FOIA as an Anti-Corruption Tool

This paper tests, explores and exemplifies the role of freedom of information legislation as an anti-corruption tool. In the first part, its tests freedom of information separately and in comparison with other more popular anti-corruption tools, such as an anti-corruption agency. In the second part, it proposes a more elaborated model explaining control of corruption and argues that transparency legislation is intermediated by the existence of civil society and does not work in its absence. In its last and final part it exemplifies with a project in Romania how freedom of information can be used as an integrity building tool.

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.)

 

SAR Assesses Integrity of Candidates for Romanian Parliament

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

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

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

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

 

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

The picture featured above is from romaniacurata.ro.

 

Are Recent Anti-Graft Efforts in Romania Credible?

 

Recent convictions of high-level public officials, such as judge Georgeta Buliga and former prime minister Adrian Nastase, seem to show that Romania is strengthening efforts to curb corruption, in response to pressure from the European Union (EU). However, some people remain skeptical about how sustainable these efforts are and whether they will bring about long-lasting changes in the country.

Since it joined the EU in 2007, Romania has been under special monitoring with regards to improvements in its anti-corruption policies. The latest assessments by European institutions acknowledged recent efforts to prosecute politicians and officials accused of corruption, but pointed out that there is still much more to be done, such as tackling corruption in the judiciary and applying tougher sentences to graft cases.

Some reforms in this direction have taken place, for instance the implementation of new rules to check the workings of the judiciary. A bill to simplify procedures to seize assets is also being debated in Parliament.

Nevertheless, scholar Alina Mungiu-Pippidi, from the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, has alerted that repressive tactics are not enough to fight systemic corruption.

According to Laura Stefan, member of the EU team that oversees anti-graft policies in the region, there is fear that some of the steps taken to fight corruption are only ‘cosmetic efforts’, and that the country might even regress on that front following the next parliamentary elections in November.

In addition to the EU, the government also has to convince the population that real changes are taking place. The feeling of distrust toward public institutions, including the justice system, remains strong among Romanians, after many years of impunity and unequal treatment to people in power.

For additional information, read the article “EU pressure finally spurs Romania into graft action” on uk.reuters.com.

Beyond Perception: Has Romania’s Governance Improved since 2004?

Romania and Bulgaria encounter today problems in joining the visa-free Schengen area. The main one in the public eye is corruption. Both countries pledged to improve their rule of law when signing their accession treaties in 2005, yet little progress is perceived by observers or captured with governance measurements relying on perception, such as CPI and World Bank Governance indicators. This paper explores real policy, with fact-based indicators, to trace progress in the area – or lack of it – since 2004 to the present.

Beyond Perception: Has Romania’s Governance Improved since 2004?

Romania and Bulgaria encounter today problems in joining the visa-free Schengen area. The main one in the public eye is corruption. Both countries pledged to improve their rule of law when signing their accession treaties in 2005, yet little progress is perceived by observers or captured with governance measurements relying on perception, such as CPI and World Bank Governance indicators. This paper explores real policy, with fact-based indicators, to trace progress in the area – or lack of it – since 2004 to the present.

Romanian Coalition for a Clean Parliament: a Quest for Political Integrity

This book is about an anticorruption campaign that took place in Romania in 2004 and which prevented nearly one hundred controversial MPs from being reelected. While this campaign was considered original by many observers, the problems it addressed are widespread in the postcommunist world: political elites which at times look more like predatory elites, high state capture, constituencies with low civic competence and low interest in politics. This situation looks at times hopeless in the Balkans and former Soviet Union. But it is not. By and large, what we present here is a success story.

Romanian Coalition for a Clean Parliament: a Quest for Political Integrity

This book is about an anticorruption campaign that took place in Romania in 2004 and which prevented nearly one hundred controversial MPs from being reelected. While this campaign was considered original by many observers, the problems it addressed are widespread in the postcommunist world: political elites which at times look more like predatory elites, high state capture, constituencies with low civic competence and low interest in politics. This situation looks at times hopeless in the Balkans and former Soviet Union. But it is not. By and large, what we present here is a success story.

New Study Shows Outside Influence on Key Romanian Institutions As Main Weakness

Transparency International’s national chapter in Romania has released a new National Integrity System study revealing that the public administration, political parties and the business sector are the most vulnerable components of the countries governance system. The relationship between political and interest groups and the public sector, marked by the politicization of public office and high level of discretion in the allocation of public resources, is pointed out as one of the main factors behind widespread corruption in the country.

According to the study, one of the reasons for the vulnerability of Romanian institutions to outside influence is the lack of sufficient resources and independence to resist political interference and pressure by interest groups. Another main weakness present throughout the pillars constituting the national integrity system is the limited transparency and disclosure of information about the public administration.

The document also criticizes efforts to fight corruption just by pursuing convictions of a handful of corrupt officials at the Courts and calls for a broad and comprehensive anti-corruption strategy to tackle the weaknesses in all pillars and build preventive structures into the system.

Read the press release “Romania National Integrity System – Fail in the test of resistance to corruption” on transparency.org.

First Step in Europe

The goal of this project was to ensure the fairness of the elections for the European Parliament (EP) in Romania, scheduled for November 25th, 2007. It did so through a thorough monitoring of all the institutions involved in the campaign, including the political parties and official authorities handling the campaign. Moreover, it wished to bring an international and particularly European view on the development of the campaign and the elections.

Coalition for Clean Universities

The CCU project was created as an exercise of watchdog and benchmarking, meant to give a complete image of the academic integrity in Romania.

The project developed an integrity ranking for Romanian state universities by applying an already tested methodology was used in a pilot phase of the same project (October 2007-May 2008, funded by a MATRA-KAP Grant of the Embassy of Netherlands in Bucharest).

External evaluators were selected for monitoring the integrity and transparency of the universities. The project started by mapping out the problems of integrity that exist in the Romanian higher education system, and classified them by categories.

  • the administrative transparency and probity – the publication of accounting documents; publishing income declarations and declarations of interests and those reflecting the status of not being involved in the communist political police; access to public records on acquisitions;
  • academic fairness – plagiarism, performance in research, academic unfolding process;
  • quality of governance – nepotism, involvement of students in decision making, usage of financial grants, filling teaching positions;
  • financial management – discretionary expenditure, managing public acquisitions processes.
  • 42 state universities were evaluated, out of a total of 56, during 3 months. At the end of this programme, the Coalition published the Integrity ranking of Romanian Universities.

The project received the support of the main stakeholders: The Ministry of Education, Research and Youth, Students’ Organisations (ANOSR), Trade Union (Alma Mater), The National Agency for Quality Evaluation in Higher Education (ARACIS), educational NGOs.
The Coalition for Clean Universities is composed of the following:

  • Centre for Independent Journalism (CJI),
  • Pro Democracy Association (APD),
  • Euroregional Centre for Democracy (CED),
  • National Association of Students Organizations from Romania (ANOSR),
  • The Group for Reform in Universities (GRU)
  • Group for Social Dialogue (GDS)
  • Romanian Academic Society (SAR)
  • University Solidarity Association (SU)
  • EduCer Association (EduCer)
  • Ad-Astra Association (Ad Astra)
  • Romanian Society of Political Science (SRSP)
  • FAR Association (FAR)
  • New Europe College Foundation (NEC)

Participation and integrity in local budgets 2004

 

The project aimed to increase transparency and integrity in public budget design and implementation, and to encourage participation of local civil society in community issues.

TI Romania delivered training to local civil society organizations, evaluated community priorities in regard to the local budget, evaluated the relationship between the local civilian and business communities and the administration, wrote the good practices guide and organized round tables with all stakeholders to debate on the negative and positive aspects of the situation and incorporated observations and suggestions for improving the way in which the administration-citizens relationship functions.

Outcomes

  • Training instruments for civil society organizations;
  • Guide to monitoring public budget implementation;
  • Evaluations of transparency and integrity focusing on public acquisitions and mechanisms to grant authorizations/licenses for business activities;
  • Good practices guide containing recommendations on how to address deficiencies noted during the project.
Budget:

            £ 73,944

Say NO to Corruption

The project developed a guide is intended to help young people with a batch of information about corruption and serious consequences of this fact.

The publication is divided into two chapters.

The first chapter contains general information about what is corruption, what is not corruption, influence traffic, serious consequences of this fact, methods to prevent it, national and international anti-corruption documents etc.

The second chapter contains results, ideas and opinions of young people resulted from developing various activities in the project “Youth against Corruption”, local and final debates on ethics in education and public administration, the findings of a research study on the effects of corruption in education and the results of a survey on the perception of young people about corruption.

This guide has been published in the project “Youth against Corruption”, coordinated by the Pro Democracy Association in partnership with the Romanian Association for Debate, Oratory and Rhetoric, funded by the European Union, through the Transition Facility 2007/19343.01.11 – Strengthening support of civil society in the fight against corruption.

Effectiveness and efficiency in the Romanian school system: a survey (2007-2008)

The project aimed at analyzing the potential of decentralization in the Romanian educational system, providing the basic resources for a comparative study in multiple countries under the coordination of Brookings Institute. The project laid down a three-step analysis.

Step one was to implement a structured questionnaire concerning the budgets of 30 schools and to examine whether there is a connection between the allotted figures and the performance level of each school or the needs of that particular community. Step two consists in the qualitative analysis explaining certain disparities (if there would have been the case) with regard to available resources of different schools or per each student. Finally, conclusions and policy proposals were included in a report and a series of local debates related to this subject was organized.

Lights and Shadows in the Romanian Schools

A resource tracking survey on a sample of 30 Romanian schools reveals interesting trends. Always paraded as a national priority, but poorly researched and understood, the Romanian public education system continues to under-perform and leak resources. Budgets have steadily increased over the last years, but the signs of improvement are still to be seen. This report aims to shed a glimmer of light on the sector. Project sponsored by the Transparency and Accountability Project (TAP), a joint global initiative of Brookings and the Results for Development Institute, Washington DC.

Participation and integrity in local budgets 2006

The project aimed to increase transparency and integrity in public budget design and implementation and foster participation of local civil society in community issues. TI Romania implemented trainings for local civil society organizations, evaluated local community priorities regarding the local budget, evaluated the relationship between the civil society, the local businesspeople and the administration, and finally drew up the good practices guide and organized a round table with all stakeholders, to debate on positive and negative aspects and incorporate observations and recommendations for a better relationship between the local public administration and citizens.

The Transparency of European Funds in Romania

The project aims to:
– Make the EU funding process more transparent;
– Make the management institution responsible for the funding process more accountable;
– Raise the level of citizens’ involvement in the EU funding process.
Partners in the Group are: Media Monitoring Agency, Romanian Training Institute, Romanian Centre for Investigative Journalism, Partners for Local Development Foundation, the Association for the Promotion and Protection of Freedom of Speech, OSI, Pro Democracy Association

Assessment of FOIA compliance (2002/2005)

In November 2005 a financing contract was signed for a new project funded by the European Union through Phare program. The project started to be implemented at the end of 2005 and during 2006 we have conducted an evaluation of the respect of transparency laws by public authorities. According to the law each public institution is required to publish an annual report (activity and financial) but the rate of compliance with these procedures reached a feeble 4% of all public bodies (as presented by a quantitative evaluation conducted by the Romanian Government). Following an in-depth research, the project aims to identify best-practice models and to train representatives of the public bodies in how to collect data and to put them together in an annual report which will provide relevant and accurate information to the public.
This project is a follow-up of the advocacy campaign run by SAR in 2000 for the adoption of FOIA. A first assessment of its implementation was carried in 2002 and indicating unsatisfactory compliance with legal provision. For the current project we use the same methodology and sample as in 2002 allowing comparisons.

Regional initiative for an integrity-related message

This regional project aimed to acknowledge the value of efforts made by caricaturists and investigative journalists in promoting a public integrity (anti-corruption) message in South-Eastern European countries. The project involves investigative journalists and caricaturists from Bulgaria, Hungary, Serbia, Macedonia, the Czech Republic, the Republic of Moldova and Romania. The locales of the projects were Busteni and Bucharest, Romania. The following were partners in the project: Media Monitoring Agency – Catavencu Academy, Cartoonist Network Rights – Romania, Goethe Institute Bucharest.