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.

The Initiative for Clean Justice

The Clean Justice Initiative represents a work group that will periodically inform public opinion in a correct and consistent manner in respect to the quality of the activity of the judicial branch activity, by monitoring the process of reform and by evaluating governmental decisions and actions in the field.
The Clean Justice Initiative aims to : monitor the legislative process and the approval of draft law by the Government, especially in the case of emergency ordinances; monitor and evaluate the management of human, material and informational resources in the judicial and penitentiary system; to evaluate the quality of internal procedures and management from the Ministry of Justice and National Administration of Penitentiaries; to evalute judicial practice in cases of corruption; to evaluate the legislative process concerning the structures involved in fighting corruption and organised crime; to issue reports, recommendations and alternative policies on the above mentioned subjects.
Member organizations: The Academy for Advocacy, Civic Alliance, “Society for Justice -SoJust”” Association, Freedom House Rom”

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.

Whistleblowers protection program

The project aims to accomplish protection of whistleblowers, and to monitor the enforcement of Law 571/2004 in the institutions where the whistleblowers work. Whistleblowers are people who in good faith notify the authorities of violations of the law, deontological codes or other juridical norms in the public institutions where they work or worked.

Free access to information of public interest is a right, not a privilege

The project aims at contributing, through watchdog and advocacy activities, to a better and a more uniform implementation of transparency and accountability principles in Romania. Specific objectives: • Building local capacity of civil society in using proper advocacy tools for holding public authorities accountable for granting free access to information. • Raising awareness of public authorities on the duty to provide unrestricted, non-discriminatory access to information for all categories of solicitors, regardless the subject matter of the request or the type of institution.

Advocacy and Legal Advice Center I

The project aimed to enhance citizens’ participation in anti-corruption by:
– facilitating public access to information related to their rights;
– offering legal guidance regarding complaint procedures in case of fraudulent use of public funds or when citizens are victims of corruption or learn about cases of corruption;
– offering citizens the opportunity to take action against corruption by implementing information campaigns. These campaigns will include brochures and citizens’ guides and will provide practical advice and information related to concrete questions, such as “How to fight against corruption in fiscal administration.”
– promoting open dialogue with public institutions for the setting up of mechanisms capable to deal with citizens’ complaints effectively.”

They (should) work for you – Learn how to evaluate your local councilors

The project aims at creating a set of efficient monitoring tools for measuring local elected officials’ mandate performance in – between elections, during electoral periods and six months after elections – with the direct scope of empowering civil society to accurately scrutinize the local governance act and hold elected representatives accountable for their work.

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.

True accountability in National & European Parliament(s): Civil Society Accesses the MPs’ nominal votes on laws

The project aimed to:
– support the development of accountable MPs in the national and European Parliaments through systematic monitoring of the concrete activity in these bodies and through exposing this activity to the citizens of Romania;
– strengthen civil society capacity of monitoring and tracking MPs activity, by stimulating the creation of a civic platform in the region.

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.