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Anti-corruption descent on government bodies and local authorities

5 May 2021
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The institution of commissioners for the prevention and detection of corruption in national and local authorities has had little impact on current corruption practices over the past five years. As in the past,  there are schemes actively generating income for new, and sometimes old, beneficiaries.

Today, power and political influence make it possible to get rich much quicker than any business due to proximity to resources (land, property, budgets). Theft occurs at all levels, from stealing fuel at municipal enterprises to providing legal benefits to green energy suppliers. Meanwhile, the anti-corruption infrastructure is mainly focused on  bringing corrupt officials to responsibility without eradicating systemic shortcomings, i.e. shortcomings in the law that make possible the diversion of public funds into private pockets.   

Introducing the institution of commissioners to combat corruption (comprising 97 people in national government bodies, 24 in regional councils, 25 in regional administrations and the KCSA, as well as those in city and district councils, at thousands of state-owned enterprises, establishments and organizations – a total of at least 4.5 thousand people) should help eliminate corrupt practices from within. Instead, the system squeezes out some really effective anti-corruption activists, with most of them turning into clerks helping others fill out declarations, resolve conflicts of interest, and conduct various trainings and instruction classes. They also prepare anti-corruption programs that are mandatory for all government bodies, agencies and enterprises but have a dubious impact on corruption.

Why don’t anti-corruption programs work?

According to a NAPC study on the effectiveness of state anti-corruption commissioners, 20% of the programs are unapproved by the NAPC, the commissioners are involved only with 44% of program activities, 60% of government bodies do not make public the implementation of their programs, 61% of government bodies do not review the programs during the year, and 91% do not engage external stakeholders to review or assess them! The NAPC does not even assess these programs’ effectiveness because their indicators do not make it possible to gauge the effectiveness of the measures specified in such programs. After all, it is difficult to assess the implementation of a measure such as “ensuring control over the existence of a conflict of interest of local council deputies” with the deadline set for “permanently”. And the measures provided by the programs (pp. 7-12) are often reduced to conducting instruction on how corruption is evil.

This approach does not make it possible to systematically solve problems with corruption – for example, to amend legislation to eradicate corruption schemes. However, it makes it easy to report on the execution of the program.

The problem of corruption often cannot be solved at the level of one government body because it is sector-wide. At the same time, the anti-corruption program of each government body is limited by the latter’s functions. As a result, government authorities often do not include anti-corruption measures in their programs because they believe that they do not have this problem. For example, the anti-corruption programs of the State Aviation Administration, UkSATSE, and the Ministry of Infrastructure long failed to include corruption risks of the multi-stage procedure for approving the height of buildings. No one wanted to recognize them on their side – though all agreed that there was a problem. In the opinion of these agencies’ experts, bribes were taken somewhere in between, but not in their midst. Eventually, the State Aviation Administration included this item (13) within its anti-corruption program and even drafted a resolution for the Cabinet of Ministers. However, it has not been approved yet.

Anti-corruption programs have thus not become a tool in the anti-corruption fight. The public stopped participating in such programs because officials have strenuously rejected all anti-corruption proposals: everything is either “already settled” or “beyond the agency’s authority”, often left ignored without explanation.  

Most importantly, anti-corruption activists do not have the opportunity to work to eradicate corruption schemes. First of all, because they depend on the agency heads who can dismiss them if their activities interfere with corruption schemes in those bodies. Other employees, too, do not want anti-corruption activists to “interfere” with their activities. Anti-corruption commissioners often do not have the necessary qualifications, influence or understanding of the subject because the agencies’ area of activity can be quite broad. The anti-corruption commissioners themselves complain about the lack of time because during the annual declaration period, they are torn to pieces by their colleagues asking to help fill out declarations.  

The anti-corruption commissioners’ activities are thus limited to filling out declarations, which has little to do with eliminating corruption schemes, conducting trainings that do not make people act honestly, and resolving conflicts of interest, which everyone has now learned to avoid. As well as filling in anti-corruption programs that have no practical use.

What kind of anti-corruption activities would be effective?

Heads and deputy heads of central executive bodies, local authorities or state-owned enterprises in charge of certain areas should be responsible for overcoming corruption through the preparation and implementation of anti-corruption measures. They should take personal responsibility for solving one or two corruption issues (a list of such issues was drawn up in 2019 by the “Together against aorruption” initiative) to publicly report on what has been done on each case, doing it periodically or when leaving office. The NAPC and the public can help them in this, simultaneously monitoring the solution’s progress.

The NAPC should create “special units” consisting of the best specialists who will be “inserted” within government bodies for a certain time, from 1 month (to detect corruption schemes) to 1 year (to eliminate corruption schemes and improve processes). Such teams should have access to internal documents and technical systems (if necessary, with security arrangements put in place), and be in touch directly with the agency’s leadership. The same NAPC special units will be able to monitor the implementation of anti-corruption measures and protect domestic anti-corruption activists in the event of pressure, as well as verify the facts of corruption dug up by them.

Anti-corruption programs should contain a detailed plan on how to eradicate one or two of the most compelling corruption schemes. An important place among the planned measures will be assumed by the development and adoption of changes to legislation. Such plans should be published as a declaration of intent of the heads of state bodies on the national or local authorities’ websites, as well as on the NAPC website, where the public will be able to monitor progress in implementing the plans and the national anti-corruption strategy. The plans can be formulated for one national or local government body or for several bodies at the same time. Currently, under the government and public initiative “Together against corruption”, there are 37 such action plans, developed and agreed with the central executive bodies to be implemented during 2021.

Publishing all anti-corruption measures on the NAPC portal could also help donors select the issue they want to work on, either directly with the government authorities or with the involvement of experts and NGOs.

It is advisable that the anti-corruption commissioners have limited functional responsibilities. In state-owned enterprises, it is better to subordinate them to compliance departments. Anti-corruption commissioners  should coordinate the training of employees, assist in the implementation of electronic declarations, detect conflicts of interest, analyze draft regulations, process whistleblower reports, etc. All these tasks are secondary compared to implementing anti-corruption programs and eradicating corruption risks from the bodies’ procedures.  

All training programs/instruction for employees should be standardized as much as possible by the NAPC, made into the format of 1-2 hour online courses, based on which the employees would pass tests, sign online checklists on their understanding of certain principles of anti-corruption policy (absence of conflicts of interest; agreement with the gift policy, etc.) and obtain a certificate. According to a NAPC survey, 97% of commissioners coordinate or conduct training but only 50% of state bodies conduct post-training monitoring without analyzing its quality.

The NAPC could thus become a powerful center for preventing corruption, which it should be. This requires

  • developing and publishing detailed and specific action plans to eradicate corruption schemes (it is necessary to focus efforts on one or two schemes for each organ of power and perform the work using the teams of specialists)          
  • monitoring the implementation of these plans, including developing and adopting regulations          
  • reserving a limited list of functional responsibilities for anti-corruption commissioners, such as training the employees, preventing conflicts of interest, and assisting with declarations.          

In the next articles, we will discuss in detail several anti-corruption programs of state bodies.

Authors
  • Oksana Velychko, Coordinator of the government and civic initiative “Together against corruption”

Attention

The author doesn`t work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have no relevant affiliations