in public procurement: single bidding in competitive markets and a composite score of tendering ‘red flags’. Using publicly available official electronic records of over 2.5 million government contracts in 27 EU member states and two European Economic Area countries in 2009–2014, we directly operationalize a common definition of favouritism: unjustified restriction of access to public contracts to favour a certain bidder. Petty corruption is measured using business surveys while the extent of business regulation is measured by Doing Business expert assessment of precise regulatory costs. Using country-level panel regression analysis, we find that deregulation has a heterogeneous impact on both low and high level corruption. It is largely ineffective in tackling government favouritism, with business start-up deregulation even facilitating such corruption. Whereas deregulating the various channels through which governments and businesses interact (e.g. obtaining construction permits) often decreases the perception of bribery and petty corruption. Policy consequences are profound and point at a more targeted and context-dependent promotion of the deregulation agenda. Full public procurement database is available at http://digiwhist.eu/resources/data/

An Objective Corruption Risk Index Using Public Procurement Data

In order to address the lack of reliable indicators of corruption, this article develops a composite indicator of high-level institutionalised corruption through a novel ‘Big Data’ approach. Using publicly available electronic public procurement records in Hungary, we identify “red flags” in the public procurement process and link them to restricted competition and recurrent contract award to the same company. We use this method to create a corruption indicator at contract level that can be aggregated to the level of individual organisations, sectors, regions and countries. Because electronic public procurement data is available in virtually all developed countries from about the mid-2000s, this method can generate a corruption index based on objective data that is consistent over time and across countries. We demonstrate the validity of the corruption risk index by showing that firms with higher corruption risk score had relatively higher profitability, higher ratio of contract value to initial estimated price, greater likelihood of politicians managing or owning them and greater likelihood of registration in tax havens, than firms with lower scores on the index. In the conclusion we discuss the uses of this data for academic research, investigative journalists, civil society groups and small and medium business.

Measuring Government Favouritism Objectively: The Case of Romanian Public Construction Sector

Government favouritism in the allocation of public funds raises costs for any society in which corruption prevails. Particularistic transactions can be identified in three different situations: uncompetitive awards of public contracts when there is only one “competitive” tender, when public money is spent on contracts supplied by politically connected firms, and a situation of capture in which one private contractor obtains a disproportionate share of contracts issued by some public agency. This present research has tested for the relevance of those three types of particularistic transactions that signal government favouritism as they apply to the Romanian construction sector for the period from 2007-2013, and to do so has made use of original public procurement databases. Furthermore, it will be proposed here that the “kickback”—a percentage of particularistic awarded values—can be used as a measurement of corruption. Even conservatively estimated, kickbacks account for much of the cost borne by any society that fails to eradicate corruption. For our purposes here, amounts of kickbacks at county level have been controlled against criminal convictions for corruption at county level. As a result, data analysis provides strong evidence that kickbacks based on particularistic allocation of public funds are indeed relevant in the measurement of corruption, and the steps used to evaluate kickbacks can be used just as well for other countries.

Corrupt Contracting: Partisan Favouritism in Public Procurement. Hungary and the United Kingdom compared.

For politicians seeking to use a clientelist approach to achieve political and private gain, i.e., to prolong their hold on power and maximize personal profit, control of government contracting is a key tool. We theorise that politicians wishing to exploit government contracting for such ends will seek to increase their influence over three stages of public procurement – policy formation, implementation and monitoring – but that their efforts can be constrained by institutional controls and checks. We examine these influence strategies and institutional constraints by comparing one young democracy and one mature democracy, Hungary and the United Kingdom. Developing new procedural and outcome indicators of corruption risk in contracting, we use a change of government as a natural experiment to analyse partisan favouritism in procurement. We find that, in Hungary, where political influence is systematic and far-reaching, 50-60% of the market is dominated by favoured companies, compared to only 10% of the UK market.

The Anticorruption Report. Volume 3: Government Favouritism in Europe

This volume reunites the fieldwork of 2014-2015 in the ANTICORRP project. It is entirely based on objective indicators and offers both quantitative and qualitative assessments of the linkage between political corruption and organised crime using statistics on spending, procurement contract data and judicial data. The methodology used in the analysis of particularism of public resource distribution is applicable to any other country where procurement data can be made available and opens the door to a better understanding and reform of both systemic corruption and political finance. The main conclusion of this report is that public procurement needs far more transparency and monitoring in old Member States, where it is far from perfect, as well as new ones and accession countries, where major problems can be identified, partly due to more transparency and monitoring.This policy report is the third volume of the policy series “The Anticorruption Report” produced in the framework of the EU FP7 ANTICORRP Project. The report was edited by Prof. Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, PhD from the Hertie School of Governance, head of the policy pillar of the project.

Print and e-book versions of all full reports can be purchased here.

Reviews for this publication

Public infrastructure projects and other types of government procurement almost everywhere in the world suffer from favoritism and corruption, if not outright criminality. The spoils always go to the people with the right connections, wealth, or the willingness to use or threaten violence. This is among the most difficult aspects of governance for scholars to study: those who talk don’t know, and those who know don’t talk. This slim volume summarizes detailed studies of favoritism in Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Italy, Romania, Turkey, and Ukraine. A final chapter shows how criminal organizations in many countries—including Mafia-like groups in Bulgaria and Italy—infiltrate national and EU-level public spending projects. Each chapter is packed with a remarkably rich set of charts, graphs, and statistical analyses that capture how much corruption exists and how it works. These succinct and eye-opening quantitative estimates of what really goes on beneath the surface of government make for indispensable reading and should straighten out anyone who doubts that the powerful always find ways to reinforce their influence and wealth, even on the “cleanest” of continents.

Andrew Moravcsik, Professor of Politics and International Affairs, Princeton University in Foreign Affairs

Uncovering High-Level Corruption: Cross-National Corruption Proxies Using Government Contracting Data

Measuring high-level corruption and government favouritism has been the object of extensive scholarly and policy interest with relatively little progress in the last decade. In order to address the lack of reliable indicators, this article develops two objective proxy measures of high-level corruption in public procurement: single bidding in competitive markets and a composite score of tendering ‘red flags’. Using publicly available official electronic records of over 2.8 million government contracts in 27 EU member states plus Norway in 2009-2014, it directly operationalizes a common definition of corruption: unjustified restriction of access to public contracts to favour a certain bidder. Corruption indicators are calculated at the level of contracts, but produce aggregate indices consistent with well-established country-level corruption indicators. Due to the common EU regulatory framework, indicators are consistent over time and across countries, while WTO regulations underpin global generalisability. Indicator validity is supported by correlations with well-established perception-based corruption indicators, and novel micro-indicators such as prices and supplier registration in tax havens. The utility of the novel indicators is demonstrated by using them to explain the effect of deregulation on corruption risks at the country level. In order to facilitate wide use of the data and indicators by researchers, journalists, NGOs, and governments, they are made publicly available at digiwhist.eu.

Report on Turkey on institutions in public procurement for the infrastructure sector

The report employs national data to analyse recent developments in the construction sector. However, the contract-level procurement data have not been compiled as requests for the data were unanswered by the Turkish Public Procurement Agency. Therefore, aggregate data on public procurement have been used to trace developments in law and implementation. The post-2002 incumbent AKP government has to a large extent considered construction investments as an engine of economic growth which resulted in a substantial expansion of this sector. The Turkish Public Procurement Law (PPL) came into force in 2003 to bring Turkey into compliance with EU procurement standards. Although certain improvements have been achieved, frequently introduced exemptions distorted the rules and procedures for transparency, competition and non-discrimination. A considerable number of amendments have aimed at removing major public contracts from the scope of PPL. Recently, Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs) have been used principally to build up large-scale infrastructure projects. Due to the large capital requirements and the fact that the legal structure of PPPs is largely incompatible with the PPL and the EU regulations, only a smaller group of companies which have allegedly close connections with top level politicians win PPP projects worth billions of Euros. Thus, under the current framework, PPPs in the Turkish construction sector are significantly prone to corruption risks.

Report on Romania on institutions in public procurement for the infrastructure sector

Improving infrastructure in Romania has been a significant project in the past 25 years. Unfortunately, although large amounts of public funds were spent in the construction sector from 2007 to 2013 (an average of 6.6% of GDP), the physical results in terms of project quality and completion do not match this investment. One of the explanations for this is that public contracts were awarded to companies based on corrupted practices or political connections, the focus being on redistributing public money and not achieving high quality construction works.The present research points to the fact that statistical data analysis can be used in detecting corruption. The practice of single bidding and the tendency to establish political connections exist in the entire public procurement market. Nonetheless, non-EU funded contracts present a higher corruption risk. Only 1 out of 7 contracts receiving European funding were awarded to a single bidder, as opposed to 1 out of 4 contracts financed by the state budget. Still, 1 out of every 3 contracts won by a politically connected firm involved European funding. Data analysis also concluded that the number of contracts awarded per company can be explained by single bidding and the existence of a political connection in 44% of the cases. The agency-capture analysis revealed that favouritism in public procurement occurs especially at the local level and in state-owned companies. Most of the companies that “captured” contracting authorities are politically connected firms.At the same time, the case studies give an account of how firms’ owners go to great lengths to consolidate a network of relationships with high ranking officials so as to keep their doors open and contact political elites, but also various state institutions whose activity can favour or disrupt their companies’ economic well-being.

Report on Hungary on institutions in public procurement for the infrastructure sector

This report aims to document and to investigate the extent and the determinants of government favouritism in EU funded infrastructure development. It uses a variety of qualitative and quantitative research methods. While predominantly relying on the analysis of contract-level quantitative data on Hungarian public procurement, it also provides a discussion of the institutional framework and particular cases based on document analysis and interviews.It finds that public procurement of infrastructure from national or EU Funds is a hotspot for corruption in Hungary just like in the other countries investigated by ANTICORRP Work Package 8. However, corruption is not pervasive everywhere and even high-level political influence has it limits. While the economic environment has varied greatly, public procurement spending on infrastructure followed a political logic with elections, EU funding cycles, and political power games playing a crucial role. It has proven to be one key public resource up for grabs for corrupt elites. Controls of corruption in public procurement in general are weak: not only is effective transparency very limited and declining rapidly since 2010, but also institutional remedies are likely to be controlled by the current governing party.As a result of extensive public resources available, weak controls, and a complex regulatory environment facilitating close cooperation between bidders and public bodies, corruption is widespread in infrastructure provision. Political connections, far from having a uniform impact, are effective in facilitating rent extraction only when organisational integrity is weak and both the bidders and contracting entities are politically controlled. In micro-cosmoses of high integrity, political connections are ineffective at best, but may even handicap companies.

Report on Germany on institutions in public procurement for the infrastructure sector

Germany has the highest public procurement expenditure in the EU, with an average of 370 billion euros a year between 2009 and 2013. The main objective of this report is to shed some light on the inner workings of the German public procurement system by providing a general overview of its historical development, the current trends in procurement spending and assessing potential risks for corruption. Given that Germany has two parallel procurement systems active at the time, one for contracts above the EU thresholds and one for the contracts underneath these limits, each one of them is evaluated separately. The lack of high quality tender-level data for the case of Germany made it impossible to base the risk assessment on objective indicators. Therefore, this report relies on different sources of data to determine the size of the procurement spending in the country, the manner in which it is allocated and the potential risks of corruption. The study concludes that the public procurement system in Germany – especially the one in place for contracts underneath EU thresholds – is vulnerable to corruption given its complex legislation that damages nation-wide competition, the lack of transparency in the awarding process, a clear or unified national legislation and the low utilization of e-procurement platforms.

Report on Croatia on institutions in public procurement for the infrastructure sector

This report seeks to assess the extent of favouritism – i.e., preferential treatment for some bidders over others – in the allocation of public procurement contracts in the construction sector in Croatia. The methodology is based on identifying opportunities for favouritism and evaluating the effectiveness of constraints. The research finds that Croatia’s public procurement law sets a high standard and there are numerous transparency and control mechanisms in place. Nevertheless, the integrity of procurement is undermined because a large share of it is contracted by entities which are owned by government units and thus subject to political influence and constrained by a much weaker control framework. Data on the procurement of high-value construction works is analysed for indicators of favouritism in the process or outcomes. Whilst there is only limited use of restrictive procedures, competition for public contracts is surprisingly weak in a sector under considerable economic pressure. Moreover, around one-half of the total contract value is won by tenderers which are not private companies but rather entities that are partially or fully owned by the state. This raises further questions about the potential for political leaders to influence the process in order to achieve favouritism in the allocation of public contracts, to benefit themselves or third parties. Evidence from the verdict of a trial involving high-ranking politicians suggests further that such favouritism may be widespread.

Report on Bulgaria on institutions in public procurement for the infrastructure sector

The Bulgarian public procurement market constituted 9% of national GDP on average from 2009 – 2013, which is lower than the EU average. Public procurement has been particularly important for the construction sector in the country, with approximately a third of total sector turnover deriving from public procurement in 2013. Since the onset of the economic crisis in 2008 the survival of the construction sector in Bulgaria has essentially hinged on public procurement, coming mostly from EU funds. This concentration of market power in the hands of the public administration, coupled with a history of lack of effectiveness, integrity and control, and persistent structural governance deficiencies imply significant corruption risks. Although the legal framework has continuously improved, it is subject to too frequent changes to ensure proper implementation.The firm-level analysis of the public procurement contracts awarded to the top 40 construction companies included in the paper, confirms the trend of concentration of the construction sector. The data does not confidently detect a specific type of favouritism but corruption risks are detected in specific cases, especially involving large-scale construction projects in the infrastructure and energy sectors. Anecdotal evidence abounds that powerful private operators exert pressure on the public administration to channel public procurement to major companies, linked either legally and/or through circles of influence to them.

Anatomy of grand corruption: A composite corruption risk index based on objective data

Although both the academic and policy communities have attached great importance to measuring corruption, most of the currently available measures are biased and too broad totest theory or guide policy. This article proposes a new composite indicator of grand corruption based on a wide range of elementary indicators. These indicators are derivedfrom a rich qualitative evidence on public procurement corruption and a statistical analysis of a public procurement data in Hungary. The composite indicator is constructed by linkingpublic procurement process ‘red flags’ to restrictions of market access. This method utilizes administrative data that is available in practically every developed country and avoids thepitfalls both of perception based indicators and previous ‘objective’ measures of corruption. It creates an estimation of institutionalised grand corruption that is consistent over time and across countries. The composite indicator is validated using company profitability and political connections data.

Corruption manual for beginners: “Corruption techniques” in public procurement with examples from Hungary

This paper develops 30 novel quantitative indicators of grand corruption that operationalize 20 distinct techniques of corruption in the context of public procurement. Each indicator rests on a thorough qualitative understanding of rent extraction from public contracts by corrupt networks as evidenced by academic literature, interviews and media content analysis. Feasibility and usefulness of the proposed indicators are demonstrated using micro-level public procurement data from Hungary in 2009-2012. While the prime value of this broad set of indicators is the possibility of combining them into a robust composite indicator of high-level corruption, the high degree of detail also reveals that many regulatory interventions have succeeded in changing the form of corruption, but not its overall incidence.

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.

Are EU funds a corruption risk? The impact of EU funds on grand corruption in Central and Eastern Europe

Fazekas et al explore the impact of EU structural funds on institutionalised grand corruption in three countries where corruption is systemic – Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia – between 2009-2012. They examine whether EU funds have contributed to weakening institutional quality in terms of wasteful public spending and increased ‘legal’ corruption conducted through public procurement. By exploiting a unique pooled database containing contract-level public procurement information for all three countries they are able to systematically examine corruption risks associated with EU funding at the micro-level. The authors also develop a composite corruption risks indicator based on the incidence and logical structure of ‘irregularities’ in individual public procurement transactions.

Fazekas et al. ultimately claim that EU funding impacts institutionalised grand corruption in CEE in two ways: first, by providing additional public resources available for corrupt rent extraction; second, by increasing the controls of corruption for the additionally allocated funding. Their preliminary calculations indicate that the first effect increases the value of particularistic resource allocation in the three countries up to 1.21% of their GDPs, while the second effect decreases the value of particularistic resource allocation by up to 0.03% of GDP. However, the latter beneficial effect is entirely driven by Slovakia, which has a high national corruption risk level; while in Czech Republic and Hungary this impact is even negative. The authors conclude with several policy recommendations calling for a radical improvement of the monitoring and controlling framework.

Bottom of the Heap. The Case of Romania

The suspension of EU payments in four operational programmes in 2012 showed how problematic Romania’s correct and effective management of EU funds is. Such funds aim primarily at decreasing the socio-economic disparities among EU members and support the economic convergence with their Western counterparts of less developed new EU members. Consequently, a poor absorption rate of EU funds threatens income convergence between old and new member countries, thus representing a major challenge for EU integration. Currently, Romania has the poorest absorption rate among all the EU Member States and the worst among the ten new Member States. Moreover, the financial corrections, which amount to roughly 22% of the assimilated European funds, further reduce the real absorption rate, a loss which can be attributed entirely to corruption and mismanagement. The present report investigates the proportion of EU funds which can reasonably be considered at risk because of mismanagement and corruption, asks what are the main defrauding tactics used at national level to obtain European money illicitly, and considers the extent to which the suspension or cancellation of EU assistance might be the best policy for dealing with the situation. In addition, the report will put forward a list of recommendations for the next EU programming period which are intended to mitigate the effects of corruption and mismanagement that result in a waste of public resources.

Hidden Depths. The Case of Hungary

This report investigates corruption risk of EU funds spending in Hungary within the framework of the Public Procurement Law. Its finding is that in spite of what is a tight regulatory framework EU funds are likely to fuel the abuse of public spending. Even though public procurement using EU funds faces considerably more stringent regulation, their use poses much greater corruption risks when compared with funds procured domestically and corruption risks are particularly pronounced for large projects. The report also argues that large-scale institutionalized corruption in Hungary may be widespread and driven primarily by political cycles. Such corruption, often labeled “legal corruption”, typically involves neither bribery nor collusion between lower level bureaucrats and private individuals; rather, it operates through contractual relationships which benefit the highest echelons of the political and business elite. There are a small number of new anti-corruption initiatives of the new government which entered office in 2010, but while they might indicate a positive step towards higher public sector integrity, their results are yet to be seen.