Lessons from Sochi: getting civil society into the games

by: Niklas Kossow

“The mission of the IOC is to promote Olympism throughout the world and to lead theOlympic Movement. The IOC’s role is: to encourage and support a responsible concern for environmental issues…to promote a positive legacy from the Olympic Games to the host cities and host countries”– Olympic Charter, Rules 2.13 and 2.14

Once upon a time, Akhmed Bilalov was a successful businessman and deputy head of the Russian Olympic committee. His brother, Magomed was not only commissioned with the construction of the Krasnaya Polyana skiing resort, but also received 100% funding for the project from Russian state-owned banks. Business was booming for the Bilalov brothers, until President Vladimir Putin visited the resort in February 2013, criticising the quality of the construction work. In the next months, both brothers were charged with misuse of Olympic construction funds and fled the country. This is but one of countless tales of corruption from the Sochi Games, which will be remembered largely for incredibly high costs, disregard for human rights and the environment. Unfortunately, civil society voices were largely shut out of the planning process for Sochi. If they had been involved, would coverage of the games have been different?

Anti-corruption research has shown a positive link between an active civil society and levels of corruption, especially in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Civil society actors are independent and represent citizens who want to have their voice heard. As independent actors, they can help prevent graft in providing oversight that is independent from private interests and state interference.

Before Sochi even won the bid to host the games, environmental activists urged the International Olympic Committee to reject the bid based on the environmental damage it would cause the Western Caucasus, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but their pleas were ignored. Just before the start of the games, Transparency International Russia published a report, “Olympic Sized Corruption”, explaining in detail where funds were misused. Russian activists have exposed corruption as the main reason for the bloated cost of the Olympic Games, despite the increasingly oppressive responses of Vladimir Putin’s regime. The games were originally budgeted at $12billion, but the final cost was closer to $50billion. The amount lost to embezzlement has been estimated at anywhere from $18billion$30billion of the total expense.

Given their claims to support environmentally sustainable games, the behavior of the IOC with regards to the Sochi Olympics is disappointing. If they are serious about future games reflecting the true nature of the Olympic charter, then civil society involvement and independent oversight has to be one of the conditions for awarding the games. The Sydney 2000 games proved to be a successful example of how increased transparency and civil society involvement can make a difference. Environmental groups were involved in the planning process and took part in making the Sydney Olympics the first “green games”.[i]

The Sochi Olympics is definitely not the first, nor is it likely to be the last example of corruption, environmental degradation and human rights violations during the planning of a mega event. The run-up to the Rio 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic games have already seen major street protests and now a workers’ strike, respectively.  The IOC recently announced that it intends to review its host-city selection process, and has promised to take a more active role in Rio 2016 preparations, but they have yet to acknowledge the value of increased civil society involvement. It is not just the IOC who looks the other way when selecting a host city. FIFA selected Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup to despite reports of numerous human rights violations against migrant construction workers.[ii] By insisting on the inclusion of citizen voices in the planning of Olympics, the IOC would get closer to honouring the terms of their own charter as well as provide a good example for other international sports organizations.

Niklas Kossow is a Master’s of Public Policy candidate at the Hertie School of Governance. 


[i] Kearins, K. and Pavlovich, K. 2002. Corporate Social Responsibility and Environmental Management 9, 157–169

[ii] For more information on this, see: ERCAS Working paper No. 40, “Corruption in Qatar? The Link between the Governance Regime and Anti-Corruption Indicators” by Lina Khatib, and an Amnesty International spotlight on migrant worker abuse: “The Dark Side of Migration.”

New Book: Corruption, Contention, and Reform: The Power of Deep Democratisation

In his new book, Colgate University professor and anti-corruption expert Michael Johnston argues that corruption will persist until those who have a stake in defeating it act in ways that cannot be ignored. For this to happen, citizens need to be enabled to defend their own interests, which is at the heart of the principle of “deep democratisation.” This volume is a continuation of his previous work, Syndromes of Corruption, where Johnston outlined four syndromes of corruption: influence markets, elite cartels, oligarchs and clans, and official moguls. As he argues, each syndrome requires a different reform approach.

For this new volume, Johnston analysed the following syndromes: official moguls in Egypt and Tunisia, oligarchs and clans in the Philippines, elite cartels in Argentina, and influence markets in France, Australia and the US. He focuses on recent events such as the global economic crisis and the Arab Spring to show that we can assess vulnerabilities to corruption and the effects of reforms, and use this information to develop new practices.

Professor Johnston recently took some time to answer our questions about the new publication:

1. How do you define corruption and how do you define control of corruption?

That’s the holy grail of corruption research because there’s no settled definition. The essence of it, it seems to me, is the abuse of wealth and power for personal or small group benefit. At one point, that would have been defined more strictly in the context of the lack of a private-public divide, but of course there’s corruption in societies which do have a strong private-public divide. It’s fundamentally a question of power and exploitation.

As far as successful control of corruption – we don’t really have good measures. Transparency International has done a wonderful service to anti-corruption research with the indicators that they have developed, but these indicators have also distorted the discussion somewhat. I like to look at indirect measures: public trust, political participation, etc; there are a number of micro measures. For example, how long does it take to get a passport, how easy is it to register a business? Ultimately, the issue is not so much the absence of corruption, but the progress toward accountability, and one problem that the anti-corruption movement has had, is that we’ve tended to focus on the negative, and neglect success stories.

2. This volume is a continuation of your previous work, Syndromes of Corruption. Was this second volume always planned or did it evolve organically?

That’s an interesting question, because in Syndromes of Corruption, I wrote a final chapter which looked at the concept of “deep democratisation,” by which I mean, “a continuing process of building workable rules and accountability by bringing more voices and interests into the governing process.” That ending chapter definitely made room for something later on – it was sort of like in Star Wars when Darth Vader gets away and you know that there’s got to be a sequel. I knew there was a need to further explore the concept of deep democratisation, but the actual development of the book took longer.

3.  What are your impressions of anti-corruption achievement since you wrote the first volume?

Well, I’d first like to preface that by saying that when we talk about anti-corruption activists, we’re talking about a lot of good, smart people. In some places in the world, we’re also talking about many courageous people who are taking risks. Having said that, there are unfortunately not many success stories. When we start talking about success stories, the conversation inevitably moves to places like Hong Kong, Singapore, but these are city-states. If you want to point to success stories in countries, it’s hard to find them.

If you look at the Corruption Perception Index (CPI), you find successes in places like Belgium and Japan, but they had good institutions to begin with. Ghana, Indonesia, Uruguay and South Korea are also promising. Returning to the question of measures again, one of the main problems with the CPI is that from year to year, countries tend not to move in the rankings, despite strenuous efforts.

4. You argue that corruption will continue unless those who have a stake in opposing it are able to do so in ways that cannot be ignored. Who do you identify as having a stake and could you give an example of resistance to corruption which could not be ignored?

Broadly speaking, those who have a stake in opposing it are those who lose from corruption. What I hope might come out of this book is discussion of more nuanced ways of fighting corruption, ways that enable citizens in different contexts to have input in shaping their own destiny.

If you look at several historical cases, reform is frequently motivated by some kind of self-interest and not necessarily out of a desire to serve the common good. Many reformers take it as a given that you check your self-interest at the door when you are fighting for a cause, but I don’t think that’s the case.

For example, there were a number of U.S. business interests that were closely affiliated with well-oiled political machines, such as Tammany Hall. Ultimately, however, many of these interests strayed from the machine because it had built such a political monopoly that it could no longer regard business as a partner but as a target for exploitation. These business entities pursued a number of other unsavoury agendas, but in this instance, because of their own self-interests, they pursued an anti-corruption agenda.

Even the Magna Carta arguably came about as a result of wealthy land-owners pursuing their own self-interests. There’s a certain romance to reform, but I think unfortunately that can be a trap. It’s not always a matter of civic enlightenment.

5. What would you say are promising cases? Ie, cases which have made a lot of progress? Are there any lessons to be learned from them?

To begin with, it depends on what we mean by progress. Countries which manage to fully control corruption, so that it’s an exception or countries which go from horrible to merely bad?

Having said that, I would keep an eye on Thailand – it’s still up in the air but after they introduced anti-corruption measures in the [1997] constitution things went better. I think Tunisia has potential. Mexico has struggled in many ways, but is an interesting laboratory for reform ideas. Chile is also an interesting case, but of course some progress was made under dictatorship.

6. What are some countries which you would identify as problematic which may not appear so based on indicators?

I would actually say that liberal democracies such as the US, France, Japan, Germany are problematic for reasons which are not evident from looking at indicators. We get good Transparency International [Corruption Perception Index] scores, and good World Bank [Worldwide Governance Indicators] scores, but at the same time, have we really controlled corruption or have we totally handed the reins to the wealthy to the extent that they don’t need to bribe anyone anymore?

I discuss this in Chapter 7 of the book. The kind of corruption in liberal democracies is particularly dangerous, because it has a way of spreading through the global system. If you’re talking about exploitation of Nigeria, it’s isolated. U.S. or French involvement in arms trading has a global impact. That sort of corruption often consists of desirable corruption, but sometimes it pushes the boundary (I would argue, for example, in the area of campaign contributions, it has). Lobbying is a right in the US, but has it crossed the line? International business is important, but has it reached the point where people aren’t accountable anywhere? Are wealthy interests taking over? This is why I would say any comparative corruption scheme must include the North and the West.

7. What are your thoughts on top-down versus bottom-up anti-corruption reforms?

I think we need both working in synergy. In the Philippines, one of the big issues is, how do you close the loop between citizens and government? People may not take their problems directly to government offices, but to fixers [third party operators who help complete bureaucratic processes for a fee]? Vote-buying is rampant, etc. The risk is that the country falls into what Richard Rose refers to as the “expectations trap”. Citizens don’t expect much of government, and vice versa. One of the recommendations in this situation is to start benchmarking government services.  NGOs exist, but are well outside the agencies they monitor. Many agencies are already gathering data which would work well in this process, but they might lack the capacity to analyse it properly.

China for example has a huge amount of data on this – and there’s wide variation in the benchmarks. How long does it take to register a business? If it varies widely – or if delays are longer, there’s perhaps more risk of corruption.

8. What are your thoughts on measures of corruption?

I think what’s currently missing is a way to assess integrity, assess citizen satisfaction. Efficiency does NOT equal integrity. A great example of this, which I discuss in the book, is a project from two of my students which evolved into an organisation called Shudify. They conducted exit surveys for people leaving government offices in Bangalore, and in this way they were able to map out where in the city people could expect good service.

9. Any other thoughts to add?

Well, on the topic of the book, I hope people will read and be critical. On the four syndromes, hopefully someday there will be more and maybe only 2 of them will be ones I thought of, and that’s ok. I hope people would view corruption in a myriad of contexts, rather than just a black or white issue.

Michael Johnston is the Charles A. Dana Professor of Political Science at Colgate University and serves on the advisory board of ERCAS and of the ANTICORRP project. His latest book, Corruption, Contention, and Reform: The Power of Deep Democratization was recently published by Cambridge University Press. 

New Grassroots Anti-corruption Revolutions Discussed at NED

National Endowment for Democracy hosted Alina Mungiu-Pippidi for a talk in Washington, DC where she argued that the demand for good governance erupting in grassroots movements in Egypt, India, Ukraine, Turkey and Brazil should be seen as a second phase of transition to democracy as global constituencies are no longer satisfied with elections alone and demand more equality of treatment from governments everywhere.

Mungiu-Pippidi shared data from the research project ANTICORRP showing that favoritism of governments in relation to citizens is the number one cause of high perceptions of corruption and criticized the global corruption movement for neglecting this phenomenon. She also expressed skepticism towards top down anti-corruption reforms, arguing that in countries where corruption is widespread the spoliation of public resources could be described as a pyramid, with people on top spoiling the most. She furthermore encouraged those who care about promoting democracy to invest in structuring this growing demand for new government.

Mungiu-Pippidi concluded her presentation by describing three situations in which such countries may find themselves, and corresponding policy approaches:

  • The first situation requires the presence of a strong and autonomous civil society. In this situation, those who lose from corruption are strong and organized enough to take action. They are the main drivers of change, and as an approach, anti-corruption strategies should be aimed at helping them achieve their goals.
  • The second situation is where those who lose from corruption are not strong and organized enough to take action. Instead of directly pursuing anti-corruption strategies, the recommended approach is to develop civil society capacity to be autonomous in the future.
  • The third situation is one in which there are no significant domestic losers meaning that no corresponding anti-corruption strategy is needed except in terms of aid distribution.

The new data is from an upcoming ANTICORRP report, an extensive quantitative analysis of causes of achievement and stagnation in the global fight against corruption. The report also argues that particularly in countries where corruption is the norm, top-down reforms are ineffective.

Fighting Corruption, What Works and What Does Not

Mungiu-Pippidi argues current anti-corruption strategies are not achieving impact 

Speaking at the OECD in Paris on 19 March 2014, at the Forum on Integrity within the Integrity Week program, ERCAS director Alina Mungiu-Pippidi shared evidence from the ANTICORRP program showing that government favoritism is structured on political lines in new democracies and the use of bribes are frequently a way to open markets as multinational companies try to compete with domestic, politically connected companies.

“While pressure must be put on companies,” she said, “it is ultimately the governments who practice favoritism and are responsible for establishing the norm in social allocation…so they should be under the most scrutiny.”

Mungiu-Pippidi also shared data which shows nearly no impact is achieved through current anti-corruption strategies and that during this unprecedented global campaign against corruption, what The Economist refers to as “crony capitalism” flourished.  She argued that the only tools delivering results in the fight against corruption are “interactions.”

“What works are interactions between active civil society, including the business community and an instrument,” she said, “for instance freedom of information acts and active watchdogs, fiscal transparency and engaged citizens using it.”

Speaking in response, Mark Pieth appreciated that it is good if the anti-corruption community remains “close to the ground” so that they are able to appreciate the impact of the reform efforts.

The new data is from an upcoming ANTICORRP report, an extensive quantitative analysis of causes of achievement and stagnation in the global fight against corruption. The report also argues that particularly in countries where corruption is the norm, top-down reforms are ineffective.

 

Corruption Indicators, the Next Generation

Researchers continue search for new indicators and new analytic approaches

In his 2011 book Obliquity, economist John Kay argued that objectives are best achieved indirectly, or obliquely. Given the shadowy nature of corruption, some researchers are examining corruption from new, often indirect angles with the hope of arriving at new indicators to help deconstruct, define and defeat corrupt behaviour.

EU FP7 ANTICORRP project researchers, anti-corruption experts and Hertie School Executive Master of Public Management students gathered in Berlin’s from 6-7 March for a workshop to discuss the continued development of second generation indicators.

Second generation indicators- panel discussion
Professor Lucio Picci kicks off the panel discussion.

Panellists focused on several widely used but oft-criticized perception-based indicators: the World Bank’s Worldwide Governance Indicators, Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index (CPI) and Global Corruption Barometer. Recanatini noted that because the CPI is published every year and receives considerable media coverage, countries which under-perform frequently attempt to make changes only to appease the survey, not to actually improve governance. Several researchers argued that more nuanced, quantitative, context-specific indicators are needed to both accurately measure corruption across time and to ultimately recommend policy changes.

Mihály Fazekas also presented the results of his recent, prize-winning work  with István János Tóth in developing new indicators from analysing public procurement data.  By taking an indirect approach, the researchers were able to even come up with what is considered the “holy grail” amongst anti-corruption researchers: an indicator that measures political corruption.

University College London (UCL) Professor Alena Ledeneva presented research on moving closer to nation-specific indicators, because, as she notes: “Current indicators do not allow for bottom-up input, but only a top-down approach, and they do not allow for considering cases where corruption is not the exception, but the norm.”

Ledeneva’s research focuses on organized crime and clientelistic networks or “sistema” which is the Russian term for system and describes the state of reality where people rely on an informal system of personal connections to get ahead or complete a bureaucratic process.

Workshop on second generation indicators.
ANTICORRP researchers and Hertie School Executive Master of Public Management students at a workshop on second generation indicators of corruption.

Continuing the theme of analysing corruption with relation to organized crime and clientelistic networks, Dr. Francesco Calderoni (associate professor at Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore of Milan and researcher at a transnational crime research centre, Transcrime) led participants through the process of using computer software to analyse data for Social Network Analysis (SNA). The idea behind SNA is to show and analyse links between actors or groups of actors, and though Calderoni has used it to analyse organised crime networks specifically, he feels there is potential to apply it in anti-corruption research.

“There really is no single field where Social Network Analysis couldn’t be applied – it has been used in social sciences, originally amongst anthropologists for years to analyse relationships between people,” Calderoni said. “I think for anti-corruption research in general, Social Network Analysis might be useful for example, in showing the links between companies bidding in a public procurement process which may not be identifiable with other approaches.”

Such an approach might, for example, prove that what appears to be several companies bidding for a project, might actually be covertly related to each other. The process appears to be competitive, but the same group of individuals might be behind all of the various companies involved in the bidding process.

Following the workshop, researchers from work package 8 met to discuss the applicability of the new indicators on their own work, which will involve research on public procurement in the infrastructure sector in a number of EU member states.

ERCAS Hosts Berlin ECFR Scorecard Launch

ERCAS and the Hertie School of Governance hosted the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) for the Berlin launch of the 2014 edition of their annual European foreign policy scorecard. ERCAS Director Professor Alina Mungiu-Pippidi introduced the event by discussing inadequate European maneuvering vis-à-vis Ukraine.

Professor Mungiu-Pippidi evoked the work of ERCAS with Ukrainian civil society coalition CHESNO and the recurrent question on the lips of young anti-corruption activists there: how many Orange revolutions does it take to get to the EU? “We have to consider what we can offer people who buy into the European normative discourse,” she said. “Nothing is more dangerous than to give the go ahead to people when you know there is no cavalry to back them up, and real politik will decide in the end. You can have one Orange revolution per week then and it’s still insufficient.”

The scorecard grades European foreign policy performance in 66 different areas: relations with the US, China, Russia, Wider Europe, Middle East/North Africa, as well as European performance in crisis management and multilateral institutions. Individual countries are also singled out as “leaders” or “slackers” depending on whether or not they help or hinder Europe’s overall interests. One impetus for starting the scorecard was to prompt a wider discussion about European foreign policy, beyond usual policy circles, and to track progress after the Lisbon treaty, however, as editorial director Hans Kundani noted, the “leaders” and “slackers” section provokes more debate than the rest of the scorecard.

On balance how effective was European foreign policy in 2013? ECFR gives Europe a B- average for relations with most regions, except Russia and claims “Foreign policy is back on the agenda.”  ECFR highlighted foreign policy successes last year in Iran and Kosovo as well as relative failures in Syria and worsening relations with Russia, and ranked France and the UK amongst the “leaders” and Germany and Greece amongst the “slackers.”

Much of the discussion in Berlin focused on Germany’s foreign policy role in the Ukraine and why the country found itself this year atop the list of “slackers”. The scorecard noted the federal elections last year as well as the fact that Germany undermined European attempts to reduce dependence on Russian oil as key reasons why it failed to impress this year.

To read more about the ECFR scorecard or do download a copy, please click here: http://www.ecfr.eu/scorecard/2014

How the EU Can and Should Help Ukrainian Civil Society

John Stuart Mill once remarked that inaction can cause as much harm as action, and in either instance the perpetrator is justifiably accountable. Reflecting on the deteriorating situation in Ukraine, his words aptly describe the impact of a complete lack of action on the part of the EU with regards to the Euromaidan protests. The demonstrations, which started in November of last year, began as a very peaceful public display of will for closer European integration.

Although Ukrainian civil society has been actively protesting for almost three months, Ukrainian political elites have chosen to ignore the protestors and instead opted last week for making the very act of protesting virtually illegal. Unauthorized tents, wearing a helmet at a protest, independent media activities, group violation of public order, collecting information about a judge or police officer and possibly just using the internet, depending on who you are of course, are now offenses punishable by fine or imprisonment. (An ERCAS partner organisation, CHESNO has published an infographic explaining the new regulations.)

In response, the once peaceful demonstrations have turned ugly, with protestors and riot police clashing violently, resulting in the first Euromaidan deaths. The US response was decisive, with the Embassy issuing visa bans for selected authorities and those involved in violence against protesters. Canada has also publicly stated it will not rule out sanctions. The World Economic Forum has also recently rescinded an invitation it had extended to Ukraine’s Prime Minister Azarov to speak.

What should the EU do to help Ukrainian civil society?

Since reports of violence toward protestors first emerged in December, however, the EU has responded with statements condemning the violence, but failed to take more decisive legislative action. German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently stated that sanctions “are not the order of the day” but did recall the Ukrainian ambassador after the recent wave of violence. As the protests become more and more violent, calls by civil society groups for Europe to take a more active and influential role by enacting targeted sanctions (visa bans and freezing assets) against Ukrainian leaders is now reaching fever-pitch.

Ukrainian president Victor Yanukovich and his son Alexander are both accused by civil society of squirrelling away ill-begotten funds in overseas bank accounts. President Yanucovich’s assets have ballooned since taking office, thanks to several mysterious and lucrative real-estate deals, and Alexander’s assets have swelled from around $7 million to a staggering $510 million since his father was elected.

The Anti-Corruption Action Centre, a prominent Ukrainian civil society group, started a separate website to amplify the cause and petition European, EU and US leaders. At yanukovich.info, the group states:

“We believe that the authoritarian regime of President Viktor Yanukovich has been fueled by proceeds of corruption laundered via the international financial system through the network of shell-companies and professional intermediaries.”

This is only the tip of the iceberg. Indeed all members of the parliament who voted for repressive laws and all those involved in violence could become the subject of such targeted measures. A special initiative, For Accountability, includes updated lists of people involved in the repression of peaceful protests, the violation of human rights, or the criminalisation of power in Ukraine.

In both the US and the EU, legal framework for seizing assets is already in place; all that is required now is the political will to use it. Financial institutions are in fact required to review the source of assets for Politically Exposed People, and freeze accounts if the source is illegal.

There is also a precedent for such action: the EU blacklisted 600 of Slobodan Milosevic’s supporters, including his wife and Swiss banks froze 57 million pounds in assets.  More recently, the EU issued travel bans for individuals responsible for violence against Belarusian civil society.

The EU could also provide for an immediate institutional response.  According to Jim Greene, Ukraine expert and Senior Fellow at the Institute for Statecraft (UK), the EU could ‘appoint somebody to investigate/coordinate responses to the nexus between the criminalisation of power in Ukraine and EU jurisdictions’.

Although many argue that the use of sanctions might be counter-productive, this is not true in every case, and may not be true for the Ukraine. Domestic pressure from Ukrainian society appears to be quite strong in support of targeted sanctions, and clientelistic networks that sustain the regime might fall apart once affected by such targeted measures. Above all, it is a good opportunity for the EU to show that it is capable of protecting its values inside its territory before the cost of inaction becomes even higher.

Major victory for civil society in Romania

By Adriana Iordache, Romanian Academic Society

For the past 15 years, gold and silver ore under the picturesque Roșia Montană has been at the centre of a fierce fight between environmental activists trying to protect cultural heritage sites in the area and mining supporters who have shown they will stop at nothing to see the land eviscerated for financial gain. Mine supporters, both company insiders and Romanian political elites have resorted to bribery, fraud, and procedural rule-bending. The activists took to the streets in September 2013, with the protests attracting numbers not seen since 1990. Activists won a decisive victory in December 2013, when both a specific law addressed to Rosia Montana and a generic mining law were rejected. The last did not garner the necessary majority in the Chamber of Deputies.

The project involved the mining of gold and silver ore by the Roșia Montană Gold Corporation (RMGC) in Alba County in the Apuseni Mountains of Western Romania. RMGC is controlled by the Canadian firm Gabriel Resources, which owns 80.7% of its shares, while the state-owned company, Minvest Deva, owns the rest. According to the failed mining law, the Romanian Government would have only received a 6% royalty if the project had come to fruition. This draft law also went against several court decisions, which have repeatedly declared the authorisation process for the project illegal. The actual extraction would have involved using cyanide, putting the local environment, Roman ruins and nearby residents at considerable risk. Approval for the mine at Roșia Montană had been pending approval for many years due to environmental protection disputes and concerns regarding its impact upon the renowned Roman ruins in the area.

photo-Cristian-Vasile
September 2013 protests against the Roșia Montană gold mine. Photo: Cristian Vasile

According to the Romanian Constitution and the current mining law, natural resources are the exclusive property of the Romanian state. For these to be exploited, the state can lease them to private companies in exchange for a fee, payable in cash. Some experts have claimed that a much better option would be for the state to grant Production Sharing Agreements (PSA) as opposed to leases. In contrast to leases, a PSA keeps the full property of the state over the extracted resource (oil, gas), but grants a percentage of the raw resource to the private contractor. This system was used in Romania up to 1995, but was abolished by subsequent legislation. Romania has not signed the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), which calls for openness and increased accountability in the management of revenues from natural resources, meaning that decision-making is secretive.

In an attempt to shed some light on this subject, Romanian anti-corruption watchdog, Alliance for Clean Romania has published a “black list” public figures who, in their official capacity, have promoted or contributed to the advancement of the project of gold mining at Roșia Montană. The list reads like a “who’s-who” of Romanian politics, journalism and business past and present and includes the current President. By listing the explicit involvement of Romanian leaders it also provides a useful context for tracking corruption throughout the development of this project.

At the time of publication of this article, the list was still open for submissions, so long as they are accompanied by relevant documentation.

Suspicious Beginnings

Apart from the current controversy, Gabriel Resources has aroused suspicion of illicit actions since before its founding. The Roșia Montană project began in 1999 with the establishment of the legal entity known today as “Roșia Montană Gold Corporation (RMGC).”

Frank Timiș, founder of Gabriel Resources, is a Romanian-Australian businessman who fled Romania as a political refugee in the 1980s and started working in the Western Australian mining industry. There he began a series of failed businesses and was twice convicted for possession of heroin. Timis started Gabriel Resources in the late 1990s, but the effort flopped. This enterprise was later replaced by another legal entity with a similar name registered in the Jersey Island (a small island in the English Channel and well-known tax haven). It is yet unclear whether he founded the company with the express goal of investing in the Roșia Montană perimeter due to previous knowledge of the site.

Following the establishment of Gabriel Resources, several other events raise suspicions regarding the legality of the current project as well as illustrate the non-existent boundary between Romanian public officials and mining interests. First, according to Romanian military prosecutor Gheorghe Oancea, an as of yet unidentified – former Army officer entrusted with charting the Roșia Montană area in the late 1990s, resigned his commission and soon became a leading director for Gabriel Resources. Secondly, according Oancea, Timiș officially received a license for re-processing of spent ore-bearing rock, but used this to extract and explore virgin land in the area. Thirdly, he asserts that Timiș forged a document in order to claim that he owns the mining rights to the Roșia Montană perimeter and used this document to list his company at the Vancouver stock-exchange. Of course, the value of the company increased exponentially afterward.

Ultimately, despite other potentially superior offers, the Romanian state (through the state-owned company Minvest Deva) began a business joint venture with Gabriel Resources under very unfavourable conditions for the former. This involved transferring the mining rights for the Roșia Montană perimeter from Minvest Deva to the newly formed Roșia Montană Gold Corporation and expanding the perimeter over which the mining rights were granted.

The transfer was undertaken in 1999, approved and supervised by Mugur Isarescu, Radu Berceanu, Radu Rusanu , Calin Popescu Tariceanu . As Prime Minister, Isarescu approved the lease of the mining rights to RMGC. Berceanu and Tariceanu (as successive Ministers of Commerce and Industry) together with Rusanu (as Minister of Finance) initiated and signed the government decisions agreeing to the joint venture and the transfer of mining rights. In their operation, they were aided by Mihai Ianas, the then president of the National Authority for Mineral Resources, who agreed to receive RMGC sponsorship for Las Vegas and Rio de Janeiro trips for government employees in 2000.

Political Support Deepens

Traian Basescu, Democratic Liberal Party (DLP) member and current president of Romania, has consistently backed the project, even without a renegotiating a higher percentage in royalties. During the 2012 political crisis, Basescu held a speech before Parliament on the very day his impeachment was voted. In this speech he emphasized the importance of foreign investment in mining, a direct reference to the Roșia Montană project.

Since the initiation of this project there have been a series of national and international initiatives to ban the use of cyanide in mining. Yet many Romanian politicians have expressed their views or voted against such regulations. In 2008, Iulian Iancu, Social Democratic Party (SDP) member, blocked a legislative initiative to ban cyanide mining in the Parliament’s Industry Commission.

In 2012 Mircea Hava (DLP) mayor of nearby Alba Iulia appeared concerned by the delay of the Ministry of Culture in issuing the approval for the Roșia Montană mining project, which postponed the government’s decision. Meanwhile, the president of the county council of Alba County, Ion Dumitrel (DLP), issued several certifications, later deemed illegal by the court.

A number of Romanian MEPs voted against the resolution adopted by the European Parliament which recommended banning the use of cyanide in mining. Another Romanian MEP, George Becali (New Generation Party, Great Romania Party), even went as far as supporting the official RMGC point of view, in the debate regarding the ban of cyanide mining held in May 2010 by the European Parliament.

This project was also a priority for former Prime Minister Mihai Razvan Ungureanu, during his short term in 2012. He also made clear that he is not an environmentalist while expressing his support for the project.

Current Prime Minister Victor Ponta (SDP) has proved to be two-faced on the issue of cyanide mining. He was vehemently opposed to the project during his campaign, only to forward the Roșia Montană draft law to the parliament. Once in office, he supported the draft law only to tell the media that he would vote against the project in parliament. Furthermore, he acknowledged on public TV that “RMGC has probably bribed politicians (story in Romanian) [in order to support the project], but there is no evidence”. Yet, he did nothing to request an investigation thereafter.

Ponta was not alone in expressing support, as the draft bill also requires approval by relevant ministers. Rovana Plumb (SDP), Minister of the Environment also voiced her support for this project and called it “the safest in Europe” without providing any evidence. She also declared that the environmental permit will be granted on political grounds, depending on the parliamentary decision.

Daniel Barbu (NLP), Minister of Culture, promoted the project as one of the three ministers to forward the bill to Parliament, despite the official Liberal party line being against it. Barbu also denied the existence of a 2010 report authored by independent archeological experts Andrew Wilson (Oxford University), David Mattingly (University of Leicester,) and Michael Dawson (of the British consulting firm CgMs) which stated that the Roman relics at Roșia Montană could be designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site – something which would make the entire project impossible. However, the former Minister of Culture, Kelemen Hunor, who was in office at the time this study was conducted, then declared that he is aware of this study, which he, and not the ministry, possesses. He declared that the report was not made public because it was an independent research, not commissioned by the ministry, and supported by extra-ministerial funds.

Finally, the Minister of Large Projects, Dan Sova (SDP) also declared his support of the project, highlighting a conflict of interest since his mother; Ana-Diculescu Sova was a RMGC attorney until December 2012.

On August 27th 2013 the government approved a draft law enabling Roșia Montană Gold Corporation (RMGC) to use cyanide in order to mine hundreds of tons of gold and silver, sending it to the Parliament for a final vote. It is worth noting that the draft law would not have even emerged without the support of the current governing coalition.

Public Reaction and Future of Roșia Montană

News about the discussion of the draft law in parliament prompted massive public protests in September 2013. Protesters took to the streets for weeks in Bucharest, as well as nation-wide and even abroad. In Bucharest, protesters blocked the traffic by marching on the largest streets, without being granted an authorization.

Faced with strong public discontent over the draft law, the Prime Minister Ponta decided to establish a special committee to further discuss the project and to consult with all interest groups. Yet, the reputation of this body has been strongly affected by the appointment of a number of MPs who had already issued an opinion favorable to the project.

Meanwhile, a number of politicians openly tried to delegitimize the opposition in order support the project. President Basescu has called representatives of the most prominent environmental NGO opposing the project, Alburnus Maior, “Bolsheviks”. In September 2013, MP Mihăiţă Calimente (NLP) declared that the tens of thousands of people marching in the streets nationwide against the project are paid from abroad. His party has issued a statement dissociating itself from the statement, but has not retracted political support for Calimente. He was not alone in making inflammatory statements about the protestors. Ionel Blănculescu, an unpaid adviser of Prime Minister Victor Ponta, who is a notorious public supporter of Gabriel Resources, has recently compared the demonstrators to terrorists.

After the draft law specifically authorizing mining at Roșia Montană was defeated in parliament this month, a generic mining law was proposed. If this had been approved, the project could still have gone forward. The new law contained most of the controversial articles of the old one, but is not directly addressed to one beneficiary. On December 2nd 2013, the Senate also rejected the new law by a margin of only two votes. The deciding vote was held in the Chamber of Deputies on December 10th and the new mining law was also rejected.

Corruption in Universities, a Blueprint for Reform

What is to be done when an entire education system is corrupted, when universities sell cheap diplomas and the best academics move abroad?

Consider the case of Romania where corruption has been pervasive for more than 20 years. Government ministers  are proven serial plagiarists, students acquire their dissertations for modest sums online, and a failure to investigate allows widespread cheating to take place without censure. Everyone gets a degree, nearly all MPs are also professors at a university they helped to gain accreditation through their influence, and all seem to benefit; however, no Romanian university features in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2013-14 and the country is stagnating without skilled labour.

In 2007, the Romanian Academic Society, an education think tank, convened a group of students, education unions, journalists and others to form the Coalition for Clean Universities. The aim was to develop a university integrity ranking, both to name and shame those failing in their duties, and to celebrate and spread good practice.

Under the coalition’s methodology, each public university is given a governance audit by an evaluation team composed of both faculty and students (all volunteers). A standardised freedom of information request is sent to every university, followed by a field assessment during which management, academics and students are interviewed. Crucial to the success of the integrity ranking is the existence of freedom of information laws, which compel public institutions to provide data when asked. Universities that decline to answer are told that they will be assigned a rank anyway, so there is an incentive to cooperate to improve their position.

The assessment focuses on four categories. The first – transparency and responsiveness – looks at general information that should be freely available to all. The long list includes universities’ ethics codes, sources of funding, recruitment procedures and a list of faculty, their CVs and the curriculum they teach. A university’s score in this category is based on the number of documents received out of the 20 that are requested, with some weighting for the quality of the information and any delay. The documents collected at this stage, both on- and offline, also help with the next steps of the assessment.

The second category assesses academic integrity, such as the rules for reporting fraud, addressing misconduct and dealing with whistleblowers. And the extent to which these rules are enforced is also considered; for example, if no case of plagiarism is recorded, it is more likely that there is no enforcement than that it has never occurred.

The third category, on governance quality, evaluates procedures for recruitment, teaching and decision-making. Are jobs and fellowships properly advertised? Are examinations fair? Is promotion merit-based or nepotistic? Are earnings higher for academics who have had a greater number of peer-reviewed papers published? This category also looks at whether the university is managed with the input of both faculty and students.

The fourth examines financial management, looking at the risks of embezzlement or other financial irregularities. The evaluators check whether financial documents are accessible, look at procurement rules, and even assess whether the lifestyle of university managers is in line with their income. Romanian law demands that all public servants publish their income and a statement of assets. It is not uncommon that public managers with a declared? average income of less than Euro 1000 per month (wages are very low) drive expensive SUVs and buy luxury property.

A total of 100 points can be awarded across the four categories, with points deducted for situations of exceptional gravity, for instance scandals about fake diplomas.

In Romania, the exercise was undertaken twice in two years to allow universities to improve their performance, and a ranking was given from zero to five stars. No university earned a place in the top category, although 14 per cent received no stars. The best performers received their awards publicly in the first evaluation round in 2009, and the news was broadcast on television.

The effect was an immediate improvement in university transparency.

More than a quarter of Romanian universities now publish all procurement costs online, and in the second year of the assessment more than a third improved in this category. One institution even hired a deputy rector “for transparency”. Universities also started to advertise teaching jobs for the first time, although competition for some posts remains low, due to the perception that they are “reserved” for certain people.

By putting education reform at the top of the public agenda, the coalition helped to bring about new regulations, adopted in 2011, that seek to limit nepotism and increase the role of students in quality assurance. It also helped to empower reformers within universities to implement the coalition’s guidelines, for example, when confronting bad governance or university management corruption.

There are many lessons from Romania’s experience, not least that broad coalitions are more effective in demanding integrity than isolated organisations. However, the impact of the new regulations has proved limited. After all, if strong demand exists in a society for diplomas earned without real merit, corrupt universities will continue to deliver them. A 2013 European corruption survey found that in Balkan countries, as well as Ukraine and Greece, the overwhelming majority of respondents believe that success in either the public or private sector is largely driven by “connections”, not work.

For reform to succeed, significant critical mass is needed to challenge such informal rules. New laws do not deliver change by themselves. People need to increase the demand for good governance by applying for every academic job, even if they presume some shadowy deal exists to determine the winner.

The battle in Romania is far from over.

http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/comment/opinion/corruption-in-universities-a-blueprint-for-reform/2009139.article

Who is Succeeding and Why?

anticorrp_workshop_group
ANTICORRP researchers gather in Hamburg to discuss corruption indicators and compare contemporary anti-corruption achievements in a number of countries.

Do world governance charts correctly reflect who has made the biggest strides in building control of corruption?

Researchers from the European Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) research project ANTICORRP assembled during the weekend of 25-27 October at a workshop hosted by the German Institute for Global and Area Studies (GIGA) in Hamburg for a first round of discussion of contemporary global ‘achievers’ – thirteen countries which have managed to reach control of corruption in recent decades.

The research meeting is part of ANTICORRP WP3 “Corruption and Governance Improvement in Global and Continental Perspective” chaired by Professor Alina Mungiu-Pippidi. The countries discussed are Botswana (David Sebudubudu), Bulgaria (Ruslan Stefanov/Alexander Stoyanov), Chile (Alfredo Rehren), Costa Rica (Bruce Wilson), Croatia (Munir Podumljak/Ana Hećimović), Estonia, Latvia (both Valts Kalnins), Poland (Grzegorz Makowski), Qatar (Lina Khatib), Rwanda (Alessandro Bozzini), South Korea (Thomas Kalinowski), Taiwan (Christian Göbel), Uruguay (Daniel Buquet / Rafael Piñeiro). A full list of background papers and authors is available here.

The case selection stems from a recent report by researchers at the Hertie School, which compared anti-corruption successes and failures across eight global regions.

These countries were selected according to their World Bank Control of Corruption ratings. All are either regional outliers, which are performing much better than the rest of the countries in their continent and/or are global achievers with a statistically significant change in their score between 1996 and 2010.

Graph Presenting Selected Anti-corruption Achievers
Control of Corruption 1996 – 2010 for Hamburg Workshop Cases

 

While publication of a select number of these reports is not due until early next year, the group has already discussed the challenge of finding reliable indicators of corruption and control of corruption to confirm or inform the Control of Corruption World Bank indicator. Dr. Christian von Soest, of GIGA summarized: “Perception-based indicators are fine as a starting point but then you need to get some real data to be able to assess governance and trace its change across time.”

However, a couple of countries, namely Rwanda and Qatar, were notable for their complexity that belies description in mere statistical terms. As Kevin Köhler of King’s College London noted, “Although we were talking about achievers, country experts seem to have a lot of doubts about these achievements. This is something that’s surprising to me, not being an expert on these countries but actually considering them as models for comparison with other countries.”

For instance, Rwanda has been praised by a large number of donors and development experts for its recovery from the 1994 genocide, sustained economic growth and improvement of many socioeconomic indicators, partly achieved thanks to massive aid flows. Even though corruption in Rwanda is undoubtedly lower than in its regional neighbours, the country is not as successful as some believe. The case of Rwanda suggests that petty or administrative corruption can in some cases be a very different issue from grand or political corruption, as curbing the former does not necessarily mean reducing the latter. In addition, and perhaps most importantly, Rwanda shows that relative success in the fight against bribery is not necessarily associated, as many would assume, with high levels of accountability, transparency and citizen participation. Hence, confirming the need, when investigating corruption, to analyse the broader governance context of a country: one of the key starting propositions of the ANTICORRP research project.

To wrap up the workshop, Professor Mungiu-Pippidi, presented state of the art second-generation governance indicators, which can be used for process tracing of the successful change in governance.

Civil Society, Young Generation Key to Fighting Corruption in Afghanistan

Drago Kos

In order for a country to successfully change its governance, civil society has to also want and invest in that change. But what do you do when a country is so aid dependent that people ask to be paid to improve their own lives? Speaking to a general policy audience at Berlin’s Hertie School, Drago Kos, Head of the Independent Joint Anti-Corruption Monitoring and Evaluation Committee (MEC) in Afghanistan, described his efforts to enroll NGOs, youth, local communities and even mullahs to this effort.

During his lecture, chaired by ERCAS director Professor Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, Kos described the challenges in combating corrupt practices in Afghanistan. The country, beleaguered for centuries by war, finds itself on the eve of an important presidential election and practically paralyzed by corruption. Next year foreign troops will leave the country, and with them, a considerable amount of foreign aid which is currently sustaining much civil infrastructure.Drago Kos and Professor Mungiu-Pippidi

Basic bureaucratic processes in the country are encumbered with mid-level officials expecting to be paid for their services. University hopefuls must follow 23 official steps to obtain a university degree. Dreaming of building a house? You will have to persevere through 497 different stages to accomplish this. One minister complained of receiving upwards of 15,000 requests from MPs for favouritism for their relatives or tribesmen in filling official posts. In exchange for boldly sticking his neck out, the minister was replaced by one who now obligingly looks the other way.

While he admits it is an uphill battle, Kos stressed that it was not a lost cause, “Is it hopeless? No, it’s not hopeless. If it was, I wouldn’t go back.” However, to make the step-change to a more accountable and transparent form of governance, Kos concluded by stressing the importance of using civil society groups and engaging younger Afghans.

kos_3Drago Kos is an established international anti-corruption expert and serves on the advisory board of ANTICORRP. He was the chairman of the Council of Europe’s Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO) and the first chairman of the Prevention of Corruption in the Republic of Slovenia. He is set to head the OECD Working Group on Bribery starting in 2014.

Court Ruling Against NGOs in Egypt Raises Concerns about Role of Civil Society in New Regime

Egypt court ruling against NGOs Earlier this month an Egyptian Court convicted 43 employees of non-profit organisations to up to five years imprisonment, under charges of membership in illegal organisations. The prosecution’s main argument was that those organisations were receiving foreign funds and promoting political activities without being registered by the government, thereby ultimately infringing on the sovereignty of the Egyptian state.The trial, which began in early 2012, also mandated the closure and seizure of offices and assets belonging to US-based International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute and Freedom House, and to Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Foundation.

This decision was the outcome of a crackdown on foreign non-profit groups that took place during the military rule that followed Hosni Mubarak’s ousting. In December 2011, the state security forces raided several offices of organisations that had been defending democracy and human rights in the country, accusing them of promoting anti-government protests and operating illegally. The organisations claimed that the government had stalled all registration procedures.

The current administration, under Mohammed Morsi, has also taken steps to further constrain civil society activities in Egypt. A law proposed to regulate the operation and funding of NGOs in the country requires that foreign NGOs be approved by a state committee and that each foreign donation received by national non-profit organisations also be submitted to time-consuming approval procedures. This poses a threat mainly to human rights groups that receive almost exclusively foreign funding.

Representatives of 40 Egyptian civil society organisations have presented a joint statement in reaction to the government’s attempts to further curb their activities in the country and suppress rights to association at large. They claim that the vague language of the provisions in the draft law allows the government much discretion to bar an organisation. Although the law is less restrictive in regulating the registration of local non-profit organisations, it creates much leeway for limiting the activities of foreign organisations.

These recent developments further contribute to existing concerns about the path that Egypt is taking in its democratic transition. These constraints to civil society activity may be severely detrimental to democratic consolidation in the country, as historical examples of democratic transitions show that civil society often plays a fundamental role in this process.

(The picture featured above is from al-monitor.com and is credited to Reuters/Mohamed Abd El Ghany.)

 

Lessons Learned from the Recent Sentence of Soccer Tycoon George Becali in Romania

On June 4th, the controversial politician, business tycoon and sponsor of the Steaua Bucharest football team George “Gigi” Becali was found guilty and sentenced to serve three years in jail by the High Court for Cassation and Justice in the ‘suitcase’ bribery case. This is the third guilty verdict against Becali in a series of cases involving unlawful seizure of persons, complicity to abusing one’s official capacity, forging documents, and bribery. This comes at the end of a decade-long effort to hold him accountable for his wrongdoings in Romania.

Becali became well-known in the public sphere after his take-over of the Steaua football club in early 2003. The privatisation of the Steaua football club, which formerly represented the Ministry of Defence Sports Club “Steaua” (CSA Steaua), is a typical case of post-communist privatisation. In the late 1990s, it was separated from other ministry divisions and placed under the administration of a newly established legal person founded and led by businessman Viorel Paunescu, who blatantly mismanaged the club and incurred a series of debts. This radically diminished its market value (despite obtaining a 20 years lease on the premises of the Ghencea Stadium from the Ministry of Defence). At the same time, Paunescu brought Becali in the administration and the latter funded the club from his own personal assets. Only in late 2002 and early 2003 was the football section of the Ministry turned into a commercial enterprise and was to be sold, but due to the low market value and the debts it had incurred to Becali and Paunescu, the newly minted shares in the club were simply to be given to the creditors. However, in a radical – and still unexplained – turn of events, Becali pushed Paunescu into a minority position and assumed 51% of the shares of Steaua in early 2003.

After the take-over, Becali also assumed Steaua’s liabilities to the state, which he did not pay. For this reason, Becali was targeted in 2006 by the Revenue Service in order to recover Steaua’s historical debts by impounding part of his fortune. This episode, known as the “Becali-Bodu war” (Sebastian Bodu was the head of the Revenue Service at the time), culminated in a victory for Becali, as the Revenue Service lost the eventual trial against him due to procedural failures. In parallel to the dispute Becali transferred all of his shares in Steaua to his nephews and since 2006 no longer holds any of the club’s shares. This case is paradigmatic for post-communist privatisation processes, where remaining debts of the privatised entities to the state commonly resulted in lost resources for the public administration, as the weakness of the justice system leaves the state unable to enforce a recovery of owned assets and to punish abuses and mismanagement.

Becali’s recent convictions, however, were not related to the dodgy deals while taking over Steaua. In February 2013, Becali was sentenced to three years in jail by the High Court of Cassation and Justice, under the accusation of, together with his bodyguards, unlawfully seizing several persons who had stolen his car. In another case, Becali was also sentenced by the same Court on May 20, 2013 to two years of detention, under charges of complicity to abusing one’s official capacity, in a case of land exchange with the Ministry of Defence where he largely profited from exchanging land plots he owned for others of much higher value, which were owned by the state and managed by the Defence Ministry. The exchanges took place between 1996 and 1999 and this helped Becali start his fortune. The representatives of the Ministry, former Minister of Defence Victor Babiuc and former Chief of General Staff Dumitru Cioflina, were also sentenced to two years imprisonment for abusing their official capacity in continued and aggravated form. The three were also ordered to pay 421.280 USD plus interest for the damaged caused to the state. Overall, Becali caused the Romanian state a damage of USD 890,000 in this land deal.

The latest conviction on June 4th was in a case remanded for trial by the prosecutors of the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) in December 2008. Becalli was investigated together with several other accused, such as the coach of the national football team, Victor Piturca, Becali’s deputy Teia Sponte and one of Becali’s lawyers, Alina Ciul. The DNA accused Becali for two cases of bribery, and the charges against the other defendants included aiding a felon and forging private documents. According to the accusations, in 2006 and 2008 Becali bribed players of other teams to win matches whose results then favoured Steaua’s position in the championship and helped leading it to win the title. The case included charges of forgery, related to documents used in an attempt to hide the real destination of the cash offered to “Universitatea Cluj”, one of the teams bribed. Becali admitted to forging the date of a contract through which he was purchasing land in Cluj and to convincing Victor Piturca to sign as a witness. He apologized and claimed that the bribes were a bonus for the players to “do their job right” and to actually prevent match fixing by influence of other parties.

He was originally acquitted by the three-judge panel of the High Court of Cassation and Justice in April 2012, based on the understanding by two of the judges that he had no personal gain from incentivising a team which was not directly playing against his own. Alternatively, the dissenting opinion argued that a direct material benefit would come to Steaua and Becali himself from the team winning the league title. The conviction then came after the prosecution succeeded in getting the acquittal overturned by the five judge panel of the same Court. This case illustrates an important discussion related to the very definition of corruption. The debate around the lack of public actors’ involvement and the defence’s argument that Becali did not personally profit from the bribery of teams not playing against Steaua refute an important principle that private games free of manipulation by individual actors through financial means are also in the public interest.

Becali is currently in jail serving the sentences established in the previous two convictions, and the recent sentence has to be merged by the competent court (the Bucharest District 5 Court) with the other jail terms received and might result in an extension of the time served. Meanwhile, the business tycoon has waged an aggressive media campaign to convince the general public that he should be released, arguing that his arrest was politically driven. The case has received broad media coverage, with many TV stations asking for his release. According to media reports, some even initiated “Free Gigi” petitions. These media campaigns have managed to influence people’s perception in his favour. According to a recent survey carried out in the capital city, more than half of the people consider he should be released from jail, and only 25% were against his release. Among the most popular reasons for freeing him were: too much time has passed since he committed the crimes (55%); he did charitable acts (13%); he is innocent (12%) and because he is funny (1%), reports RealitateaTV.

(The picture featured above is from www.ziarulatac.ro.)

 

Freedom of Information Law Amendment Restricts Access to Information in Hungary

Last April, the Hungarian government presented in London its official implementation plan for the commitments taken as part of the country’s joining the Open Government Partnership multilateral initiative for improving government transparency and accountability. Only a week later, however, an amendment to the freedom of information law, in force since 2012, was proposed by the ruling party Fidesz and threatened to severely restrict civil society’s access to public information in the country.

The amendment was proposed during a special Parliament sitting on April 30th and was approved by the Parliament in less than 48 hours. In its essence, the amendment states that only the State Audit Office and the Government Control Office may hold enough data to conduct large audits, and allows government bodies to deny “excessive” data requests by the public. Moreover, it requires citizens to justify a “legitimate interest” for some kinds of information requests, such as the ones involving access to court cases or personal information on public officials. These dispositions were seen as a great threat to civil society initiatives focusing on the disclosure and processing of large databases with government information, and the vagueness of the wording, not specifying what may be considered as a large audit, a legitimate interest or an excessive request, leaves great leeway for arbitrary interpretation and resistance of government departments to making certain information available.

Civil society organisations reacted strongly against the amendment. According to Miklós Ligeti, legal director at Transparency International Hungary, “this amendment is the first step down a slippery slope, at the bottom of which is full state control of public information. It heralds a dark age for democratic governance in Hungary. The law will now allow government officials to get away with bias in their actions and could see corruption go unseen and unpunished in future”.

Transparency International Hungary, public spending watchdog K-Monitor, the Hungarian Civil Liberties Union and investigative reporting website atlatszo.hu declared that they would quit an anti-corruption working group coordinated by the Ministry of Justice in protest to these restrictions on access to information. Civil society groups also claimed that the amendment seems to be a reaction for increased pressure for disclosure of information on bids in a tender for tobacco retail licenses, which allegedly benefited government party loyalists. The government maintains a monopoly on the retail of tobacco and can grant concessions to run tobacco shops, but the criteria for assessing the bids are kept secret, as are the names of applicants and the names of those who evaluate the bids. Many argue that this may have been used by the ruling party to favour their supporters and strengthen their position for next year’s parliamentary elections.

After the approval in Parliament, the amendment was sent to President János Áder, but he did not sign it and sent it back to Parliament for reconsideration. Nevertheless, freedom of information advocates and civil society organisations had expected him to ask for a ruling from the Constitutional Court on the constitutionality of the law.

(The picture featured above is from telegraph.co.uk and is credited to Alamy.)

 

Global Integrity Innovation Fund Selects 5 Projects for Increased Transparency and Accountability

While a large part of international aid to promote anti-corruption and integrity still takes a traditional approach focusing on the implementation of anti-corruption agencies, legislation and public sector reform, other actors have begun to foster more novel approaches. One example is the new Innovation Fund established by Global Integrity. In order to promote accountable and transparent governance around the world through innovative research and technologies, this organisation has launched the Global Integrity’s Innovation Fund’s programme Testing123, in which five ideas for new projects have been selected for an initial funding of 10,000 USD to finance their implementation within the next six months.

The fund was officially launched in September 2012, and sought to finance the implementation and testing of brand-new ideas on how to improve transparency and accountability in different countries. Until the end of November 2012, over 300 ideas were submitted from 71 countries, out of which about 30% focused on Latin America & the Caribbean, 20% targeted Africa, 17% Asia, 13% Europe, and 8% for the United States & Canada and the Middle East & North Africa. The remaining 10% had an international application. Among those countries, Argentina, Nigeria and Kenya show up as the ones with the highest number of applications. In terms of the areas in which applicants wish to increase transparency and accountability, many ideas focused on poor public service delivery, legislative failures, and public procurement issues. The types of ideas brought to the table included: the tracking of public expenditure and budgets, media-related reforms, as well as initiatives in the fields of youth and education.

After pre-selecting 10 ideas for a second round of evaluations, the programme finally announced the five “winners” in April 2013. One of the projects to receive the grant is called “Simply Visualizing Politics”, from Macedonia, which seeks to record and visualise changes in the views of Macedonian politicians over time, based on the automated analysis of debates in the Macedonian Parliament. The main goal of the project is to inform citizens about the interests of their political leaders and the issues they support.

Another selected project is “Hidden Agenda”, from Spain, which consists of a photo-based storytelling platform that seeks to make public the schedules of top government officials’ in Spain, thus exposing their contacts with lobbying efforts and other interest groups. In Serbia, Planizacija.rs will attempt to collect regulatory documents for urban development and shape them into publically understandable and accessible tools for citizen engagement in urban planning.

Police-Citizens Protocol”, proposed by organisations in Mexico and Argentina, seeks to offer citizens easily accessible information on their rights when being approached by police officers, so that they can invoke these rights against unlawful action by the police. Finally, Veritza.org was created by a Serbian investigative journalist based in the United States, and offers a real-time corruption alert system that leverages automated “mashups” of disparate datasets to potentially reveal corruption-prone patterns.

Through Testing123, Global Integrity seeks not only to support the implementation of specific and isolated ideas scattered across the globe, but actually to test their feasibility as tools and approaches that may be adapted and replicated in other contexts as well. The six-month implementation time frame for these projects is thus crucial to indicate their potential in terms of effectively contributing to empower and engage citizens against government abuses and in favor of political reform.

(The picture featured above is from globalintegrity.org.)

 

Russian Watchdog GOLOS Fined under Foreign Agents Law

In early April, an administrative process against GOLOS (Association for the defence of the rights of voters) was opened by the Ministry of Justice, claiming that the organisation receives foreign funds and is engaged in political activities, and therefore incurred in a violation of the law by not registering as a foreign agent. GOLOS’s executive director Lilya Shibanova has stated that the organisation has not received any foreign funding since the law came into force. Apparently, the administrative procedure is based on the fact that GOLOS received an award from the Norwegian Helsinki Committee, which backs people persecuted for their opinions, but Ms. Shibanova argued that the prize was not accepted by the organisation and was immediately returned. A week ago, a decision was made to fine the organisation in 300,000 roubles (€ 7,000) and its director in 100,000 roubles (€ 2,400).

Several prominent civil society groups, among which GOLOS, have declared early on after the passing of the Foreign Agents Law that they refuse to register as foreign agents, even if they risk closure. They claim that this label is insulting and refers back to political purges under the Stalin regime. Moreover, many fear that the identification as a foreign agent will serve only to discredit and stigmatise NGOs.

The Russian government argues that the law is inspired in similar legislation in the United States, the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). However, analysts have pointed out that the US law clearly seeks to target lobbying firms, with the purpose of revealing how much money is paid to lobbyists to impact US government policy on behalf of foreign principles. The law deliberately includes broad exemptions under which NGOs fall, so that they cannot be wrongly targeted by its dispositions. The Russian law, on the other hand, has been strongly directed at NGOs.

Foreign governments and international organisations, including the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Council of Europe, have voiced concerns about the direction that the restrictive measures imposed by the government are taking. According to Amnesty International, the sanction against GOLOS “is an alarming indicator for the future of civil society in the country”. The human rights watchdog reports also that GOLOS is only the first NGO to face this kind of administrative procedure, as other nine civil society groups has received warnings from the prosecutor’s office, and the Kostroma Regional Centre for Support of Public Initiatives is already in the process of facing similar charges after it organised a roundtable on US-Russia relations that a US diplomat attended.

(The picture featured above is credited to ITAR-TASS news agency.)

 

Romania: 37 Medical Professionals Investigated for Embezzlement of Insurance Funds

In many countries that struggle with systemic corruption, basic public services such as education and health care are commonly affected by fraud schemes that siphon millions away from already underfunded services. A recent scandal in Romania illustrates how such schemes may take place, involving large criminal organisations of dozens of people seeking to divert public funds.

On March 30th, Romanian Prosecutors requested the detention of 37 persons accused of participating in a network of organised crime responsible for embezzling funds from the budget of the National Health Insurance Authority by requesting reimbursement for false medical tests. The Bucharest Tribunal placed 22 persons in preventive detention for 29 days. Ten of them are medical physicians. Among those arrested are also directors of two medical laboratories, as well as nurses and other employees. Other 15 persons under investigation in the case are not being held in detention, but have been forbidden to leave the country.

Prosecutors stated that the criminal activity primarily consisted of fraud. A number of physicians and other employees of medical laboratories are suspected of having requested reimbursement for medical tests which were never performed. In this way, they caused damages of more than 500,000 euros. Physicians are being accused of releasing approximately 14,000 false requests for medical tests, half of them on the name of around 800 patients, reported the Agence France-Presse (AFP). They allegedly received 10% of the total value as bribe.

According to the investigation, physicians often did not inform the patients, but only used their identity in drafting the false documents. “Oftentimes, they invented a fictional medical condition or one which was already present in the people’s records. In other cases, the patients were consulted and given a diagnosis, but medical employees also requested false medical investigations in addition to the ones which were actually carried out”, declared the prosecutors for Mediafax.

Sorin Paveliu, an expert of the Romanian Academic Society (SAR), explains that the Romanian health system includes hundreds of small laboratories. Meanwhile, he points out to the example of Germany where “A city like Cologne, the ‘homeland’ of the Bismark security system, has only one central laboratory, located in a skyscraper, which caters to the needs of the entire city within a 40 kilometres radius.” Paveliu underlines the efficiency of this system: “Results are sent within 2 hours by e-mail. Laboratory efficiency is consistent with the number of tests that are carried out daily”. Tens of thousands of some type of test, performed with high-technology machines, have a much smaller cost per analysis, than small-scale laboratories. There are no high costs associated with a monopoly, all costs of ‘production’ are transparent, Paveliu explains. “By contrast, in Romania, the insurers – both state and private companies – have signed contracts with hundreds of smaller and medium-size laboratories. Each of these entities is ready to bribe anyone who would ensure them a contract!”

As mentioned by Mr. Paveliu, this fraud case shows how the Romanian health care system is prone to certain corruption risks in the health sector that have been pointed out by recent studies. The British Department for International Development (DFID) has highlighted in a practice paper that a large number of dispersed actors contributes to increase the system’s vulnerabilities to corruption. In a larger network of providers, suppliers and policy makers, conflict of interests are difficult to identify and new opportunities for corruption emerge. Moreover, in systems where the public sector finances health care but provision is in part offered by private actors, overbilling the public insurance system is a common avenue for corruption, as illustrated by the recent case in Romania. Such systems require more efficient monitoring and oversight mechanisms, in order for similar cases of corruption to be successfully prevented.

 

(The picture featured above is from legalmarketing.ro.)

 

The challenges of fighting corruption

By Alina Mungiu-Pippidi   (published on European Voice on 18.10.2012)

 

Questioning whether the EU should look for a greater role in efforts to reduce corruption.

 

If you think the European Union is involved in too much business already, wait until its ambitious plans for oversight in the field of European justice, procurement and corruption unfold in full. The most spectacular idea is a proposal by Viviane Reding, the European commissioner for justice, to re-write the EU treaty in order to allow a powerful European public prosecutor to track down and jail suspects who embezzle EU funds. But that is far from being the only over-ambitious EU project in this area.

There are facts that argue for such plans. There is, for starters, the loss to the EU’s budget: Reding argues that the “real figure” for fraud is “much higher” than the €600 million reported last year. That, however, depends on how we define fraud. Researchers know that European countries with higher rates of corruption are significantly more likely to create fiscal deficits. This would make the fiscal pact justifiable as an ‘anti-corruption’ step, though few people would dare phrase it like that.

Secondly, there is the fact that in many parts of southern and eastern Europe EU funds are distributed to businesses favoured by particular parties. This is nothing new and not every national parliament would consider such behaviour to be illegal, but it is the case that such government favouritism means that companies that do not enjoy political connections lose out.

Also, there is public opinion: European citizens complained a great deal about corruption in a recent Eurobarometer survey, with those living in countries where corruption is widespread being also very critical of their national government’s policies. This would indeed call for EU action.

However, it is not clear that the EU has the understanding needed to deal with the complex, often political, realities of corruption in member states. The EU has already had the right to promote the rule of law – in the new member countries from central and eastern Europe, courtesy of the Copenhagen criteria for membership of the EU. But what has happened since enlargement?

Regression

In central Europe, most new member states have regressed on control of corruption measurements since joining the EU in 2004. There has been some positive evolution in the Balkans, but the record is mixed at best. The EU’s latest reports on Romania have praised the country’s anti-corruption institutions; that has not, however, prevented widespread fraud in the handling of EU funds, leading almost to their discontinuation and the national head of the tax office being indicted this summer for favouring tax evasion in his years in office.

In some places, then, systemic corruption and successful anti-corruption seem to co-exist. Even in situations that seem to beg for some international referee, such as Romania’s, it is not clear that EU has enough understanding of the realities of corruption to be able to adjudicate.

There is but one example of shining progress in new member countries – Estonia – but it has progressed mostly thanks to the adoption of neo-liberal and Scandinavian policies, not thanks to the EU. And even old member countries are not the bastion they used to be: the latest World Bank rankings show a regression in Austria, Greece, Portugal and the UK.

The risks that face the EU if it takes action are as large as the opportunities, especially if those risks are not well understood. To start with, action by the EU might lack credibility in countries that have successfully built up good systems of governance on their own. It takes just two clicks on the website of any Scandinavian government to learn (in English) what funds have been commissioned for anti-corruption efforts and how contractors were selected. It is far more difficult to figure this out in the case of European institutions; indeed, even some directorates-general are not aware of what others departments do.

A second risk is that of ‘institutional mono-cropping’ – in other words, due to a lack of country-specific knowledge, of recommending similar institutions to countries that might have very different problems (or none at all). Should Sweden create some special body to manage EU money when its procurement functions very well as it is? The anti-corruption industry has been rendered particularly inefficient by institutional mono-cropping, with the United Nations’ Convention against Corruption recommending everyone to create special anti-corruption agencies, despite statistical evidence that countries that have adopted them have not progressed significantly better than the rest. Governance reform is made effective by contextualised, not standardised, responses to problems.

The third risk is that the effort to curb corruption might be engulfed by the fast-growing anti-corruption industry, an industry whose revenues have risen faster and faster over the past 15 years, despite having little significant impact.

Money making

Parts of the industry are spurious. Some global anti-corruption meetings have become mere fund-raising events with more than 1,500 guests and many corrupt presidents rushing to join the group picture, a cheque in their hands. A pervasive internet advert these days sells a European master’s programme in anti-corruption, claiming that it is “accredited under the Bologna criteria”, but there is no such thing as Bologna accreditation in Europe; accreditation was and remains national. There is money to be made – and those of us who study corruption know that fresh money into a system with weak institutions risks, in the short run, creating more opportunities for corruption.

The fourth risk is to imagine that corruption on a large scale can be successfully fought by prosecutors alone. Hence the arrest in Romania of hundreds of poorly paid custom officers, who are then not charged, as the cost of the trial would far exceed the value of the bribes they collected.

Countries that have progressed globally have managed to do so by cutting red tape, by increasing transparency, and by reducing discretionary spending. Legal constraints alone are not enough to reduce corruption if the conditions for it still exist.

Finally, there is a risk of treating a patient for corruption when he suffers from other policy failures. Corruption is the cause of a great many bad things, but systemic corruption is also itself a result of bad policies. New member and accession countries have severely underfinanced health systems: gifts to doctors who are paid less than €500 a month are not so much ‘bribes’ as a perverse way for governments to make their citizens pay for public health without raising taxes. Politicians are, in effect, transferring the extra costs and unpopularity to doctors and nurses (who have started to emigrate in large numbers). Sending prosecutors in would solve little, if anything.

The lack of understanding of such situations risks making promoters of anti-corruption measures rather like the inspectors in an old Soviet joke, scrupulously checking a man who leaves the factory every day with an empty wheelbarrow and asking themselves where he is hiding the stolen goods – only to discover later on that what he was stealing were wheelbarrows.

 

Alina Mungiu-Pippidi chairs the European Research Centre for Anti-Corruption and State-Building at the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin and is one of the leaders of EU’s research project ANTICORRP. She is the author of “Contextual choices in fighting corruption: lessons learned” (2011) for Norad, the Norwegian agency for development co-operation.

 

ERCAS Proposes Inclusion of Integrity Monitoring among Bologna Assessment Criteria

At the 2nd World Conference on the Right to Education next week in Brussels, ERCAS will propose that the next Ministerial Communiqué of the Bologna Process in 2015 includes a clear reference to integrity as a principle. The Bologna Process are agreements between European countries which ensure comparability in the standards and quality of higher education qualifications. Furthermore, the revised version of the European Standards and Guidelines for Quality Assurance, to be adopted by the 47 Bologna Process ministers in 2015, should include a standard linked to academic integrity (with substantive indicators) which could be added to all national and institutional quality assurance systems.

The recent global market for diplomas and academic rankings had the unintended consequence of stimulating misconduct, from data manipulation to plagiarism to sheer fraud. If incentives for integrity are difficult to create, at least some incentives for cheating must be obliterated through an acknowledgement of the problem in pan-European level policy initiatives.

In addition, we believe that an organisation such as the Council of Europe has some enforcement capabilities that can create momentum for peer pressure. A standard-setting text, such as a recommendation of the Council of Ministers or even a convention on this topic, would be very timely given the increase in the public’s lack of trust in higher education credentials.

We do not expect that a few new international rules will by themselves change much, but we aim to create institutional weapons for domestic entrepreneurs of integrity.

Read here the full background paper prepared by Prof. Dr. Alina Mungiu-Pippidi and team partner Ligia Deca.

 

20th OSCE Economic and Environmental Forum Discusses Anti-Corruption and Good Governance

The 20th Economic and Environmental Forum of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, focusing on “Promoting Security and Stability through Good Governance“, held its concluding meeting in Prague on 12-14 September 2012. Following the results of two preparatory meetings, which addressed the topics “Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism” and “Promoting Good Governance and Combating Corruption in Support of Socio-Economic Development“, the third and final meeting of the Forum examined the level of implementation of OSCE commitments in preventing and countering corruption. The meeting had the participation of over 250 representatives of national and international institutions, NGOs, the business community and academia, including ERCAS Director Prof. Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, who moderated the panel entitled “Strengthening civil society and media engagement in support of good governance, integrity and transparency”.

Opening speeches by Brian Hayes, Minister of State at the Department of Finance of Ireland (OSCE Chairmanship) and Tomáš Dub, Deputy Foreign Minister of Czech Republic, highlighted the negative impact of corruption on institutions and economic development, the importance of transparency and accountability, and the commitment of OSCE to help build up political will for reforms promoting good governance. Mr. Hayes also emphasised the role of private sector, free media and civil society organisations in strengthening good governance.

The different sessions of the event engaged participants in discussions on the challenges OSCE participating States are facing in promoting good governance, and how these challenges can be addressed both domestically and at the international level. Among the topics addressed was a review of the implementation of OSCE commitments in the area of good governance, presented by Ms. Gretta Fenner, from the Basel Institute on Governance, and complemented by presentations on the review process of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) and the EU anti-corruption policy.

The panel moderated by Prof. Mungiu-Pippidi focused on the importance of civil society, private sector and media participation in the fight against corruption. Panellists called attention to the relevance of transparency and access to information (i.e. through e-government, organising public meetings or hearings, introducing grievance mechanisms etc.), education and training as pre-requisites for the development of a well informed and engaged civil society. They also highlighted the importance of partnerships between public sector and civil society organisations as a means of generating increased interaction and facilitating external control and monitoring.

The discussions aimed at renewing and deepening OSCE’s political engagement in the area of anti-corruption and good governance, and its support for the fulfilment of the commitments undertaken by the 56 OSCE participating States. The results of the Forum will be further discussed at the next OSCE Ministerial Council meeting at the end of the year.

The picture shown above is from osce.org.

 

Freedom House Releases Freedom on the Net Report

Freedom House released last week its third report on Freedom on the Net, which assesses key trends in freedom of the internet, evaluating barriers to access, limits on content, and violations of user rights in 47 countries, from January 2011 to May 2012. The study was produced by over 50 researchers who have investigated laws and practices governing the access to internet, interviewed relevant actors and tested website accessibility. The findings reveal increasing restrictions on freedom in many countries, and a growing refinement and indistinctness in the methods used by governments to exert control over the internet.

Among the countries examined, the highest degree of freedom of digital media was found in Estonia, followed by the United States. “Estonia has a highly developed online culture that includes online voting and access to electronic medical records and some of the lightest content restrictions in the world”, quoted an article published by TrustLaw.  The lowest degree of internet freedom was encountered in China, Iran and Cuba. Furthermore, China is sometimes used as an example by governments such as the one in Belarus, Iran and Uzbekistan, wishing to restrict the internet freedom.

Overall, the study shows that since January 2011, 20 of the 47 countries surveyed experienced a decline in the degree of in internet freedom. This tendency was most evident in Ethiopia, Bahrain, and Pakistan. Especially in the Middle East, the declines can be associated with intensified censorship, arrests, and violence against bloggers in reaction to public calls for reform. In Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, and China, authorities imposed new restrictions after observing the key role that social media played in the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia.

According to the report, the adoption of restrictive legislation was a common method of control, implemented in a large part of the countries assessed by the study. “In 19 of the 47 countries examined, new laws or directives have been passed since January 2011 that either restricts online speech, violate user privacy, or punish individuals who post content deemed objectionable or undesirable”, concludes Freedom House. Other methods observed by the study were arrests or physical attacks against bloggers as well as ordinary users for political speech online, and enhanced surveillance of user activity.

Sanja Kelly, Freedom House’s project director for Freedom on the Net, explained that governments are finding new and less detectable manners to control free speech online: “As authoritarian rulers see that blocked websites and high-profile arrests draw local and international condemnation, they are turning to murkier – but no less dangerous – methods for controlling online conversations”. Tactics such as governments instigating deliberate connection disruptions or hiring paid commentators to manipulate online discussions have become more common.

Next to this clear and worrisome trend of deterioration, the report also showed 14 countries that registered a positive trajectory, with Tunisia and Burma experiencing the largest improvements after considerable political openings. The other positive developments occurred almost exclusively in democracies, highlighting the importance of broader institutions of democratic governance in upholding internet freedom. The report highlights cases in which the activism of civil society, independent courts or technology companies have contributed to the increase in the freedom of the internet, showing that a positive change can be achieved in this manner.

The picture featured above is from www.lankastandard.com. The map portrayed below is part of the Freedom on the Net 2012 report.

 

ERCAS Director Discusses Corruption in Eastern Europe at Sida Event

ERCAS Director Prof. Alina Mungiu-Pippidi participated last month in the seminar “How can we fight corruption in Eastern Europe”, organised and hosted by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida) in Stockholm, Sweden. She presented the findings of the study “Contextual Choices in Fighting Corruption: Lessons Learned”, commissioned by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) to the Hertie School of Governance and published in 2011.

Prof. Mungiu-Pippidi pointed out that Eastern European countries are on average doing better than other regions in control of corruption. However, despite EU accession and the implementation of several anti-corruption programmes in the region, significant improvement has been limited in the last decade.

While addressing the main question that inspired the seminar – “how can we fight corruption?” –, Prof. Mungiu-Pippidi argued that the answer does not lie in determining what causes corruption, but rather in understanding that societies afflicted by systemic corruption have this as a default mode of governance, based on an equilibrium between resources that feed corruption and constraints that counteract it. Effective approaches to fighting corruption thus involve measures that contribute to shifting this equilibrium.

Prof. Mungiu-Pippidi also criticised common anti-corruption programmes supported by international donors in the last years, highlighting that an important explanation for the lack of effectiveness of those programmes is the fact that they relied on partnerships with corrupt governments, which have no incentive to fight corruption seriously. She argued that donors should instead support actors that stand to gain from increased control of corruption, and emphasised the role of a strong civil society and freedom of information in checking government actions and the implementation of anti-corruption policies.

Evidence presented by other participants in the seminar also corroborated the points made by Prof. Mungiu-Pippidi. Goran Miletic, Human Rights Lawyer and Programme Director for Western Balkan at Civil Rights Defenders, for instance, showed how the implementation of an Ombudsman institution in Serbia was distorted by additional regulation requiring that Ombudsman reports are submitted and approved by Parliament, thereby limiting the level of independence of this institution from the political process. Professor Jakob Svensson, from the Institute for International Economic Studies at Stockholm University, also highlighted that traditional approaches to anti-corruption have not worked in the past years, and that it is important to develop mechanisms to allow those that pay for corruption to exercise pressure for change.

More information on the event is available in the article “Tough fight against corruption in Eastern Europe”, published on www.sida.se.

Open Government Platform Launched in India

The Indian government, in collaboration with the United States, has launched earlier this year the project Open Government Platform (OGPL), where government data, documents, tools and processes are made publicly available in an open source format. This initiative is meant to allow analysts, media, academics and civil society to make use of public data more easily and to develop innovative tools and applications to better monitor the public administration. According to the National Informatics Centre (NIC), the government body in charge of developing this platform, the goal of this initiative is to democratise access to public information and to promote innovation and civic involvement, and at the same time contribute to increase the accountability and transparency of the government.

The rationale behind this initiative is that government collects and retains a large amount of information (such as surveys, census, planning, assessment and delivery of public services), yet a large part of this information is not accessible to the general public and the civil society through classical means of communication. The project was developed in conformance to the National Data Sharing and Accessibility Policy (NDSAP), which determined that all government departments shall release their datasets in open format for citizens and other stakeholders to freely use and reuse. In order to guarantee the feasibility of the implementation of the policy, the NIC was under the obligation of providing the necessary technology solution for the establishment of an open data portal.

The data portal, however, is only a part of the OGPL, which was devised to simplify the access and management of public data not only from the side of citizens, but also from the perspective of government agencies. The platform offers ministries and departments a common management system through which the data is uploaded and later processed to be presented in a standardised format to the public.

In addition to facilitating top-down communication between the government and the citizens, the platform also encourages horizontal networking and grassroots initiatives. Through citizen engagement modules, users are able to discuss online the kind of datasets that government should release and also what kind of applications could and should be developed based on these datasets. This interactive component is expected to provide firsthand information to the government and also to developer communities on the public demand for information and analytical tools, based on which these actors could better prioritise where to concentrate their efforts.

According to an article published by News Track India, OGPL has been developed as a result of the U.S.-India Open Government Dialogue initiated in 2010 by President Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. On the official website, the initiative is characterised as “an example of a new era of diplomatic collaborations that benefit the global community that promote government transparency, citizen-focused applications”. By the end of 2012, the platform will be available globally, and the features should also be available to other governments that might want to implement similar initiatives.

 

In Memoriam: Jeremy Pope

ERCAS is saddened by the passing of Jeremy Pope on August 29th. Pope was a key founder of the international anti-corruption movement, and made great contributions to bringing corruption to the top of the international agenda in the past two decades.

He was the founding Managing Director of Transparency International (TI) from 1994 to 1998 and later took the position of Executive Director of Transparency International’s London Office. He also authored one of Transparency International’s first source books, which remains the basis for the National Integrity Systems assessment methodology widely implemented by the organisation and its national chapters. According to TI founder Peter Eigen, “Jeremy Pope was indeed one of the intellectual fathers of Transparency International. He joined our organisation with a deep knowledge of institutions, how they should work, and the impact on society when they fail. He did help Transparency International develop pioneering ways to define and fight corruption”.

Ten years after the founding of TI, in 2003, Pope undertook another endeavour and created the organisation Tiri–Making Integrity Work with former colleague Fredrik Galtung, with the goal of taking the anti-corruption movement in a new direction towards an emphasis on pro-integrity initiatives. Galtung, current CEO of Tiri, reminds us that Pope was “one of the pillars, greatest innovators and forces for good in the international integrity and anti-corruption movement”.

Before his engagement in the fight against corruption, Pope was a civil rights and environmental lawyer in New Zealand. He also served at the Commonwealth Secretariat, where he was involved in efforts to abolish the death penalty, physical punishments of prisoners, and torture in several jurisdictions. In the past years, Jeremy Pope continued to pursue his long-time concern with the human rights issue as Commissioner on the New Zealand Human Rights Commission.

 

Corruption in Public Construction Target of Creative Initiatives in Eastern Europe

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

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

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

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