“Clean Moldova” Replicates Initiative by Neighboring Alliance for Clean Romania

clean moldova - ParliamentFollowing in the footsteps of the Alliance for Clean Romania, members of Moldovan civil society joined forces in the fight against corruption by launching the “Clean Moldova” online platform. The website is a space for discussion and analysis regarding political corruption and conflicts of interest, directed at voters, journalists, politicians, and public authorities. The main goal of this project is to prevent the election of dishonorable or corrupt political candidates, by presenting and disseminating information regarding their integrity, obtained through monitoring activities. Representatives of the two anti-corruption platforms met in June 2013 in Bucharest within the framework of a best practice transfer programme financed by the Foundation for the Development of Civil Society in Romania.

The Romanian anti-corruption alliance has been consolidated into a permanent platform following the Coalition for a Clean Parliament. This initiative monitored integrity of candidates to the national and European Parliaments in the 2004, 2007 and 2008 elections. It was followed by the Coalition for a Clean Government (starting in 2005) and the Coalition for Clean Universities (2009, 2010). The Moldovan alliance, similarly, was created by seven non-governmental organisations in November 2008, following the popular Civic Initiative for a Clean Parliament (CICP) project.

The new platform organises public events on the operation of control institutions and the effectiveness of public policies in promoting the integrity of public officials, and also seeks to support informational media campaigns on the integrity of public officials. It includes various resources as well, such as excerpts from national and European legislation and links to relevant media articles on the topics of integrity and anti-corruption. Moreover, the editorial team is conducting journalistic investigations with particular attention to cases related to the integrity of public officials reported by the media. Similarly to the Alliance for Clean Romania, Clean Moldova also presents cases of undeclared conflicts of interests of public officials. The Moldovan portal also published blacklists of corrupt politicians and brief updates about the legal proceedings initiated against the Civic Initiative for a Clean Parliament by political parties and politicians whose names were included in the lists of candidates who did not meet the integrity standards.

The composing seven entities are: Association for Participatory Democracy “ADEPT”, Association for Independent Press (API), Centre for the Analysis and Prevention of Corruption, Freedom of Expression and Access to Information Promotion Centre, The Independent Journalism Center, Journalistic Investigations Center , and Soros Foundation Moldova, which also provides financial support.

There is a strong need for such a portal in Moldova, members say, as recent poll results revealed that every other citizen thinks most, if not all, politicians are corrupt and unworthy of being elected in the local or national government. This shows that there is a public that can greatly benefit for such an initiative with more information on integrity of politicians.

(The picture featured above is from obozrevatel.com.)

 

Bulgarians Continue to Protest against Corruption in the Government

Bulgaria anti-corruption protestsAt a moment where citizens take it to streets in several countries around the world to express their deep dissatisfaction with governments and deficit in their political representation, Bulgarians continue to gather in Sofia and other cities in the country demanding that their newly formed socialist government step down. Protesters are also calling for deep reforms to improve democracy and representation in the country, including changes in the Electoral Code to facilitate entry of new parties and favour changes in the political status quo, and measures to strengthen media freedom and judicial independence.

Following the spirit of the street movements, a group of 60 prominent Bulgarian intellectuals, lawyers, political activists and journalists have proposed the “Charter 2013” to end the plutocratic system that dominates politics in the country. Other civil society organisations have analysed the current situation and manifested support for the claims presented in the demonstrations. One such example was the memorandum circulated by ERCAS’s partner Centre for Liberal Strategies, authored by its chairman Ivan Krastev. The text below, published on 25 June 2013, provides a valuable insider look at the present civil society movements and the perspectives for future positive changes in Bulgaria.

 

“MEMORANDUM

 

Tens of thousands of people have been marching for 11 days now on the streets of the capital Sofia and in some of Bulgaria’s major cities. The mass protests were sparked by the decision of the Bulgarian Parliament to appoint Mr. Delyan Peevski as chief of the State Agency for National Security. After his resignation on the second day of the protest, its main demand became the resignation of the government of Mr. Oresharski, which has been built by the Bulgarian Socialist Party and the Movement for Rights and Freedoms representing the Turkish minority (together, both parties having exactly half of the seats in Parliament). Yet the government cannot survive without the support of the far-right populist party Ataka.

According to representative polling data, 85 per cent of Bulgarians support the protest against the appointment of Mr. Peevski, a media mogul and politician, a front-man of corporate interests with strong influence over the last three governments. The respondents put remarkably little confidence in the current government and parliament at the beginning of their term (23 and 14 per cent, respectively – lowest point since the 1990s), while only 18 per cent reckon Oresharski’s cabinet will fulfil its full mandate.

Bulgaria protests for a second time in less than half a year, with the mass protests in February against the electricity monopolies having brought down the centre-right government of Mr. Borissov. The unrests from the last 11 days should be seen as a second wave of Bulgarian citizens’ anger with the political establishment from the transition who in society’s view has betrayed the values of democracy in the service of behind-the-screen corporate interests.

For the first time in years the civil society of Bulgaria is voicing strong demands for genuine reform of the ailing state institutions and for effective democracy. These demands for reform are home-grown and have a grass-roots pedigree. They are not the result of external pressures (e.g. from EU or international organisations). In fact, external bodies so far have been largely supportive of the status quo: for instance, both the Party of European Socialists and the European Popular Party have recently expressed support for the political leaders of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (member of PES), and GERB (member of the EPP), the former ruling party.

These views are apparently not shared by the Bulgarian citizens. As their slogans demonstrate, the Bulgarians are protesting:

–        against the merging of public institutions with nationwide gray-economy groups: “No to the oligarchy!”

–        against clandestine  political deals: “No to behind-the-screen deals!; Transparency!

–        against the promotion of corporate interests presented in democratic garb: “No to façade democracy!”

–        against Bulgaria’s reneging on its European commitments and the accommodation of extreme nationalist-populists in power: “Bulgaria is Europe!”

The peaceful protests in Bulgaria are momentous for the future of democracy in this country. They show that there is committed civil society which will no longer tolerate corporate takeover of public institutions, or unprincipled coalitions with nationalistic or irresponsible parties. Our hope is that the lack of violence and the civilized behaviour of the protesters will not make this protest go largely unnoticed internationally. In our judgement, the moment demands broad support for the democratic efforts of Bulgarian society.

 

25 June 2013

Sofia

 

Ivan Krastev

Chairman

Centre for Liberal Strategies”

 

(The picture featured above is from presstv.ir.)

 

Protests in Brazil Fuelled by Popular Discontent with Corruption and Bad Public Services

Brazil - anti-corruption protestsThe last two weeks have seen the biggest wave of protests in Brazil in 21 years, since the large demonstrations in favour of President Collor’s impeachment in 1992. What started as a mobilisation in the city of São Paulo against a R$ 0.20 (€ 0.07) increase in public transportation fares, first organised by the Movimento Passe Livre (free fare movement) on June 6th, slowly grew to a massive collection of demonstrations in 100 Brazilian cities bringing around 1 million to the streets on June 20th, for reasons ranging from corruption to generally bad public healthcare and education and excessive government expenditures for the 2014 World Cup.

Why have the protests gained such magnitude? Firstly, related to the immediate motivation for the demonstrations, there is the fact that several other state capitals also had increases in public transportation fares in a context where transportation services are becoming more expensive without any apparent improvement in quality. This also comes at a moment where basic living costs in Brazil are rapidly rising due to increased inflation, and higher transportation fares only added to that burden. Secondly, the developments around the first demonstrations in São Paulo contributed to make other problems evident and tap into a generalised dissatisfaction with public services in general, police violence, corruption and the fact that a large part of the population does not feel represented by the current party and political system. At the same time, people have seen the federal government invest billions in the construction of stadiums and infrastructure projects for the Confederations Cup currently taking place in Brazil and the World Cup to take place next year. The recent inauguration of the stadiums was perceived as a signal that the government is not prioritising projects that benefit the population’s basic needs.

The protests in Brazil are also evidence of the revolutionary role of social media in political mobilisation, reaching especially citizens that had never participated in protests before, which were more than 70% in one of the protests, according to a survey. Platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube contributed greatly not only for the dissemination of the demonstrations, but also to ultimately mobilise public opinion in favour of the protests through the spreading of videos and photos of police violence and abuse. The video of a police officer breaking the window of his police vehicle, suggesting police action to simulate acts of vandalism and attacks by the protesters, was seen by over 1.1 million people. Several citizens and commentators on television compared police repression to the protests with that seen during the military dictatorship that ruled the country between 1964 and 1985. Moreover, these online platforms have enabled people to follow the protests closely and debate the political issues raised in the demonstrations. Since June 13th, when the fourth demonstration in São Paulo took place to demand that the increase in transportation fares were revoked, more than 130 million people have actively followed social media posts on the topics, and two million posts with the movement’s mottos “the giant woke up”, “come to the streets”, among others, were registered online.

In the meantime, several municipal governments had no choice but to revoke the bus fare increases. Thousands of protesters celebrated the victory, but not without wondering what would come next and what other causes should be taken up by the street movements. This process has seen the mobilisation of great masses of citizens all over the country, but also increasingly diffuse topics and complaints among the demonstrators. Many analysts and members of social movements were critical of this turn in the protests, claiming that demonstrating against everything without focus on concrete issues faced that risk of emptying and weakening the movements. More recently, however, part of the protests has been reorganised to claim for new, more specific demands. In São Paulo, for instance, the organised groups that started the protests against the high fares and low quality transportation service have turned to other issues related to transportation management in the city. While city contracts with private bus companies are being investigated under suspicion of fraud, and accusations of collusion among bus companies have been raised, the City Legislative has reacted to public pressure and the accusations by initiating a request to install a Parliamentary Investigative Committee to examine these issues. Another demonstration has been scheduled for June 25th to demand the creation of the Investigative Committee and increased transparency for municipal expenditures in public transportation.

Other groups of protesters against corruption have now also mobilised against a much more specific issue being currently debated in Congress. A proposal for a Constitutional Amendment (PEC) establishing that criminal investigations be exclusively conducted by the State and Federal Police, thus prohibiting prosecutorial bodies of investigating, was planned to be voted in the Lower House on June 26th and was expected to find large approval among representatives. The PEC has been under discussion for several months, with a deadlock between Police and Prosecutors that have not managed to reach an agreement on the text that should be submitted to Congress. Before the street protests gained this dimension, manifestations against the PEC were mostly limited to representative associations of prosecutors and lawyers, together with anti-corruption movements claiming that the Constitutional change would increase impunity in the country. As it emerged as one of the issues raised among protesters, the Lower House has already stated that voting shall be postponed. Demonstrations in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro have brought together around 35,000 people against the approval of the PEC in the past two days.

These street movements in Brazil have shown that the population is extremely unhappy with their quality of life and is no longer willing to tolerate the abuses of a privileged political elite that is seen as benefiting from resources that should be directed to improving the welfare of the population at large. They have made clear that Brazilians are aware of the connection between corruption at high levels of government and the low quality of public services available to them. As the initial message of the movement, “it’s not about R$ 0.20”, but about a demand for accountable governments that act in the public interest instead of their own.

(The picture featured above is credited to Eraldo Peres.)

 

ReStart Initiative Supports Innovative Projects in Eastern Europe

Since 2011, the ReStart Challenges initiative, organised by TechSoup Global, has been promoting competitions and selecting innovative projects based on the implementation of new technologies in fighting corruption and promoting transparency. The first edition took place in Romania and received applications on 145 project ideas, among which five projects were selected. Since then, other editions have taken place in Czech Republic and Slovakia as well and have collected over 1,000 project ideas. New rounds are planned also in the Western Balkans.

The challenges are based on a public voting and jury process, that selects seven finalists ideas per challenge. These ideas are then developed as prototypes and have the chance of a final “pitch”, where three to five of the most convincing projects are selected for launch funding and incubation. One of the first winner projects to receive a US$ 5,000 grant was Bribe Market, created by Codru Vrabie. The main idea behind this initiative was a mechanism for the reporting of bribes via mobile phones in Romania. Differently than other similar bribe-reporting platforms such as I Paid a Bribe, the project had a free-market twist: individuals can rate the “value for money” of each bribe, and can thus identify the relatively “cheapest” bribes.

Another one of the winning projects in Romania was Lost Money, proposed by activist Elena Calistru. The project tracks public spending and aims at offering citizens at large a tool to understand how the budget is made and how their taxes are spent. Through dynamic infographics, the platform centralizes public financial data and maps the spending in a way that is accessible to the ordinary person.

In Slovakia, one of the winning projects of the Restart campaign in 2012 was Open Courts, created by the computer science students Pavol Zbell and Samuel Molnár. Interestingly, the project was motivated by a very simple fact: they were looking for information on a legal case and couldn’t find it due to the poor information management of the Department of Justice in Slovakia. Therefore, they decided to make their own contribution to facilitate access to data on judicial decisions – their database includes material on almost 400,000 decisions since 1997. The data is presented in a user-friendly way and shows connections between judges, plaintiffs and defendants. Now others seek to implement the same programme to collect and manage information on politicians’ business holdings or public procurement contract disputes, to increase the potential of cross-linking all this information and potentially finding cases of conflict of interests and favouritism.

Like ReStart Challenges, initiatives to foster social innovation, especially combined with the application of new technology, are multiplying and causing great impact. By supporting new ideas on how to improve transparency, inform and engage citizens and monitor government, they make an important contribution for the emergence of new solutions to help fight corruption in several countries.

 

Online Initiatives Collect Reports of Bribery in Greece

Following its severe economic crisis, Greece has experienced a significant fall in income and rising unemployment, and some reports indicate that corruption is also on the increase. In the last edition of Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, released in 2012, Greece appeared as the most corrupt country in the European Union (EU) and ranked 94th out of 174 countries, plunging from the 80th place in 2010. It ranked below Colombia and Djibouti and just ahead of Moldova and India. In response to this trend, civil society has been reacting with increased engagement against corruption, not only through protests, but also with grassroots initiatives to raise awareness among the population and influence decision-makers to take measures against this phenomenon.

Kristina Tremonti’s is an example of such engagement. Last October she initiated a whistleblowing online platform entitled Edosa Fakelaki, which translates as “I gave an envelope”, in a reference to the ubiquitous envelopes with money that are used to pay bribes for public services in the country. The project is a replication of the initiative I Paid a Bribe, originated in India and already implemented in other countries, such as Kenya, Indonesia and Zimbabwe. Her motivation to start the project came from her personal experience with bribery in the healthcare system, as her grandfather was sent to the hospital with terminal cancer but only received treatment once her family paid a bribe of around 300 euros.

The website has already gathered over 1,600 anonymous stories of corruption amounting to more than five million euros in bribes. According to the reports, healthcare is the service where bribes most commonly take place (34%), followed by the issuing of driving permits (10%). In an interview, Ms. Tremonti declared: “Rooting out corruption will allow for social and economic recovery. I cannot stress this enough. We can make our country more fertile for growth by taking out the weeds which hinder it – and corruption is a weed.” She believes that, by generating concrete data on payment of bribes in Greece, the project could contribute to increase pressure on the government for taking more effective action to fight the problem.

Another similar online platform for reporting corruption has been created by Diomidis Spinellis. He is a former general secretary of information systems at the Greek Ministry of Finance, recognized for his anti-corruption advocacy. Spinellis quit his position, because he was not able to modernise data collection within an outdated tax system which the government was unwilling to reform.

These initiatives face some clear drawbacks related to the self-reporting of bribes, as bribes in certain sectors are less likely to be reported than in others. One case that illustrates this is the tax system. Corruption in this area is one of the biggest concerns in Greece. Moreover, tax evasion is known to be endemic and is one of the sectors in which the European Commission has requested the government to work on. However, there are relatively few cases of tax evasion reported on such whistleblowing online platforms. Statistics from Edosa Fakelaki show that only about 3% of posts refer to bribing tax officials. As Tremonti explains, “this is because bribing a tax inspector is only likely to happen when someone is trying to evade tax, making them unlikely to want to tell people about it, even anonymously. It is an obvious drawback of any self-reporting system”.

Spinellis also raised the issue of corrupt tax inspectors, which leads to prevalent tax evasion in Greece. He points out the disproportionate effect of this phenomenon on certain underprivileged social groups: “corruption seems to be targeting the most vulnerable members of society, so people who are less informed, who know less about their access to public services, who have less education, who don’t know the tax code. They get blackmailed by the people who are supposed to serve them and this is very sad.”

(The picture featured above is from verena.gr.)

 

SELDI Initiative Seeks to Strengthen Civil Society in Southeast Europe

Corruption is one of the most pressing issues in Southeast Europe, because of its detrimental impact on the social and economic development, especially during times of economic crisis. At the same time, the capacity of civil society organisations to monitor corruption and contribute to policy change in the anti-corruption field remains low. In order to address this issue, 17 civil society organisations from nine countries have mobilised to form a coalition that aims at strengthening civil society’s role in influencing policy and the decision-making process in anti-corruption and good governance in the region.

The coalition, entitled Southeast Europe Leadership for Development and Integrity (SELDI), was created in November 2012 by organisations from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Turkey. The network is coordinated by the Centre for the Study of Democracy (Bulgaria), which acts as its secretariat, and is the continuation of the Southeast European Legal Development Initiative (SELDI), established in 1999 by leading non-profit organisations, representatives of government institutions and experts from these nine countries. This initiative aimed at public-private coalition building for legal development in those countries and provided a forum for cooperation among the most active civil society institutions, public figures and government and international agencies the region.

In March 2013, the network held its opening conference in Zagreb, Croatia, and is currently preparing an Inception Conference and Policy Workshop to be held on 21-22 May 2013 in Belgrade, Serbia, where final consultations and the approval of its Strategy and Action Agenda will take place. The coalition’s strategy is based on three pillars: capacity building, advocacy and watchdog. Through these different lines of work, SELDI seeks to strengthen the position of civil society coalitions as partners of governments and international organisations active in Southeast Europe, in putting the good governance and anti-corruption issues firmly on the policy agenda. The coalition also aims to promote increased publication quality of media on these issues and initiate change in the attitudes of the society in order to decrease tolerance to corruption and lower corruption pressure.

One of the activities planned as part of its watchdog role includes the continuation of corruption-monitoring efforts that have been implemented earlier as part of the Legal Development Initiative. In 2001 and 2002, the first unified regional corruption monitoring exercise employing CSD’s Corruption Monitoring System was conducted, and SELDI will carry out a similar evaluation in 2014 using the same methodology as in two previous rounds, in order to deliver a unique view of anti-corruption progress and gaps in Southeast Europe.

 

SELDI Coalition Members

1. Center for the Study of Democracy, Bulgaria

2. Albanian Center for Economic Research (ACER), Albania

3. House of Europe (HoE), Albania

4. Center for Investigative Reporting (CIN), Bosnia and Herzegovina

5. Partnership for Social Development (PSD), Croatia

6. INSTITUTI RIINVEST, Kosovo

7. “Syri i Vizionit”, Kosovo

8. Macedonian Center for International Cooperation (MCIC), former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

9. Institute for Democracy ‘Societas Civilis’ Skopje (IDSCS), former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

10. Ohrid Institute for Economic Strategies and International Affairs, former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

11. Center for Democratic Transition, Montenegro

12. Institute Alternative, Montenegro

13. Center for Liberal-Democratic Studies (CLDS), Serbia

14. Forum of Civic Action FORCA Pozega, Serbia

15. Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV), Turkey

 

SELDI Coalition Associated Partners

16. Regional Anticorruption Initiative (RAI) Secretariat, Bosnia and Herzegovina

17. Kosovo Law Institute (KLI), Kosovo

 

Corruption Watch Fosters Whistleblowing in South Africa

Founded in January 2012 under the initiative of national trade union federation COSATU, one of Corruption Watch’s main goals is to offer citizens and corruption victims channels to report corruption cases, guaranteeing full anonymity. For that purpose, the organisation offers the possibility of submitting tip-offs through SMS, Facebook, e-mail, an online form, or even in person. According to Corruption Watch’s executive director David Lewis, “given the fact that corruption is a conspiracy against the public, the public must participate in rejecting it”. He adds: “There are a lot more people who are talking about corruption, and there are a lot more people who are outraged about corruption, and people are increasingly phoning hotlines, complaining, laying charges, sending in reports and even taking to the streets.

After its first anniversary last January, Corruption Watch disclosed statistics on the corruption cases reported: about 1200, an average of 3 per day, most commonly involving municipal administrations (23%), traffic police (14%) and schools (11%). The organisation stated that it will prioritise fighting corruption in schools and in small municipalities, where monitoring is weak and citizens have little possibilities of reporting and complaining about corruption cases. The cases reported to Corruption Watch are investigated internally and furthered to relevant authorities for appropriate action. In order to increase pressure for the cases to be adequately and speedily handled by enforcement bodies, Corruption Watch also engages in naming-and-shaming activities in partnership with media, publishing findings of their investigations, especially for big corruption cases.

The organisation has also been active in advocacy work for important pieces of legislation, and in some cases against bills that may increase corruption risks in the country. It took a position against the Protection of State Information Bill, also known as the “Secrecy Bill”, and has recently voiced serious concerns about a bill to change regulation for business licensing, which proposes that local governments would be in charge of processing business applications, and inspections to monitor compliance would be conducted by traffic policemen. Given that municipal governments and traffic police were among the organisations most often associated with the corruption cases reported to Corruption Watch, it claims that the bill could create room for more abuses in the issuing of business licenses. The organisation has also proposed a law amendment to strengthen the independence of the South African Police Service.

Recently, Corruption Watch has created a campaign with a fun twist to raise awareness about corruption, in collaboration with cartoonist Mdu Ntuli, who has created two featurettes, one of which dealing with corruption in schools. The campaign aims at further empowering people, in particular youth, to report corruption.

(The pictures featured in this article are from smartplanet.com and timeslive.co.za.)

 

Chilean Project Exposes Connections between Business and Politics

Conflict of interests in the public administration is a central issue in the anti-corruption agenda. It is among the main concerns of international organisations and donors engaged in efforts to promote anti-corruption practices. Provisions for the prevention of conflict of interests also integrate the international anti-corruption framework, as part of instruments such as the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) and regional protocols and codes of conduct regarding anti-corruption measures in the public sector. In the last years, this issue has also become the focus of civil society initiatives to fight corruption, and a project from Chile has recently set a great example for others interested in fighting conflict of interest through increased transparency.

The project, entitled Poderopedia (poder is the Spanish word for power), consists of an open database where the most influential individuals in Chilean business and politics are featured in personal profiles, with information on their biography and connections through family, education, personal friendships, former employment and positions in different levels of government. The platform also allows users to visualise connection maps, where a certain individual is shown in its connections with other individuals and organisations in the database.

According to Miguel Paz, a career journalist who is also the founder of the initiative, this kind of information is particularly relevant in Chile, where social mobility is limited, certain families exert influence in multiple sectors, and conflicts of interest are a common problem. The project seeks to show Chilean people “the who is who of business and politics in Chile” with information that is high relevant and useful for journalists, researchers and civil society organisations to understand how these connections affect policy-making.

The project is conducted by the organisation Poderomedia and is currently financed by a three-year $200,000 grant won at the Knight Foundation’s News Challenge in 2011. The database was developed and implemented on a test phase in May 2012, and since December 2012 a beta version has been publicly available. The information is collected from public sources, or contributed by users through crowdsourcing and then reviewed by journalists, who are responsible for editing the content. Within a week after its launch, Poderopedia had already almost 800 users registered on the webpage and was receiving an average of 26 new facts and connections per day.

The concept of Poderopedia is not revolutionary. Similar initiatives have been successfully implemented in the United States: the platform theyrule.net, created in 2001, shows connections between board members of the main corporations, foundations and think-tanks in the country, and the project LittleSis, implemented by the Public Accountability Initiative, uncovers the links between influential individuals and corporations and the US government. Nevertheless, Poderopedia has an interesting new feature: an effort to disseminate its platform for replication in other countries. The project has already been contacted by people from Brazil, Portugal, Spain, Argentina, Colombia, Canada and Mexico, who are interested in creating local chapters to apply the Chilean to their context.

(The picture featured above is from straitstimes.com and is credited to AFP.)

 

Parliament Watch: a New Platform Empowers Citizens to Participate in Politics

Civil society initiatives to monitor government have been on the increase in the past years, especially with the rapid development and application of new ICTs to this field. One of such examples is Parliament Watch, originally implemented in Germany. Not only has the project successfully engaged German citizens to monitor their representatives regularly, it has also inspired similar projects in other countries.

One of the main features of Parliament Watch (abgeordnetenwatch.de) is that it offers a platform for accessing up-to-date information on the performance of representatives at European, Federal and, to some extent, even state and communal level in Germany. Users can find information on representatives’ voting records, participation in committees and other activities that they engage in next to their mandate. Before elections, Parliament Watch additionally provides information about all candidates running for election to legislative bodies at all levels.

But more than a platform with valuable information, the project has also become the main channel for communication between voters and representatives. Citizens can register and send direct questions to representatives on various topics. Comments are moderated, and users have to respect a code of conduct. This function of the project has been very successful in better connecting politicians and their constituency: about 90% of all representatives listed on the website answer questions from users, and all questions and answers are recorded and remain available to other users.  Since the project began in 2006, more than 123.000 questions have been submitted and over 100.000 received replies.

The website is visited by 10.000 users daily and has about three million page impressions monthly. On average around 2.000 questions are addressed through Parliament Watch every month. The founders of the platform argue that such an initiative was necessary in a “representative democracy with only a few elements of direct participation” such as Germany. The project is mainly financed through small, regular donations by members, sponsorships and one-off donations by representatives that wish to include some additional information to their profiles.

The project has definitely made an important contribution to empowering citizens to actively participate in politics in Germany. Now the founders also collaborate with organisations in other countries to support the implementation of similar initiatives. One such initiative is the Irish website candidatewatch.ie,  which has had 150,000 visitors during the latest Irish elections to the European Parliament. Similar projects have been initiated in Austria, Luxemburg, and lately the model has also been successfully implemented in Malaysia.

The picture featured above is from telegraph.co.uk and is credited to Getty Images.

 

Russian Farmer Publishes Own Independent Newspaper to Expose Corruption

Independent action by civil society to fight corruption has become more and more common. In most cases, it takes place in the form of projects implemented by civil society organisations, often financed by international donors, but sometimes innovative initiatives emerge also from actions of single individuals. One of such examples has been recently reported in the small province of Chuvashia, in Russia, where an indignant farmer has taken up a new occupation as an investigative journalist to uncover local corruption.

Eduard Mochalov’s motivation to launch and distribute an independent and free newspaper in his region came from his personal story as a victim of corruption. Once the owner of a large farm that employed 150 workers, he lost everything after failing to pay a bribe to a police officer. Documents stating that he had allegedly sold his property were forged, and as he attempted to bring those involved to justice, he was himself accused by prosecutors of fraud in obtaining credit to buy the farm. After eight months in prison waiting for trial, he was finally released on time served and eventually managed to re-establish his ownership of the land, but by then his property and his business had already deteriorated beyond recovery. He protested several times in front of the Kremlin, but never received any support from the government to punish the local officials who ruined his livelihood.

He then decided to take matters into his own hands and came up with the idea of a monthly investigative newspaper, entitled Vzyatka (“The Bribe”). Based on information of corruption cases received from local businessmen and government employees, he pursues his investigations and publishes articles under pseudonyms. The enterprise also has the support of a journalist and a woman who assists with the distribution of the papers. Their efforts have not resulted in any formal investigations or prosecutions yet, but the initiative to expose corruption in the province has become very popular among locals, and the 20,000 copies printed every month are not enough for the increased demand. About the rising interest from the population, Mochalov remarks that “[…] people have had it with all these corrupt people in power, […] they want to know the truth”, as quoted in an article published by the Associated Press (AP).

Although the initiative has had no legal impact against corrupt leaders in the province, its political impact is evident. On the positive side, he has gained attention also outside Chuvashia, and has even received the support of national opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who has also been engaged in several projects to fight corruption in Russia. On the other hand, local politicians and officials have strongly reacted against the paper, and Mochalov has been several times sued for libel. He is aware of the dangers he faces, including risks to his life, but is determined to continue making his contribution to inform the local population and expose local corruption cases.

More details on this story can be read in the article “Russian farmer takes on corrupt officials”, published by AP. The picture featured above is from knoxnews.com and is credited to AP.

 

Ukrainian Coalition CHESNO Takes Stock of Campaign Achievements

Since its founding in November 2011 until the parliamentary elections last October, the Ukrainian civil society coalition CHESNO (from Ukrainian: ‘honestly’) mobilised a large group of citizens all over to country to improve accountability of political parties and candidates prior to the elections. Its campaign “Filter the Rada!” evaluated over 2,700 candidates to Parliament on six integrity criteria, and sought to better inform voters about whether those candidates were apt or not to take office and represent the people. Now, a few weeks after the elections, the movement has met to review the initiative’s impact on the election results, and discuss plans for the years ahead, with an eye on the next presidential election in 2015.

The CHESNO movement was initiated by civic activists and members of 12 organisations in the “New Citizen” partnership, and was later joined by more than 150 organisations from over 35 cities in Ukraine, thus becoming a broad horizontal network with regional representation. The initiative was sponsored by several donors, including Pact’s USAID-supported UNITER project, the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA), the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), and the International Renaissance Foundation. The movement was inspired by similar campaigns implemented in other countries, including Romania, South Korea, Bulgaria, Albania, Kosovo, Moldova and Slovakia.

The methodology developed to evaluate MPs running for re-election and other candidates to Parliament included six integrity criteria: 1. no violations of human rights and freedoms; 2. steadiness of political position in accordance with the will of the voters; 3. no involvement with corruption; 4. transparency of declared income and property, and their consistency with candidate’s lifestyle; 5. personal voting in the parliament; and 6. participation in sessions in Parliament and of Parliamentary committees. These were the product of large civil society consultations and were later confirmed through a sociological survey conducted by the Democratic Initiatives Foundation in December 2011, where the vast majority of Ukrainians endorsed the adopted integrity criteria.

The assessment was conducted by around 70 trained analysts, who collected information from publicly accessible sources, which were disclosed in all candidate profiles. Moreover, the campaign allowed for outside contributions: around 200 files with information on politicians were received from journalists and citizens, and they were later cross-checked by analysts. Each profile was sent to the respective politician and political party before publication, and they had the opportunity of presenting counter-evidence to the information presented in the case of inaccuracies, based on which the movement’s council could decide to make alterations to the original profile.

All the profiles were then published online on the so-called “Chesnometer”. Out of the 2,700 candidates assessed, more than 900 violated at least one criterion. This output of the project received particularly extensive media coverage, which further contributed to improve the visibility of the initiative and its evaluation results. Another important achievement related to this part of the project was that a permanent database with information on Ukrainian politicians was generated, and remains a valuable resource for citizens and media even after the elections.

In their final forum on December 5th, CHESNO participants, together with journalists, representatives of international organisations and also newly elected Members of Parliament (MPs), discussed relevant issues for the next elections, including strategies to improve compliance to the integrity criteria by the new MPs and by political parties, and how to involve the private sector in monitoring the government. The coalition plans to closely monitor current MPs during this legislature to ensure systematic public control over the government and the parliament. CHESNO representatives also said that they have been approached by representatives of civil society from Poland and Czech Republic with requests to share their experience in the “Filter the Rada!” campaign, thus showing potential for dissemination of the strategies adopted in Ukraine to other countries in the region.

The picture featured above is from www.upflund.se.

 

MANS Network Reports Electoral Abuses in Montenegro

The NGO MANS Network for Affirmation of the Non-Governmental Sector has published a report on irregularities that the organisation has uncovered in its monitoring of the last parliamentary elections in Montenegro, which took place on 14 October 2012. The problems described in the report refer largely to inconsistencies in the voter registry and to the abuse of state resources in the pre-electoral period, in disrespect to provisions of the new Law on the Financing of Political Parties.

In a review of voter lists submitted to the central registry, MANS pointed out more than 14,000 duplicate registrations, and over 6,000 deceased that are still registered as voters. Overall, the organisation identified more than 25,000 doubtful voter registrations, close to 5% of the total number of voters in the country. Based on this figure, MANS warned against the danger of these registrations being exploited for electoral fraud and in the end significantly distorting election results. Politicians from the opposition also expressed their concern with this issue. In a press interview, Velizar Kaludjerovic, a representative of the socialist party SNP said: “Duplicate voters are not the only irregularities in the register. Only in Montenegro you can find that there are 512,000 voters registered in the election register, while the 2011 census showed 474,655 adult citizens in Montenegro”.

Other violations pointed out in MANS’s report were connected to the political finance legislation’s ban on increased public spending and on new hirings by government agencies during the electoral period. Through dozens of requests based on freedom of information legislation, MANS received and analysed data on budgetary spending from several government agencies and found evidence that specific social benefits, such as housing assistance and benefits for the purchase of school textbooks, and delayed compensations by the government were disbursed during the electoral period. Their monitoring also uncovered evidence that these benefits were potentially paid out based on political allegiance to the ruling coalition. Regarding advertisements for new hirings in the public sector, the organisation identified over 120 jobs ads by government agencies, including for temporary hiring. MANS also reported the unlawful involvement of public officials in campaign events.

The report also showed how the new legislation on political finance has altered the behaviour of private companies in their relationship to politicians. According to the new law, companies that have had contracts with the public administration in the past two years are prohibited from making any donations to political parties; this is also valid for individuals representing or managing the company. In light of the new restrictions, such companies have started to make “donations” directly to governments during the elections, in that they finance and conduct public works such as the construction of roads and government facilities without public tenders, while the inauguration of the new facilities is used by government representatives as campaign events.

The report’s findings are a clear example of the gap between legislation and implementation that exists in Montenegro, similarly to several other developing countries. Despite successful efforts to improve legislation, corruption and misuse of public resources to benefit government parties continues to be a major problem in the country. In its watchdog role, MANS has attempted to contribute also to improve enforcement of the existing legislation, but has faced resistance from the authorities. The organisation has filed complaints and reported the identified irregularities to the State Electoral Commission (DIK) and the State Auditing Agency (DRI), which are established in the Law on the Financing of Political Parties as responsible for implementing the legislation, but these authorities have declined jurisdiction to handle the reported cases. The State Prosecutor’s office also declined responsibility to prosecute the cases, except those related to excessive budgetary expenditures. Since the law establishes somewhat vague criteria on how to handle violations, prosecution depends on the will of existing institutions, and there is much discretion regarding the applicability of punishment.

The organisation has submitted the report to several foreign organisations, including the delegation of the European Union in the capital Podgorica, ambassadors of EU member states and the USA, as well as the delegations of the UN and OSCE in Montenegro.

The picture featured above is from SETimes.com and is credited to Reuters.

 

SAR Assesses Integrity of Candidates for Romanian Parliament

The Romanian Academic Society (SAR) and the Alliance for Clean Romania (ACR) have launched a new database containing all the relevant information about the integrity of candidates for the parliamentary elections to take place on 9 December 2012. The portal was inaugurated during a press conference held on 25 November.  The motto of the initiative is “Click on the name of the candidate and find out who is the person seeking your vote”.

The purpose of this initiative is to expose politicians seeking (re)election while failing to respect the integrity criteria. Candidates who face either an investigation or a conviction for corrupt practices should be known to voters, journalists, and to civil society in general. The project, entitled “Check the integrity of your candidate”, will show the percentage of candidates endorsed by each political party for the parliamentary election who fulfil the selected integrity criteria, as well as their names.

By checking the integrity of a candidate, every citizen will be in a position to evaluate him/her according to the following monitoring criteria:

  1. collaboration with the secret police of the former regime (“the Securitate”)
  2. positions held in the Communist apparatus, prior to ’89
  3. political and administrative positions held since ’89
  4. migration from one political party to another;
  5. nepotism: the degree of kinship between the candidate and other members of the same political party
  6. the wealth of the candidate
  7. business and contracts with state
  8. the debt of the candidate’s firms to state
  9. conflicts of interest and incompatibilities
  10. arrests and convictions
  11. sponsorship to political parties
  12. racist and discriminatory public statements

 

This is the first database which allows citizens to access a centralised record of the activity of elected representatives and government officials throughout their mandate. In the long term, the information can be used to evaluate the evolution of the Romanian Parliament in terms of integrity. This database will be open for subsequent modifications in the status of the investigation and in case of political migration. It will also serve as a tool for monitoring future corruption cases involving state officials.

The picture featured above is from romaniacurata.ro.

 

iPhone Application Launched to Fight Corruption in Russia

Young entrepreneurs use technology to expose bribery in the country, and thereby hope to raise awareness and help to change Russians’ attitudes towards corruption

 

Popular frustration with the high levels of corruption in Russia has been increasing, as evidenced by demonstrations and protests in the past year. According to the latest Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, the country ranks 143 among 183 countries. Motivated by this situation, a team of young Russian entrepreneurs developed an application for iPhones and iPads that enables individuals to report bribes all over the country.

According to an article published on The Moscow News, the new tool, called “Bribr”, was released in September and allows users to send reports anonymously. Each report includes the place where the bribe occurred, the amount paid, the institution to which it was paid and also for which purpose – changing exam grades, guaranteeing admission to schools and kindergartens, obtaining a permit etc. All the information submitted through the application is then collected on the initiative’s website (in Russian), where it is compiled on a crowd mapping platform that aggregates all reports into general statistics, showing the total amount paid in bribes and the places and purposes that are most common. So far, over 5 million rubles (€ 124,000) in bribes have been reported.

This initiative is the first of its kind in the development of an application for smartphones, but the principle behind it has been applied in other crowdsourcing projects worldwide, such as the “I Paid a Bribe” initiative, originally implemented in India and later replicated in countries such as Kenya and Zimbabwe.

According to Yevgenia Kuida, the initiative’s founder and a London Business School graduate, Bribr aims at contributing to change people’s attitudes towards bribery in Russia. “If you see everywhere that bribery is bad, maybe somewhere in the back of your mind, your attitude toward bribery is going to change, at least a little bit,” she said to The Moscow Times. In another interview to The Moscow News, she emphasised that “the attitude that bribery is bad, but it’s really OK just because everybody does it, is unacceptable”. The team behind Bribr now wants to expand coverage by developing the application also for Android phones, and creating a mechanism to allow reporting directly on the website. Moreover, the project includes plans for the offline sphere, such as a campaign with stickers reading “We don’t accept bribes”, and symbolic zero ruble bank notes that citizens would give out when asked for a bribe.

The application has had great repercussion since its release, with over 20,000 downloads just in the first two weeks. Political activists such as Alexei Navalny and TV host Ksenia Sobchak showed their support to the initiative. However, other anti-corruption activists have voiced concern on the project’s limitations. Elena Panfilova, director of Transparency International’s Russian chapter, said to The Moscow News that “this app caters only to a small percentage of Russians – middle-class, mostly young people who have smart phones”, and that “unless [the team] can somehow distribute smart phones to people in the Ural Mountains and Siberia, Bribr will have no real widespread effect on corruption or bribery”. She also emphasised that collecting this information is not enough, as most individuals who report bribes want to see concrete results and, unless this is followed by investigation and punishment of bribe takers, people might lose their motivation to report in the first place.

The picture featured above is from periodismociudadano.com.

 

Russian NGO Implements Systematic Monitoring of Government Websites

The Russian NGO Freedom of Information Foundation (FIF) has developed a project dedicated to systematically monitoring the level of information openness on the official websites of government agencies in Russia. The project assesses the compliance of contents of governmental websites with freedom of information legislation and with information users’ needs. This year FIF has already published a series of articles rating information openness for several public bodies at the federal and local levels, including legislative bodies, judicial regional departments and election commissions.

FIF was established in 2004 with the objective of investigating, identifying and solving problems of access to public information in Russia. The main motivation behind this work is the belief that government transparency is a precondition for a law-based democracy, and that it has an important impact in constraining abuses by public officials. FIF’s activities focus particularly on access to governmental information and information about the activities of state agencies both through organisational means and legal recourse. One of its primary goals is to assist in the development of information technology resources available to the public.

The method for monitoring government websites was initially developed by experts of the Institute for Information Freedom Development – later renamed Freedom of Information Foundation in 2004. Its implementation is based on the principles of independence and objectivity, and all results are open to the public. The assessments are conducted by experts that take into account not only parameters related to the substantive information disclosed on the websites, but also technical parameters that influence the degree of user-friendliness in each website.

This initiative has generated important insights regarding the implementation of freedom of information legislation in Russia. According to FIF’s reports, although governmental agencies do publish the necessary information on their websites, users commonly face problems to access the information due to incompleteness or unavailability of website sections due to alleged updates on some pages, particularly those meant to disclose financial information from government agencies.

In addition to periodic assessments the project has also led to the development of a specific system that enables full automation of monitoring activities and rating of information openness. Since 2010, the assessment has been conducted by the use of this system – entitled EXMO (expert monitoring). Another great advantage of this tool is that it can be used by governmental officials to track openness indices’ trends for the governmental bodies where they work, a mechanism expected to create incentives for poorly rated agencies to improve the openness of their websites. Data on the 2011 round of assessments suggested that the cooperation with government officials is working: a 20%-rise in information openness was observed in the rated agencies. In the Judicial Department, for instance, the average information openness coefficient grew from 63.58% to 80.51%.

In the past years the project has been established as an efficient tool for monitoring the public administration and has attracted great attention from both governmental agencies and the expert community in the field. Due to the independence of the assessment process, the results are widely recognised by the government and also other civil society organisations. This is a good example of an innovative approach to addressing and improving freedom of information. FIF is also open to cooperation with organisations from other countries that are interested in developing a similar initiative and could profit from the progress they have made in developing this methodology.

More information on this project is available in the article “Monitoring of the government bodies’ official websites as an efficient tool for public control”, published on www.svobodainfo.org.

 

Anti-Corruption Network in Thailand Receives UNDP Support

The Anti-Corruption Network (ACN) in Thailand, a watchdog initiated by the private sector, and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have signed a partnership declaration to strengthen the emergent coalition against corruption. The purpose of the new partnership is to promote collaboration within the network, share best practices in fighting corruption, raise awareness, develop advocacy campaigns and empower the participating organisations, states UNDP.

The Anti-Corruption Network in Thailand is led by the private sector and consists of a consortium of Thai businessmen and more than 42 agencies and organisations, both public and private, including the Thai Chamber of Commerce, the Federation of Thai Industries, the Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) and the Thai Bankers’ Association.

Since its launch last year, ACN has been very active as a watchdog group. Previously, the network has sought public support for fighting corruption by participating in the monitoring of the government speeding of approximately Bt800 billion, in the aftermath of the September 2011 floods that devastated the country’s infrastructure.  Earlier this year, they urged the prime minister to cooperate with the network in addressing the problem of corruption regarding these expenditures. “The government should […] follow our outline for closely monitoring huge government spending under flood-relief measures, as the projects could lead to big losses if there’s any corruption”, stressed ACN chairman Pramon Sutivong. ACN members also called for public support in the anti-corruption campaign “Clean Thailand DIY” for 2012.

This partnership will complement UNDP’s efforts in fighting corruption in Thailand. UNDP cooperates with the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) and other public institutions as well as with the civil society and the general public. Moreover, it is actively involved in raising awareness about topics of relevance for democratic governance. In UNDP’s reporting of the partnership they call attention to the fact that corruption is a systemic problem in the country, and that a recent survey showed a great majority (63.4 per cent) of Thai people still claiming that corruption in government is acceptable as long as they also benefit from it. Even of greatest concern were data from the same survey showing that a majority of young people also increasingly shares this view. Some activities in the country have focused on addressing that problem. From June to September 2012, for instance, over 500 Thai university students have been engaged by UNDP in anti-corruption camps organised in cooperation with the College of Local Administration (COLA) at Khon Kaen University.

Yuxue Xue, UNDP Deputy Resident Representative in Thailand stated: “This partnership signals that every sector in Thailand is now actively engaged in fighting corruption […] and the raw energy of young people is a powerful force — one we hope will break corruption’s hold on Thailand.”

The picture featured above is from businessreportthailand.com.

 

“Thank You, I Don’t Take Bribes”- an Initiative to Remedy Corruption in the Slovak Health Care Sector

The Medical Trade Unions Association (LOZ) in Slovakia has recently launched an anti-bribery campaign to end the common practice of slipping white envelopes containing money in doctors’ pockets. According to an article by The Slovak Spectator, the campaign seeks to convince doctors throughout the country to wear badges reading “Thank you, I don’t take bribes”, the campaign’s slogan.

Initiators have also set up a website where doctors participating in the campaign become visible. Nearly 300 doctors have already joined. Patients are also encouraged to play an active role in this campaign by reporting cases of doctors requesting bribe. In order to facilitate communication, the initiators of the campaign have asked the Health Ministry to open a hotline where bribery can be reported.

The campaign has raised the debate on where the difference between bribes and gifts lie, and where doctors should draw the line. According to the Slovak Spectator, giving small gifts to doctors is a culturally accepted practice, and in fact many doctors interviewed by the newspaper have claimed that they have at occasion accepted gifts such as flowers and chocolate. Some hospitals have started to develop codes of ethics that address this issue. LOZ representatives have admitted that the campaign is not addressed to patients that offer these kinds of gifts, but rather to the clear bribery practice of handing envelopes with money to doctors.

Survey data on perceptions and experience of corruption among citizens help paint the picture of the dimension of the problem in Slovakia. According to the 2010 Global Corruption Barometer, conducted by Transparency International, one out of four households in Slovakia declared that they paid a bribe to obtain services in the health care sector, reported the Spectator. On a comparative perspective, findings also showed that “Slovakia’s health care system was perceived to be the 18th most corrupt out of 88 countries surveyed”.  Patients stated that they paid anywhere from tens to thousands of euro in order to receive “priority on operation waiting lists or above-standard service.”

Gabriel Šípoš, director of Transparency International Slovakia, offers some insights on what is behind the corruption in the health sector in the country. “One of the reasons patients in Slovakia bribe doctors is their feeling of powerlessness and ignorance of their rights […]Many people don’t know of any alternative, […]patients often want to ensure better treatment, but can’t be sure whether they will actually get it.”, declared Šípoš in an interview to TASR newswire. Therefore, this campaign targets a main cause of corruption, by showing patients that they can have access to quality medical services without bribing.

Nevertheless, experts remain sceptical about the potential results that this initiative could achieve. Roman Mužík, from the Health Policy Institute, for instance, mentioned that initiatives to stigmatise corrupt practices and create public pressure can be successful sometimes, but there are examples where this approach did not reach the expected impact. Mr. Šípoš also declared that the campaign is a positive step in signalling to patients that bribery is not necessary to get a good service, but he also highlighted that other measures are required to effectively curb corruption in the health sector. He argued in favour of policies to define clearly what patients should expect from their health care packages, and to communicate this effectively to users.

The picture featured above is from srxawordonhealth.com.

 

Visible Congress: an Initiative to Improve Transparency and Good Governance in Colombia

Civil society initiatives to monitor and disseminate information on Parliaments have emerged in several countries in the past years. In Latin America, a pioneer project of this kind, led by a group of students and academics from the University of the Andes in Colombia, has been active since 1998 and has by now become recognised at the national and international spheres as a model to strengthen accountability and transparency of the Legislative by better informing citizens about its activities.

The initiative, entitled Congreso Visible (Visible Congress), is intended to help citizens “become pro-active, participative and […] have arguments to demand accountability from their representatives”, explained one of the project’s administrators in an interview published on Technology for Transparency Network website.

The initiative first started with a campaign preceding the congressional elections. This initial stage was labelled “Visible Candidates” and provided information on the professional record of the candidates for Congress, prior to the 1998 elections. The Congress of Colombia is bicameral, composed by the Senate and the Chamber of Representatives, the members of both chambers being elected for four-year terms by popular vote. At the time citizens were disappointed by politicians, as “the country was experiencing its biggest political and electoral crisis in recent history”, stated Elisabeth Ungar, founder and former director of Congreso Visible, in an interview to the World Movement of Democracy. Therefore, it was essential for citizens to have access to adequate information about the candidates, in order to take an informed decision.

Nowadays, Congreso Visible provides up-to-date information on the profiles of candidates and members of Congress (up to 1859 profiles), as well as about the legislative process and political parties. Recently it also launched a public platform for open debate called “Agora Magazine”. Finally, another path of action is through partnerships with local NGOs to offer them training and organise face-to-face meetings with representatives at Congress to raise awareness about the importance of legislative activity.

Among the key accomplishments of the project, its representatives identify the cooperation with the Congress. Due to its non-partisan and established reputation “almost 70 percent of the members of the Colombian Congress periodically and voluntarily provide Congreso Visible with information about their legislative activities”, states Ungar. Other important wins have been the support of printed media and the multiplication work undertaken by local partners of Congreso Visible that have replicated the initiative and furthered disseminated the project among grassroots. Despite these achievements, sustainability is still a main obstacle to project. As one of the leaders of the project mentions, finding sponsors at the national level is not easy, as support by the private sector and other institutions in Colombia are limited, and the project has to rely mostly on funds by international donors or small contributions by partners.”

The picture above shows the Colombian Chamber of Representatives and is featured on justiceforcolombia.org.

 

Georgian Civil Society Coalition Calls for Changes in Electoral Legislation

In the run-up to the next parliamentary elections in Georgia, to take place in early October, a civil society campaign has sparked the debate on the need for changes in the country’s electoral legislation. The campaign entitled “This Affects You Too” has brought to the public attention potential restrictions to political liberties and participation created by recent amendments to the electoral and criminal codes of Georgia, and has put forward its own agenda to improve electoral regulation in the country.

The campaign was strongly motivated by changes passed by Parliament last December, which effectively restricted the possibility of companies and foreign individuals to finance candidates running for Parliament. Moreover, a new law regulating political and civil non-profit organisations have established similar restrictions to any individual or association that openly endorses a candidate or party. Critics have claimed that these changes are obscure and have the objective of limiting financing to the opposition, more specifically to the coalition led by wealthy businessman Bidzina Ivanishvili, after he declared his intention of running in the elections. Activists also claimed that the legal changes impose considerable restrictions to freedom of speech, and create room for wide interpretation that can be used to limit political competition.

Following the introduction of the proposed amendments, a coalition of NGOs and media outlets, supported by the Open Society Georgia Foundation, launched on February 13th, 2012 the first phase of the campaign called “This Affects You Too”, where a petition calling for the revision of the controversial amendments was disseminated among Georgian civil society. Around 170 NGOs and media entities, as well as 1500 individuals, signed the petition, which was presented to Parliament on February 17th along with a package of legislative proposals elaborated by the coalition.

Among the proposals were measures to prevent fraud in and increase transparency during vote-counting procedures, to restrict the use of public resources for campaign activities of the governing party, including the participation of public officials at campaign events, and to ensure equal media coverage for political parties during the election period. As part of the campaign, its organising members have also held information meetings in several Georgian cities updating the population on the restrictions imposed by the amendments passed.

The campaign has already been partly successful in creating pressure for changes in the legislation, as some of its proposed amendments were adopted by Parliament in April. In early May the coalition started the second stage of the campaign, focusing more on advocating for changes to improve the media environment ahead of the parliamentary elections, with an emphasis on allowing candidates equal access to media and increasing coverage of the elections, in order to make more information available to citizens. The campaign has also made an appeal to the government to invite international observer missions to monitor the electoral process in October. However, increasing tensions among the running party and the opposition raise uncertainties about whether the campaign will succeed in bringing about all necessary changes to guarantee the fairness of the coming elections.

The picture above was featured on civil.ge and is credited to InterPressNews.

 

We Ate All Together: a Politician’s Approach to Corruption in Greece

Prominent Greek politician and former Deputy Prime Minister Theodore Pangalos sparked controversy in 2010, a few months after Greece’s first bailout package, after he claimed on television that everyone, not just politicians, were responsible for the squandering of public money. “We all ate together”, Pangalos said at the time. He then elaborated his statement in an interview on Skai TV saying that “every citizen is responsible in a democracy”, and that his remarks referred to widespread clientelism, tax evasion and corruption in the country.

Recently, Mr. Pangalos made the headlines again with an initiative to expose and fight corruption in Greece. The project consists of a website where people are invited to share their experiences of corruption. The webpage, named afters his famous statement “We all ate together” (“mazi-ta-fagame” in Greek), has already become extremely popular, with aproximately 100,000 page views per day, and has even crashed several times due to the overwhelming demand.

The website, which is currently available only in Greek, contains self-told stories of corruption experienced by individuals in their daily life. For example, a user reported being asked to pay between 20 and 30 euros to the owner of a coffee shop in order to avoid the queue at the nearby local tax office. Another citizen said that he had been asked for a bribe at a public hospital, so that his wife would give birth.

An article by Judy Dempsey on carnegieeurope.eu reflects on the meaning of the new website for Greek society, stating that “[f]or the first time ever, Greeks are posting how they have to pay bribes for almost every service”, and that the initiative “[i]s an astonishing account about what Greeks have tolerated over the decades”.  Dempsey also highlights that Mr. Pangalos’s website is an important tool for fighting corruption, by providing a platform for communication and citizen initiative, and “[…] is helping to encourage a grass roots movement for citizens who, burdened by the austerity measures, are no longer prepared to remain silent over the bribery and corruption.”

As a result of mazi-ta-fagame.gr, Mr. Pangalos has published a book online with selected corruption anecdotes posted on the website. The book also comprises information on cases of gross mismanagement of public funds. As reported by The Pappas Post, a statement by Mr. Pangalos on the website highlights that he intends to “‘educate’ Greeks on the need to break away from the political clientelism”, and that the project’s goal “is to develop the book, with the participation and assistance of readers, using the methodology and tools of crowdsourcing”. New versions of the book shall be compiled and distributed with other stories later on.

The picture featured above is from the blog ‘Connecting Food to People’.

 

Georgian NGOs Join Forces in Election Monitoring Initiative

Three Georgian non-governmental organisations – International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy (ISFED), Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) and Transparency International Georgia (TI-Georgia) – have launched together the ‘Elections Portal’, which will collect information on violations regarding the next parliamentary elections, to be held in October.

The project consists mainly of a website where citizens and organisations can find relevant information about the elections and can themselves report alleged electoral violations throughout the election period. The aim is to document all incidents in a map of the country and point out the most vulnerable areas. In addition to the website, the project has implemented a system where individuals can send information about alleged electoral offenses via text messages from any cell phone service network.

The Elections Portal is administered by the International Society for Fair Elections and Democracy – ISFED. The project received the support of Open Society Georgia Foundation and is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), and the East-West Management Institute (EWMI).

 

Shudhify Initiative Assesses Bangalore Public Services

A new citizen-led initiative from Bangalore, India, called ‘Shudhify’, offers local citizens a valuable map of selected government services and their respective ratings in different districts of the city. The data collected by the project tracks the quality of service provision, as well as the level of efficiency and corruption in the offices covered. The primary goal of the project is to contribute to change the common perception that corruption gets business done quicker. The project is supported by the World Bank Institute and Colgate University.

The local datamap developed by the project originates mainly from a nine-question survey conducted on site with users of government services in Bangalore. So far, the project has focused on collecting data on transport offices and police stations, and other branches of service shall be explored later. The project’s team has also collected documents on corruption cases archived at government investigation agencies and cases of bribery reported by another pioneering Indian initiative called ‘I paid a bribe’, all of which are used to compose the assessment of each selected office. The resulting information is available on the project’s internet portal (www.shudhify.org), where citizens can also rate public services themselves.

The project has been implementing a broad dissemination strategy through the press, academic journals, and other online platforms. Moreover, it organizes weekly ‘dares’ in partnership with theatre groups and colleges, in order to engage citizens, give additional visibility to the project’s results and increase public pressure on government officials to improve their performance. One of such dares, for instance, asked people to go to the most corrupt/least efficient unit of the Regional Transport Office (RTO), sing the national anthem and place in the middle of the building copies of the ratings produced by the project.

More detailed information about the project is available in a case study produced by the Global Youth Anti-corruption Network (GYAC). An interview with Srikar Gullapalli, one of the project’s initiators, is also available on the GYAC website. The article “Should I or Shudhify?“, available on the Colgate University’s Connect platform, also provides more information on the background story of the project. The illustration above, by Andrew Baker, is featured in the article.

 

New Indonesian Website Exposes Politicians Convicted of Corruption

A group of Indonesian activists and journalists have recently launched the website Korupedia.org, created as an ‘encyclopedia’ of corruption cases in Indonesia. The online platform aims at exposing individuals who have been accused and convicted of corruption, and it has managed to reach millions of internet users already in the first weeks after its launch.

According to Ratna Dasahasta, the website’s chief editor, the initiative aims to increase access by citizens to more detailed information on corruption cases. As media coverage of corruption is usually limited to high-profile cases, and few individuals have access to court documents, most people have little information on the judicial outcome of corruption cases. Therefore, Korupedia intends to facilitate access to such data.

Moreover, the naming-and-shaming strategy adopted by the project seeks to increase the negative impact of involvement with corruption over the image of politicans. Ms. Dashasta pointed out that many politicians and public officials convicted of corruption keep on with their careers in the public administration as if nothing happened, and continue to be seen as prominent and prestigious individuals. The project thus attempts to impose a kind of ‘social sanction’ on them.

A list of 120 names and respective photos, together with the accusations based on which each politician and government official has been convicted, is already available on the website, and the number of documented cases is expected to grow rapidly, as the project’s staff currently analizes material on 900 additional cases.

For more information read the article “New Indonesian Website Names and Shames Corrupt Officials” on the Wall Street Journal blog. The picture featured above is the official logo of Korupedia.

Civil Society against Corruption Launches Russian Website

The Civil Society against Corruption online platform has now been made available also in Russian language. In cooperation with the European Research Center on Anti-corruption and State-building (ERCAS) at the Hertie School of Governance and the Russian Association of  NGOs in Defense of Voters’ Rights “Golos”, the Romanian Academic Society (SAR) has implemented this new step in the continuation of the project Anti-corruption Toolbox. This innovation aims at reaching civil society activists in Russia and Central Asia, thereby contributing to enlarge the current network of civil society organizations also to this region.

The Anti-corruption Toolbox was first implemented by SAR in 2010 and since then has offered a resource page to anti-corruption activists, journalists and scholars in South Eastern Europe. By promoting civil society initiatives against corruption, the project aims to establish a unique platform where civil society from different countries can share and exchange experiences and best practice and inspire others who wish to fight corruption more effectively elsewhere.

In January 2012, the first step to integrate Russian civil society to our network was taken when a representative of SAR met with leaders of several organizations in Moscow and was able to establish the partnership with “Golos”, which has assisted with the translation of the website’s content to Russian and has made insightful contributions about civil society projects to fight corruption and promote free elections in Russia. The website can be accessed at https://www.againstcorruption.eu/ru/.

The project is supported by the Black Sea Trust for Regional Cooperation.

 

Coalition for Clean Parliament CHESNO in Ukraine Looks beyond Football Championship

Most news from Ukraine these days are about football, shadowing everything else. But football will soon be gone, with the pleasant memory of Ukrainian’s national team victory, and problems will remain. Corruption has been Ukraine’s paramount problem ever since the fall of Communism – probably before as well. A new coalition of civil society organizations is working to build a political integrity campaign prior to the next parliamentary elections in Ukraine, to take place in October, 2012. The civic movement, called CHESNO (from Ukrainian: ‘honestly’), was founded by a group of organizations together with the already existing network “New citizen” Partnership with the aim of strengthening and empowering Ukrainian civil society with information tools to improve citizens’ knowledge about candidates and enable voters to choose their candidates better.

The movement was launched on October 29, 2011 with the event «Let’s filter the Parliament in 24 hours». CHESNO activists have established a list of six integrity criteria, based on which candidates are classified as more or less apt to take public office and represent their constituency:

 

  • No public record on violation of people’s rights and freedoms;
  • Permanent political allegiance according to the will of voters;
  • No public record on corruption;
  • No discrepancies between the lifestyle and declared income;
  • No transgression of personal vote rule in the parliament;
  • Presence at parliamentary sessions and work in committees.

 

The objective of this assessment is to inform voters about which candidates are unsuitable from an integrity perspective. The idea of “cleaning up” Parliament is embodied in CHESNO’s campaign symbol: garlic, which represents the cure and an effective weapon to ward off evil.

Representatives of the movement have also sought to exchange experiences with activists from other countries where similar campaigns have been successfully implemented. In January, 2012 Prof. Alina Mungiu-Pippidi was invited to Kiev to share the Romanian experience with the campaign “Coalition for a Clean Parliament”, a successful project that has already been replicated in a number of countries in South Eastern Europe.

The movement is based on a complex decentralized structure and division of tasks among the participating organizations. With support from the “New Citizen” Partnership, one central and 25 regional coordination councils have been set up to control the movement’s operations, and the activities are being carried out by the “New Citizen” coalition representatives according to established responsibilities for particular areas of work. Among the movement’s ambitious goals are the creation of a regional network of coordination centers, the collection and analysis of information about candidates and the implementation of advocacy campaigns. CHESNO also intends to form and train a group of civic volunteers to help with the activities.

During the first stage of the campaign, participants have held regional presentations and crosschecked 450 current MPs on whether they conform to the criteria or not. Based on the results of this preliminary analysis, CHESNO’s representatives have also contacted political parties demanding that politicians already identified as unsuitable should not be included into the upcoming elections lists.

The movement’s activities will soon reach a second key stage with the start of the electoral campaign in July 2012. This stage will entail the assessment of selected candidates with assistance of experts and analysts. Forecasts estimate that about 4000 candidates will run in the next elections; based on these figures, CHESNO aims at assessing the first 100 candidates from the lists of parties most likely to overcome the 5% threshold, as well as the first 7 majoritarian candidates in the election districts, according to expert polls within each region. The results of this analysis will be summarized in the “CHESNOmeter”, a candidate integrity barometer, which will be created and disseminated by participating organizations later on.

 

Some of the participating organizations are listed below:

Internews Ukraine

NGO Centre UA

The Institute of Mass Information 

Committee of Voters of Ukraine

Center of Political Studies and Analysis

Media Law Institute

Democratic Initiatives Foundation

SOUSPILNIST Foundation

Antiraider Union of Entrepreneurs of Ukraine

People’s Solidarity Trade Union

Ukrainian Business

Kholodny Yar Initiative