European public accountability trends now updated!

The European Union is the absolute achiever on standards and benchmarks. Thousands exist and are strictly guarded by various enforcement agencies: some inspired anecdotes were furiously disputed over the Brexit divorce. Less spoken about are EU standards on public accountability, in spite of the bloc now having a Rule of Law (ROL) Report on the member states and monitoring processes for accession countries. There is a very simple reason for this: they do not exist as such. While we uphold a Europe that embraces ideals of rule of law and free of corruption as ideals for member states and aspiring countries, we do not actually have a standard way of achieving those, or clear European benchmarks. Finland and Denmark are quite unregulated on public accountability but extraordinarily transparent, and they lead in all good governance charts. Hungary and Poland have been backsliding on both rule of law and democracy but their legal arrangements are quite thick. In some areas, at least.

To understand how Europeans succeed in having transparent and accountable governments ERCAS has created as part of the EU-funded project DIGIWHIST a repository of legal data. We organized them as tools, described in detail as to coverage and instruments, and quantified – assigned a score for each extra provision, resulting in a higher score for countries with more comprehensive regulation. This is Europam.eu, an exceptional legal repository created in 2017. Today we update it at the level of 2020 data. You can find out there how countries are doing on freedom of information, oversight of assets and conflicts of interest of officials, party funding, and public procurement, as well compare each country against the rest of Europe and understand what is the mechanism which enables public accountability – or not.

Despite unprecedented discussion on rule of law in the European space and neighborhood, we found few changes since 2017. All the data is available at Europam.eu, and we present here only two chapters.

 

On public procurement, the average remained roughly the same, from 63 points in 2017 to 62 points in 2020 (from a total of 100), but more jurisdictions declined than improved.

  • Previous best scorers Slovakia (2020: #1) and Hungary (2020: #5) remained in the top 5, but Czechia dropped 5 positions. Romania (2020: #2), Malta (2020: #3) and Bulgaria (2020: #4) complete the top 5;
  • Out of the 3 previous lowest scorers, only the Netherlands (2020: #32) remained in the bottom 5. Poland was the worst jurisdiction, having lost a few points. Other countries at the bottom – Georgia (2020: #34), Sweden (2020: #33), and Iceland (2020: #31) – did not see real variation from their previous points (around the 50 points-mark), which suggests that other countries doing better, rather than them doing worse, is the cause of their poorer performance;
  • Countries that declined: Belgium, Croatia, Czechia, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland, Serbia, Sweden, and the European Union as a whole – 14/35 jurisdictions;
  • Countries that improved: Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Malta, Norway, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, and the UK – 11/35 jurisdictions;
  • Countries that remained roughly the same: Armenia, Cyprus, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Iceland, Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia, and Switzerland – 10/35 jurisdictions.

 

On conflict of interest, the average improved slightly, from 40 points in 2017 to 44 points in 2020, and more jurisdictions improved than declined. This is good news for GRECO, which tirelessly promotes COI further restrictions in many countries.

  • Previous best scorers remained at the top – namely Latvia (2020: #3), Croatia (2020: #4), and Slovenia (2020: #5) – with Georgia improving significantly to get to the first spot and Serbia improving slightly (2020: #2);
  • Previous lowest scorers also remained at the bottom – namely Denmark (2020: #33) and the Netherlands (2020: #32) – with Finland (2020: #34) dropping significantly to get to the second-worst position and Belgium decreasing a few points to be the worst jurisdiction;
  • Countries that declined: Armenia, Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Slovakia, Sweden, and Switzerland – 11/35 jurisdictions;
  • Countries that improved: Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Georgia, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Spain, and the European Union as a whole – 16/35 jurisdictions;
  • Countries that remained roughly the same: Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Latvia, Slovenia, and the UK – 8/35 jurisdictions.

 

To those who are surprised by these figures we just remind that laws and practices are poorly correlated when rule of law and corruption are concerned. Clearly, there is a great difference between high honesty countries and low honesty countries, with the latter regulating far more. But does more regulation increase public integrity, and which regulation? That is what we study next, and we invite you also to use the freely available Europam for your own analyses.

EU Rule of Law Report Captive on its Tracks

The European Commission is already planning a second rule of law report, although the first brought no further evidence to the already known problems of Hungary or Poland, and only showed the weakness of conceptualization and methodology at this stage. The German presidency made the concession to Hungary and Poland that Courts will have the first say in the event of a sanction. While critics were fast to denounce Merkel to have yielded to the populists, the most elementary legal common sense shows that Courts would have anyway got involved. Is it not better, then, to have them involved sooner rather than later?

Quite a few Parliaments and Governments invited me since then to present my criticism of the report from this Carnegie paper (thank you) and the alternative ways to go about solving the rule of law problem. While I have nothing to add to the criticism and the commission seems unwilling or unable to modify anything in the bureaucratic logic of the report (and the power mechanisms which made it that Wirecard case did not even get a mention) the alternative is the one that I had already suggested. We need to separate the issues, which are luckily correlated. If we want to cut EU funds, we need to use the public procurement policy and its very good monitoring by another part of the Commission (in the EU Single Market PP Scoreboard). Member states who do not reach targets there are the same who infringe on rule of law: Hungary, Poland, Romania, Malta, Czech Republic. That is a technical issue and as such, it is entirely at the disposal of the Commission, which had already done a first excellent step in letting Hungary know that it would not get the funds until it proves it is able to spend the money correctly [1]. For freedom of speech and judicial interference we need to use the other mechanisms- political in essence, as the final and sustainable solution to the EU rule of law problems is to persuade voters not to endorse leaders who are against rule of law. Both on legal and on persuasive grounds, it is better to cut funds for poor governance and corruption than for motives Mr. Orban can say are just matters of different political opinion.

But the EC seems these days, as on the vaccine issue, a train captured by its own tracks and unable to adjust course sensibly. The second round of consultations on the ROL report, thus, is not really a consultation more than the first has been. It is merely an attempt to crowdsource, collecting information, and of course leaving at the absolute discretion of the Commission if to mention Wirecard, BAFIN, and the rest at all.

It is rather clear that the report could hardly help, had the case of some infringement end in Courts, where legal reasoning would instead prevail. The question then is why spend all this money to produce a weak and biased report, when the Commission could instead outsource reports on freedom of the press, corruption (not anticorruption, as the meagre report attempts, as there is no way to separate the two which makes any sense) and judicial independence to those who generally deal with these issues and are both independent and professional? Such reports could be cited by those who work on the legal cases, as we have already seen in the legal cases against Hungary and Poland so far, although, of course, they would not make the bulk of the argument any more than the ROL report would. At least, however, there will be no stringent omissions.

The rule of law report was a concession by Von der Leyen to those who think populism can be fought only by populism, by publishing unsubstantiated figures of social loss due to corruption that no reviewer would ever validate in a normal academic review procedure or by piling up facts which do not amount to evidence, as many are simply irrelevant. The fact that it goes on like nothing happened during last year negotiations and no justified criticism was made by governments and experts who are not on the side of Poland and Hungary is not proof of resilience, but one of incapacity of a bureaucracy to learn and adjust, and the indifference which accompanies too much money one can spend.

[1] EU tells Hungary to change procurement, cites ‘systemic’ fraud | Financial Post

The EU Rule of Law Report: Unresolved Questions and a Proposal

The EU has chastised member states who do not adhere to its professed values. However, the new report about the rule of law falls short in providing the objective basis to withhold funding to those who defy democracy, a just goal still lacking the proper means. EU funds should be cut on direct and easier to prove criteria related to their poor governance, as shown in the EU Single Market procurement scoreboard. Recovery funds should not go to the political clienteles of government parties trespassing on rule of law, but to the broader constituencies of citizens and businesses in every member state.

 

The European Commission (EC) recently released a communication titled “2020 Rule of Law Report: The rule of law situation in the European Union”. The concept has never passed the test of a feasibility study and President Ursula von der Leyen has not even promised it as part of her original program. It was one of the pledges she had to make in exchange for political support during the hearings for her presidency. The report has been widely expected to offer a basis for the sanctioning of democratic backsliders such as Hungary and Poland. EC communications, however, have no binding power and can serve only to name and shame. The new report can therefore only bring some added value if its contents offer better arguments than those already in circulation. In fact, many are circulating already, as the European Parliament has not been idle and in the last two years alone interpellated Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and Malta. Hungary and Poland are also fighting an Article 7 procedure. The European Justice Court is also involved and has already issued the first rulings on such problem countries.

The report covers four areas: the justice system, the anti-corruption framework, media freedom, and other institutional checks and balances. The Commission adopted the Council of Europe’s multifold definition of rule of law, but the report exceeds it by including media. This was actually a good decision, as freedom of the media has been declining in nearly all EU countries (except Romania, where it was never very high to start with) over the last decade, and media is an essential component for the control of corruption, aside from its more general role in a democracy (Brunetti and Weder 2001). The country chapters are based upon contributions from the member states and a variety of already available, mostly European sources. The countries are not ranked on any dimension – this would have been impossible, given both the qualitative methodology used and the reticence of member states to any ranking.

The patient readers of the whole report will not find anything new. But in the event that a second edition will ever follow – and the exercise is not discontinued like its predecessor, an anti-corruption report was—a few questions are important to address and eventually debate. And at least one clearer alternative emerges if indeed there is the political will to tie EU funds on rule of law.

 

  1. Country Diagnosis Missing

Why is there not one fact-based problem statement for each country, stating clearly whether there is a problem with rule of law and if so, what does it consist of? Instead the report offers snapshots of judicial reforms in every country. The link between problems they were meant to address and these reforms is either missing or presumed. Some underlying assumption seems to exist that the organization of the judiciary is the source of its independence from government and private interests. Is that is the case, this goes against academic evidence, which shows on the basis of the same data that EC uses (Council of Europe CEPEJ) the contrary (Gutman and Voigt 2017). The independence of the judiciary does not result from specific constitutional arrangements, or the countries with the best such arrangements would have the best and most independent judiciaries. It stems from the historically developed power balance in every given country. The neglect of this simple, although counter-intuitive truth leads the reader confused about the relevance of the reforms presented to strengthen the rule of law, from digitalization in Belgium to reshuffling of the judiciary in Malta. Furthermore, why are bureaucratic mechanisms which did not deliver measurable improvements in the past decade (like the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism) advanced for the next? Is it not significant that Bulgaria—a country being assessed under the mechanism, which proposed a year ago for it to be lifted—was recently reprimanded by the European parliament?

 

  1. Corruption Levels Explain Anticorruption, Not the Other Way Around

Why is the corruption section defined as “anti-corruption framework”? An anti-corruption framework makes sense only in relation to a given country’s corruption problems. Or is everybody supposed to have a similar framework regardless of their individual problems? If a relation existed between the density of regulation on anti-corruption and a reduction of corruption, this would be more understandable. But again, the reality is exactly the opposite: the most successful national integrity frameworks in the EU (and the world) are not the most regulated, but the other way around. Hungary has far more extensive public accountability mechanisms than Finland. Yet still, it is Finland that better manages to control abuse of office for undue profit (see Figures 1,2 below). Keeping track of all changes in regulation certainly has a value in itself, but it cannot replace a sound diagnosis of each problem and a matching policy solution, relevant to the context of every country. The report counts the existence of national anti-corruption strategies as progress, instead of checking real developments. Such an approach has been already pioneered in accession and EU-neighborhood countries, which have all come to have five-year anti-corruption plans (see Moldova, Montenegro and other “champions”). Yet the few successful countries of the last three decades–-the likes of Estonia under its former prime minister Mart Laar, and Georgia under its former president Mikhail Saakashvili—evolved due to reform packages very different from such plans.

Figures 1-3. Poland and Hungary public accountability regulation surpasses Finland on every count but transparency (Source: www.europam.eu)

 

  1. The Report Does Not Cover the EU’s Cross-Border Problems

Does not this piecemeal, country-by-country approach by the Commission somewhat underscore the EU’s severe cross-border problems, which have showed the vulnerability of European common rule of law and public finance to organized crime, corruption and money-laundering? And is it not the role of EU institutions primarily to address such cross-border problems, which end up neglected because they require coordination across member states? There is very little in the report on the fundamental threats to European banks from organized crime and corruption, for instance.

 

  1. There Is Little on Transparency

Why is transparency in general, despite being shown to be one of the most effective deterrents of abuse of power and corruption, so marginal in the report? Transparency is easy to monitor and to fix, and several initiatives in Europe monitor transparency in public procurement, spending, financial and banking operations, and so forth. It is the lack of transparency that hostile powers like Russia and others use to launder their money in EU banks and pose veritable security threats. Is it really a twenty-first century strategy to rely on the under-powered European Public Prosecutor’s office, which would anyway act well after the crime is produced and even investigated administratively (by the European Anti-Fraud office) for issues such as VAT evasion? Only full digitalization and inter-connectivity of EU data on financial transactions and public procurement will allow the prevention of such problems—and some instruments exist already. But why would any progress be made if the plan is that a massive problem will be addressed by a few lengthy prosecutions after the fact?

 

  1. The Report Uses Vague and Imprecise Data

Why is the report so reliant on subjective data based on perceptions, such as Eurobarometer surveys [1] with leading questions (such as the rule of law is important, corruption is intolerable, etc.) and the Corruption Perception Index from Transparency International? The Eurobarometer surveys on rule of law and corruption are not panels using the same respondents to allow sound comparison in time—that would probably make them even more expensive than they already are. Academics have long proven that CPI, an average of expert perceptions, is not a proper tool to be used to measure corruption across years. If these surveys miss a measurement or lack a clear fact-based diagnosis of the causes of a particular problem, what can be monitored instead to track progress? Citizens’ perceptions, or the amount of regulation, despite their poor correlation with problems? Compliance with EU regulation and its implementation must be monitored, of course. But they cannot replace measuring the problems directly (judicial independence, lack of transparency, and corruption) to assess whether reforms manage to reduce them or not.

 

  1. There Is Little on Public Procurement

Why is the area most related to EU funds, public procurement, so under-represented in the report? After all, if the goal is to sanction countries by cutting their EU funds, surely the case will be made easier (in the courts as well) if a more direct link were presented between funds and misbehavior? An example are the red flag procurement indicators (such as lack of open call for tenders or single bidding) from the European Single Market scoreboard, where several poor performers openly breech EU policy targets. Yet such indicators are barely mentioned despite data repositories now tracing corruption in procurement in the European Union in real time. For instance, Poland has been leading for years in non-competitive bidding at very high proportions, which could have offered an indication that all was not well there. Similarly, research on procurement has showed Hungarian manipulation of EU funds years before OLAF opened an investigation into Viktor Orban, so such fact-based indicators do exist and deliver.

Figure 4. A Clear Picture of Offenders in EU’s Procurement Scoreboard

 

  1. aps and Biases

Why are major country facts, even for the previous year, simply missing from the report, and what methodology determined what is included and what is excluded? Is not the case of the Airbus corruption, for instance (a footnote in the France country report on the financial settlement mechanism) showing that rule of law was clearly imperfect if such practices were systematic over decades (and leaders above the law)? No word on the fact that the U.S. Foreign Corruption Practice Act seems to be behind the most important investigations into European companies—and not OECD anti-bribery convention? Surely this deserves an analytic paragraph, as it touches also on compliance and implementation, keywords of the rule of law. How can the report on Germany miss the Wirecard scandal entirely? There is now an investigation by the German parliament looking at the regulators’ conflict of interest and their failure to address the problem in time (instead, they acted against the Financial Times whistleblowers, relevant to press freedom, too). How can the report on Romania praise both the National Integrity Agency and the Anti-corruption Directorate, and not remark that the latter charged the head of the former with corruption, only for a court to finally clear him?  Would it not be better to order a deep audit of this and several high-profile cases closed by the courts, before asking for more cases? Why is there no analysis of why the Commission recommended a year ago that MCV be suspended for Bulgaria and now it seems a problematic country again (given that nobody claims that its problems appeared last year, only the protests stepped up). Finally, although the list can be much longer, how can  Luxembourg’s judiciary be praised as top of Europe, when a prison sentence of a court there against the Luxleaks whistleblowers was part of the motivation for the EU regulation on whistleblowing?

 

In conclusion:

Although some critics complained that negative comments are spread across too many countries, it is commendable that the reports tries to cover all EU member states equally and not discriminate against a few countries. However, the lack of clarity and transparency of the criteria for including or excluding facts in the absence of a clear methodology has backfired, leading journalists to assign degrees of seriousness and make diagnoses themselves. This does not necessarily result in more objectivity or depth of understanding of either problems or potential solutions.

It is undeniable that European Union member states have been backsliding on rule of law and democracy, and that action should be taken. But do we have fresher and better evidence after this report than before? And apart from backsliding on democracy, don’t we also need more awareness of what seem to be older problems of corruption and impunity? The issues at companies such as Airbus and Wirecard, in addition to those at many banks, have long been in existence and have been ignored by regulators despite warnings. Effective action needs to be based on serious audits and fact-based research on problems by professionals, not on public opinion surveys: questions like the ones above need to raised and answered for the EU to effectively confront its rule of law problems. It may be that the infringement of rights and the control of media are in a different category of problems from corruption or the imperfect independence of the judiciary, needing different solutions. This must be discussed openly.

However, this does not mean deterring action. For urgent matters, why not connect the procurement scoreboard with the cut of EU funds? The same suspects will be targeted, but with clearer and less controversial evidence: benchmarks already exist and are clear. Recovery funds should not go to the political clienteles of government parties trespassing on rule of law, but to the broader SMEs and populations of every EU MS.

 

For more details on evidence-based rule of law tools, visit:

https://www.againstcorruption.eu/

www.opentender.eu

http://www.europam.eu

http://www.integrity-index.org

 

[1] See also Europe’s Burden, chapter 5.

 

— This article is a version of a Carnegie Europe comment published under Carnegie’s Reshaping European Democracy project: https://carnegieeurope.eu/2020/10/20/unresolved-questions-on-eu-rule-of-law-report-pub-82999

 

Poland

Poland has been one of the most successful postcommunist countries in creating a governance based on public integrity, powered by a free press, decentralization, and a policy of reducing corruption resources through privatization and administrative simplification. An abundance of resources in the form of EU funds after the years 2000 led to the growth of non-competitive procurement and a return to politicization and government favoritism practices. Still, Poland its high proportion of e-citizens and sound local government provide a sound basis for good governance demand. Despite its judiciary being imperfect, the strong intervention by politicians to fix it only risk making it even less autonomous and endangering rule of law, one of Poland’s proudest early achievements.

The Splintering of Postcommunist Europe

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

Background paper on Poland

There are many grounds for believing that Poland is close to the threshold of good governance. Accession to the European Union required many changes to be made to the organization of the state and this provided an important drive for modernization. After EU accession, modernization processes clearly lost impetus, for political elites seemed to lack incentives to engage in broader reforms that could significantly improve quality of governance. Local government is over-politicized and the citizenry shows considerable passivity and tolerance towards corruption. While the model of governance in Poland has become more rationalistic and universalistic during transition, recent slowdown of reforms should be a matter of public concern.

Batory Foundation releases poll on whistle-blowing

The results of a new opinion poll carried out by the Batory Foundation in Poland evaluated Poles’ opinion on whistle-blowing at work. The opinion poll was carried out on 11-18 April 2012 by the Polish Public Opinion Poll Centre (CBOS). The report, entitled “Heroes or Snitches”, revealed that almost 70% of those surveyed would be prepared to assume the role of the whistle-blower. Nevertheless, the report highlights the factors that still discourage Poles from reporting irregularities in the workplace.

According to the data, 68.9% of respondents said they would report irregularities to the management of their firm and 64.5% to the relevant authorities. Yet, they would prefer to do so anonymously rather than revealing their identity. There is, however, a share of 24-26 % of Poles who would not report problems either to their employer or to the relevant authorities.

The report pointed out two main causes for people’s reluctance to report irregularities in the workplace. The first lays in the lack of adequate legal protection for whistle-blowers, a problem mentioned by nearly two thirds of respondents. The second is the “fear of being ostracised in the workplace”. Many respondents would expect a negative reaction on the part of the employer, such as dismissal, harassment, or disciplinary action towards the whistle-blower. Moreover, there is also a social stigma associated to whistle-blowing in Poland. Thus, people expect that the majority of their work colleagues would not approve of such action. This is related to the finding that more than 30% of respondents consider loyalty towards work colleagues to be more important than loyalty towards the employer.

The study showed that the social acceptance of whistle-blowing is also dependent on the nature of the irregularity which is reported. The greatest acceptance is found in cases of corruption or those “generally recognised danger to people: physical danger (non-compliance with safety procedures, driving a vehicle while intoxicated) or mobbing”. Conversely, reporting cases when one is acting for his/her own benefit, without posing a direct threat to other employees, is less likely to be supported by co-workers. Finally, the majority of Poles expressed their support for whistle-blowing by those working in professions which are likely to discover irregularities in the workplace (police, medical profession, public administration and educational system).

The picture featured above is from allgov.com.

 

Batory Foundation Launches Website on Political Finance in 7 Countries

The Stefan Batory Foundation, in cooperation with other seven NGOs*, has launched the website www.politicalfinance.org, devoted to analysing the regulation systems of campaign and political party financing in 7 countries: Armenia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Moldova, Mongolia and Poland.

The website is the result of a research project initiated in February 2012, whose goal was to examine political finance regulation in each country from the perspective of the mechanisms protecting policy-making against undue influence of interest groups. In addition to preparing the seven individual country reports, the project also conducted a comparative analysis of the different systems and highlighted advantages and disadvantages of each one, emphasising arrangements that can be seen as best practice.

The country reports are published on the website and cover the specific features of each regulatory system, including an assessment of the effectiveness of adopted solutions, case studies and policy recommendations. In addition to the country-specific recommendations, three common recommendations for the participating countries have been developed: (a) to increase availability of information on donors and original invoices and receipts on party expenditures; (b) to  strengthen the role of public institutions responsible for the oversight of party financing; and (c) to provide long-term financing of political parties from the public budget. The analysis and recommendations are published in English and Russian language versions.

A more detailed analysis of the country reports allows for a closer overview of how the regulatory systems differ from country to country and the particularly weaknesses that each country’s system presents.  The Armenia country report shows, for instance, how the lack of sanctions to false financial reports by political parties or illegal donations to election funds negatively affects the political finance environment in the country. In Estonia, the possibility of cash donations severely hinders transparency regarding the funds that political parties and campaigns receive. In Georgia, differently than in other of the selected countries, the country report emphasises issues related to the unequal application of electoral laws to different parties, which jeopardises the fairness of political competition and the electoral process. Apart from specific issues that each country faces, there are common obstacles to more integrity and equity in political finance in some of the countries, such as the need for restrictions on private or corporate donations, and for increased transparency and detail in the disclosure of donations and expenditures.

The participants to the project hope that the initiative will stimulate further discussion on the need for reforms in the political party financing sector and further advocacy efforts. In the long term, this initiative aims to determine positive changes in the financing of political parties and to contribute to improving transparency in this field as well as to prevent corruption.

 

*The other organisations contributing to this project are: Stefan Batory Foundation (Poland); Stanczyk Institute of Civic Thought Foundation (Poland); Institute for Development and Social Initiatives (IDIS) “Viitorul” (Moldova); Georgian Young Lawyers’ Association (GYLA) (Georgia); Transparency International Anti-Corruption Centre (Armenia); Transparency International Czech Republic; Transparency International Estonia; and Open Society Forum (Mongolia).

 

TI Releases New Study on Corruption Risks in Eastern European Countries

A new report released by Transparency International (TI) examines the main corruption risks in four Eastern European countries, namely Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. According to the study, reforms to strengthen democratic institutions and the anti-corruption legal framework in these countries, undertaken largely as part of their accession process to the European Union, have not been successful in minimising corruption risks, and the danger of political influence over fundamental control institutions remains.

The report points out that some of the institutions resulting from those reforms have in fact been weakened or entirely abandoned by dominant political actors after the accession. According to Miklos Marschall, Deputy Managing Director at Transparency International, “the laws and institutions against corruption in the Visegrad region will remain empty shells without a meaningful commitment to transparency. Most important is that high level public servants and politicians declare their assets and interests, public institutions must be independent from influence and there needs to be better checks on party financing”.

TI’s new report, based on national surveys assessing the strength of the anti-corruption frameworks of these four countries, captures some important similarities and differences in the region. Among the common risks identified in the study are weaknesses in party financing regulation and vulnerabilities related to corruption in the business sector. Nevertheless, some of the positive aspects raised are related to the relative independence and leeway of civil society and media and the importance of investigative journalists and bloggers in exposing corruption in these countries.

For more detailed information on the report, please read the press release “Post-communist institutions failing to stop corruption in Visegrad countries” on transparency.org.

 

(Anti-)Corruption in Poland since early 2000 to 2010

This report suggests that although corruption is relatively spread-out in Poland, its level is slowly declining. Improved laws and regulations, which are an effect of government, civil society organizations and international community’s activities, as well as continuous monitoring of public life and officials carried out by state organs as well as civic watchdogs have heavily contributed to reshaping the anti-corruption environment in the country. Additionally, media support has drawn public attention to the issue and has helped to raise awareness about (anti) corruption and its effects. Nonetheless, there is still long way to go to uproot the described corruption-inviting behavior and catch up with leaders of the rankings on the least corrupted jurisdictions. The social change is slow to happen and requires continuous effort on part of both government and the NGO sector to ensure sustainability of this evolution.

(Anti-)Corruption in Poland since early 2000 to 2010

This report suggests that although corruption is relatively spread-out in Poland, its level is slowly declining. Improved laws and regulations, which are an effect of government, civil society organizations and international community’s activities, as well as continuous monitoring of public life and officials carried out by state organs as well as civic watchdogs have heavily contributed to reshaping the anti-corruption environment in the country. Additionally, media support has drawn public attention to the issue and has helped to raise awareness about (anti) corruption and its effects. Nonetheless, there is still long way to go to uproot the described corruption-inviting behavior and catch up with leaders of the rankings on the least corrupted jurisdictions. The social change is slow to happen and requires continuous effort on part of both government and the NGO sector to ensure sustainability of this evolution.

Monitoring of electoral campaign promises

This initiative (monitoring of electoral campaign promises) has been running since 2001 in order to present anti-corruption-oriented proposals of political parties in an unbiased and unpartisan fashion. For this purpose a single-issue coalition of Polish NGOs, called AKOP, was brought to life. AKOP or Antykorupcyjna Koalicja Organizacji Pozarzadowych (Anti-corruption Coalition of Non-governmental Organizations) composes of major domestic NGOs, i.e. Batory Foundation, The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, The Foundation for Social Communication, Center for Citizenship Education, The Association of Leaders of Local Civic Groups. The latter two joined AKOP in 2005.
It began with monitoring of the parliamentary electoral campaign in 2001 in order to hold politicians accountable to their electoral promises pertaining to fight against corruption. Since then on before every parliamentary election (2005, 2007) AKOP has been asking political parties about their position on issues related to anti-corruption and substantial measures that a party would take during the new term. Then those promises have been published on the organization website and the coalition has been elaborating annual reports on fulfilling promised targets and actions.
Additionally to the electoral promises monitoring, AKOP also keep tracking the developments in the law-making arena. It submits its remarks on legislative projects that are important for the anti-corruption sphere. The coalition also issues statements on government’s (non-)implementation of anti-corruption strategies/plans. By and large, the AKOP is a watch dog of activities and declaration aimed against corruption that happens at the political level.

Transparent Poland – ‘Certification system for local government units’

This new pilot project within Transparent Poland framework was introduced in 2008. An appraisal of the district and municipality self-governments’ actions was carried out by external bodies. During this initiative 16 districts were examined and all but one were granted with a renewable certificate of ‘Przejrzysta Polska’ (the logo of the program is a blue diamond, which by now should be very well recognizable) for the period 2008-2010. Additionally, among 32 local governments from the PP-Forum phase a contest was organized for the friendliest Public Information Bulletin, which is an official web site that is required by the law, where all public information on a given community should be published.

 

 

Law-making process monitoring

This project, ‘Law-making process monitoring’, was initiated in 2006 by the Stefan Batory Foundation and Institute of Public Affairs (01.2006-12.2007). Thanks to the newly enacted in 2005 law on lobbing the NGOs and other organizations obtained an opportunity to monitor, follow more closely and also participate in legislative law-making processes. The engaged organizations monitored law projects with a significant impact on the anti-corruption sphere. The goal of this undertaking was twofold. On the one hand it intended to empirically appraise the possibility and effectiveness of the NGO participation in the legislative process. On the other hand, assessing the law making process transparency was envisaged.

Budget monitoring laboratory II

Continuation of the project ‘Budget monitoring laboratory’ implemented in the previous year. The overarching goals again were long-term and difficult to measure their outcome straight after the project. Projects objectives were:
• improving transparency of local government finances and enhancing citizens participation in budgetary process
• increasing the level of civic control over local authority activities
• enhancing information flow between citizens and local governments

Transparent District (pilot)

The project was a pilot for the larger project Transparent Poland (’Przejrzysta Polska’). The goal of this first stage was to elaborate, in cooperation with 16 local governments, a model of tasks, which these governments were to implement in order to attain project objectives. The model was later to be scaled up in the following stage, i.e. the massive action. The project set forth six rules, which should be present in the functioning of public offices and officials at the local level. Those were: transparency, citizens participation, no toleration for corruption, professionalism, predictability and accountability. Within the program the participating governments had to fulfill certain solutions/tasks which were related to each of these six rules, e.g. elaboration an ethical code of conduct for public officials and members of local councils, creating a road map of local initiatives, elaborating materials that in an accessible way explain the role and creation of budgets and community’s strategy etc.

Budget monitoring laboratory I

This project aimed at enhancing long-term transparency of public life in local districts and municipalities through improving citizens’ knowledge about and ability to monitor local budgets. Transparency was to be ensured by requiring local offices to provide information understandable to a regular citizen about each phase of the budgetary process (elaboration, implementation, evaluation). This in turn was to, in the long-term, encourage citizens to inform themselves about creation of the future budgets and participate in decision making pertaining to budgetary decisions (application of social consultations, which would be mandatory for the localities). The project also emphasized utilization of good practices like elaboration and making use of multi-annual budgetary frameworks, which would inform a current year budget planning, or having experts to revise budget projects.

Transparent Poland I – Massive Action

The project ‘Przejrzysta Polska’ (PP) is the largest program of this kind in Poland. It is state-wide and has been running since 2003 until today (although initially planned to last only 2 years). It has been organized by a coalition of widely recognizable polish NGOs, one of the biggest polish daily papers, international donors and recognizable individuals, e.g. the former ombudsman.

Moreover it had a large coverage in the media; some printed media as well as main channels of public TV and public radio took a patronage over the project. Thanks to its large scope and the backing from popular and widely known organizations and individuals, the project obtained a large support from local self-governments across the country.

The actors involved as well as project organizers have been changing over time, but the Foundation in Support of Local Democracy was always main part of it (here I would like to thank Ms. Katarzyna Żelichowska, for her invaluable support and patience to my questions regarding this program as well as other undertakings carried out by the Foundation).

The project’s goal was to improve quality of public life and local governance as well as to invigorate civil society. The PP aimed at those districts (local-governments), which were willing to cooperate with NGOs and citizens to improve local governance and wipe out from public life corruption and other pathologies. It also envisaged activating not only public official, but also local NGOs and citizens. Realization of scheduled tasks was to on the one hand enhance local governments’ resistance to corruption and unethical behavior, and on the other hand to ease access to public information to regular citizens as well as to make it easier for citizens to get their things accomplished in local offices.

The project set forth six rules, which should be present in the functioning of public offices and officials at the local level. Those were: transparency, citizens participation, no toleration for corruption, professionalism, predictability and accountability. Within the program the participating governments had to fulfill certain solutions/tasks which were related to each of these six rules, e.g. elaboration an ethical code of conduct for public officials and members of local councils, creating a road map of local initiatives, elaborating materials that in an accessible way explain the role and creation of budgets and community’s strategy etc.

On the basis of a model elaborated during the first stage of the project (Transparent District), this massive action took place. During the second stage (Transparent Poland – Massive Action) invitations were sent out to all local governments in Poland, of which 800 took part in the undertaking in 2005. Over 400 finished it and they were granted with certificates of the project. All the local governments were to attain objectives in each of the six program areas in order to accomplish the project. They had 12 months to do so.

The non-governmental center for public information access

This is a project with a large territorial scope, encompassing some 400 districts and municipalities. The main goal is to raise the awareness about exercising one’s right to public information. The project intended to show citizens how they can demand such data from uncooperative public offices. Within the framework of the undertaking not only individuals were instructed but also civil society organizations were trained in order to be able later to provide support to citizens. The project also intended to both gather information about cases of information refusals and systematize those instances to be able to draw more general conclusions on the matter. Finally, the public opinion was to be informed about the observance of regulation on the public information access.