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.

Coalition for FOIA

In 2001, a coalition of Romanian NGOs led by SAR successfully acted as a catalyst in building consensus for the adoption of a Law on Access to Public Information (also known as FOIA). In a context where legislative initiatives from the Government and the Opposition had been submitted to the Parliament, and a Law on Classified Information was also envisaged, in March 2001 a civil society coalition was forged, which effectively facilitated consultations between the Government (Ministry of Public Information) and the Opposition (National Liberal Party). The result of this process was a common agreement by all parties to a draft law that was subsequently adopted by the Parliament in September 2001. The final version of the FOIA incorporated articles and concepts developed by the Romanian civil society organizations based on the Slovak and Bulgarian experience.

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)

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.

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.

Test Case for Performance and Transparency in the Local Public Admininistration: Property Restitution (2007-2008)

Beyond the legal details of the restitution process, two characteristics define Romania as an unique state in the Central and Eastern Europa:

  • indecision regarding compensations, in nature or equivalent, so that successive laws, produced and implemented for more than a decade, created confusion and overlapped rights
  • Large-scale abuse at local and central levels, favored by laws with loopholes and irregular judicial practice, visible through the huge discrepancies among restitution indicators, from one county to another

SAR initiated the first analysis with numeric indicators regarding the situation of restitutions, which shows who is at fault and why.

The scope of the project was the improvement of capacities for the local public administration towards implementing public policies.

The specific objective was to evaluate the situation for three indicators: performance, transparency and responsiveness by utilizing a test-case applied at a national level.

Starting from the evaluation, SAR identified and promoted the best modalities to increase the local capacity in relation to the three aspects, through consultation and advocacy.

Activities:

  1. Evaluating the local administration through a test-case. The activity included documentation and data collection, through interviews, data analysis and interpretation and publishing the report
  2. Round table for consulting stakeholders
  3. Advocacy activities for promoting the recommendations: preparing the activity, meetings with key decision factors, workshop, disseminating publications, disseminating results to mass media

Partners

APADOR-CH

Implementation period: December 2007 – September 2008

 

The Coalition for Clean Government

The initiative continued the work of the successful Coalition for a Clean Parliament. The members of the CCP decided to continue the monitoring of the public arena creating a Coalition for a Clean Government bringing up new issues and new approaches:

  • Declarations of wealth and interests – In the spring of 2005, SAR together with other members of the coalition argued for the improvement of the declarations of wealth and interest especially for high-level civil servants and dignitaries. SAR participated in several discussions and got involved in a working group created for drafting of new forms for the declarations of wealth and interest that would enable the public scrutiny of the wealth and interests of politicians and public servants. The effects of the new legislation were visible. Journalists used these instruments as means to monitor, identify and signaled existing irregularities in the 2005-2006 declarations. Furthermore the Prosecutors Office has also started investigations on these issues. All these indicate a better fit of this format and transformed it into an effective instrument. However six members of Parliament have initiated a new law attempting to replace again the established format with a vague and less detailed one. Unfortunately the law received tacit approval in the Senat in mid February 2006 but due to the critical stance taken by SAR representatives in the media, the Social-Democratic Party expressed their opposition to the project and the initiators (members of SDP) have spoken about the withdrawal of their proposal.
  • Increase transparency in public acquisitions – the coalition has addressed the issues of transparentization of public contracts. In October 2005 sixteen organizations made a public appeal for the legal endorsement of the principle that any contract of public acquisition, public-private partnership, concession, privatization etc should become automatically public from the moment of its signature, excluding thus any confidentiality clauses. The Government was opened to NGOs proposal and formed a working group, inviting SAR and other NGOs to participate. The working group has already drafted changes of the legislation that not only complies with the European acquis, but set even higher standards and it might become a model of transparency in public acquisitions. The project is now on the table of the Government to decide on the most appropriate procedure for approval.
  • Support anti-corruption policies – the efficiency of the anti-corruption fight was one of the most critical issues for the European integration of Romania. In December 2004, the Brussels European Council decided the conclusion of the accession negotiations with Romania but included specific safeguard clauses that would allow the postponement of the date of accession with a year. anti-corruption fight was one of the red-flagged areas and significant improvement of its efficiency is needed in a very short time. Although significant steps had been taken in the right direction, the reforms were still on the edge as they were facing the (open or hidden) opposition from people in decision positions feeling threatened by recent developments. Therefore a close public scrutiny of the whole process was needed to early signal and to prevent any potential derailment from the right track as it had been seen in the rejection of the law approving the OUG 134/2005.

Coalition for a Clean Parliament – European Parliament Election 2007

Concept: fighting large-scale corruption by preventing the lack of information about the candidates for Members of Parliament; agreeing on criteria that make a candidate unfit for a clean Parliament with the leaders of the political parties; developing black-lists of the parties’ candidates in order to cleanse the candidate lists; making these lists public (website, flyers, press).
In the autumn of 2006 10 organizations decided to form the Coalition for a Clean Parliament – European elections. At the beginning of the year the formation of the coalition and the criteria used in the monitoring of the candidates were announced. The Coalition contacted all major political parties and negotiated the access to the preliminary list of candidates before the official announcement. The Coalition organized the network of journalists that collected and assembled the data. The preliminary findings have been discussed with all parties. Given the changes of the electoral system and the evolutions of the political scene in recent years, the organizations forming the Coalition for Clean Parliament have decided to resume the monitoring of the political representatives using a new methodology. Therefore, the coalition deemed that it was not sufficient for a candidate to merely meet a set of integrity requirements, but that dignitaries should also seek to serve public interest and respect the rule of law. Before the parliamentary elections of 2008, the Coalition designed a set of instruments that were better suited to capture this perspective:
– a Pact for the Rule of Law – politicians were presented with a document with several key points they should commit to respect during office;
– monitoring political migration, defined as changing formal party allegiance (more than twice);
– monitoring of the manner in which those in office between 2004 and 2008 had voted on a series of issues and laws considered by the Coalition as particularly important for the rule of law.
The results of these monitoring activities were published on the “Clean Romania” website, which was thus transformed into a resource site for anticorruption advocacy.

CONSENSUS – Strengthening the development of public policies through stakeholders input, an effective and responsible exercise of democratic powers

The project aimed at raising the accountability of Ministerial Public Policy Units and increasing the ability and knowledge of civil society to participate effectively and valuably in the process of elaborating, implementing, monitoring and evaluating the public policy process.

Corruption in local public administration – premises of prevention and combating

The project aimed to accomplish a research in three pilot-counties, on the conditions which favour corruption at the local level, as well as to offer assistance to local public institutions to use the research in defining local and institutional anti-corruption strategies. The research was carried out in Harghita, Sibiu and Olt counties, and some activities were also carried out in Bucharest.Transparency International Romania was the main organization implementing this project, in partnership with the County Councils in the three project counties: Harghita, Sibiu and Olt.

Enhancing action against money-laundering and corruption in Romania: assisting the National Bureau for Preventing and Combating Money Laundering to improve the legal frame and administrative capacity

The project aimed at improving the legal frame regarding money laundering, by addressing current flaws of mechanisms in place to detect illegal gains obtained from high corruption, fiscal fraud and organized crime. Also, the project sought to improve law enforcement capacity in combating corruption and money laundering as a result of corruption. It was implemented in partnership with the National Bureau for Preventing and Combating Money Laundering, which offered technical and informational support.