The new anti-corruption strategy – just more paper-pushing? 0

Among Latvia’s anti-corruption bodies there is a culture of “institutional envy”– each institution applies its own elastoplast but the patient isn’t getting any better. The National Strategy for Preventing and Combating Corruption attempts, for the first time, to bring together all the elements of an anti-corruption policy in an organized and understandable form.

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“Latvia isn’t short of written documents but lacks effective implementation” – this is the typical (and well-founded) reaction of people when they first hear about the new National Strategy for Preventing and Combating Corruption. Documents abound, but a clear understanding of how to combat corruption effectively is still lacking. The State has plenty of institutions which, at least in part, are involved in fighting corruption. (One Phare official counted more than 50!) Yet, society’s perception is that corruption continues to increase.

If all the various institutions were able to work together effectively and devote themselves to reaching a common goal, Latvia would already have made much more progress. But existing documents do not provide clear guidance as to what role each institution has to play in the fight against corruption. That is why a working group, with the participation of the Bureau for Preventing and Combating Corruption (BPCC), Transparency International – Latvia (Delna), the Prime Minister’s Advisors and political scientists, with the advice of the Parliamentary (Saeima) Anti-Corruption Commission, has been working on this new strategy since December.

Among Latvia’s anti-corruption institutions one frequently encounters a phenomenon that one member of Delna has termed “institutional envy.” Information is power and not everyone is willing to share it. As a result, each anti-corruption institution works within its own sphere, doing its work at it sees best, but there is no unified, national anti-corruption policy. Each institution applies an elastoplast within its own area of responsibility but the patient isn’t getting any better.

Things are not much brighter as regards legislation. Legislation has been passed according to the requirements of the EU acquis, but its implementation still limps along. Ineffective legislation only hinders the fight against corruption and reduces society’s trust in the State. Individuals are not to blame for this phenomenon; rather it is the State’s uncoordinated approach to anti-corruption. Everyone understands that there is no lack of honest civil servants and police – but often they are unable to act as they ought to or as they themselves would like.

In 1997, the Corruption Prevention Council created by the Cabinet of Ministers wrote a Corruption Prevention Program, but its deadlines have already passed and the program is no longer appropriate for today’s circumstances. In particular, the creation of the BPCC and the start of its work have altered the situation. A review is needed to present the complete picture and to set the ultimate goal, which is defined in the new strategy as: “To promote the trust of the people of Latvia in the rule of law, economic development and prosperity in the formation of an honest, democratic government in which those who have power entrusted to them conscientiously serve the people and are free from corruption.”

The strategy attempts, for the first time, to put together all the elements of an anti-corruption policy in one organized and (especially important!) understandable form. The Hong Kong model of anti-corruption is based on three elements: alongside preventing and combating corruption, the third component is the education of society. The strategy explains, in a simple and accessible way, what corruption is and why it is a problem of national importance. It considers the general principles of anti-corruption and the preconditions necessary to prevent and combat corruption, briefly covering such hot topics as the separation of powers and mutual oversight, conflicts of interest and honest public procurement. Some sensitive issues are also raised, for example: lobbying, the independence of institutions controlling the State authorities and an ombudsman institution. Constant themes are transparency and accountability.

The strategy looks at the specific responsibilities of each institution. Alongside the legislature, judiciary, executive and local government the media, civil society, the private sector and international organizations also appear. Each must assume its own share of responsibility if the State is to fight corruption effectively. The strategy concludes with guidance on its implementation: at the center is the BPCC’s National Program for Preventing and Combating Corruption which will set concrete tasks, allocate responsible institutions and will specify deadlines.

Now we come to the real work. The above-mentioned anti-corruption Program (which the BPCC is already preparing) will directly reflect the declared goals of the strategy. Its implementation will fill in the gaps in legislation and organize our combined efforts. The BPCC will assume the central role in preventing and combating corruption by exercising control and coordination over the execution of the National Program. By following this Program, which is based on the Strategy, action will be consistent and coordinated.
The task which lies ahead will be neither easy, nor simple. Yet Latvian society has expressed its willingness to undertake this work; the Government’s position is crystal clear; the principal ministries are ready for real cooperation; the coordination of the BPCC has breathed new life into the endeavor; and the involvement of NATO and the EU helps both morally and materially. If today in Latvia, with everything going for us, we cannot succeed in fighting corruption, then who can.

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