Benchmarks, anyone?

26. May, 2003


Politicians’ rhetoric on the reportedly slow or inefficient work of the Bureau for Preventing and Combating Corruption (BPCC) is arbitrary and subjects the bureau to political pressure. Instead, transparent criteria to evaluate the BPCC need to be developed. Alas, the government does not have an approved strategy or programme on combating corruption yet.

Despite the instances of corruption being regularly uncovered by the Bureau for Preventing and Combating Corruption (BPCC), the bureau’s work to date has apparently not earned the full trust of the Prime Minister and other “Jaunais Laiks” (New Era) politicians. The bureau has been accused of working too slowly and its director, Guntis Rutkis, has been reproached for insufficient activity and energy.

This piece will not judge whether the BPCC’s work has been good or bad. However, the rhetoric about slow and ineffective work being tossed about by politicians is arbitrary and subjects the bureau to political pressure. In large part, this is possible thanks to the fact that the Bureau for Preventing and Combating Corruption has neither an approved working programme, nor any criteria to judge its own work. The National Strategy for Preventing and Combating Corruption, which was published at the end of January and had been slated for approval by the Cabinet of Ministers within a few weeks, still has yet to be officially accepted. The National Corruption Prevention Programme is also still being prepared. The current situation is rife with paradox. The working plan of the Cabinet of Ministers for 2003 only mentions corruption in a few places, as if in passing, while this government still lacks a programmatic document laying out its campaign against corruption. As a result, the BPCC finds itself too weak to hold out against the attacks being waged by politicians.

In order to strengthen the independence of the BPCC, a host of safeguards are necessary including, for example, a clear working programme, assessment criteria, guaranteed financing for several years and public participation. A working programme is necessary to clarify what the bureau must in fact do in a determined amount of time. If there is a realistic programme in place, then it will be clear what the BPCC has and has not done. Until such a programme is accepted, pronouncements on the pace of the bureau’s work are arbitrary as what may be fast for one person, may be slow for another.

To properly evaluate the quality of the bureau’s work, specific criteria and working guidelines are necessary points of reference. While it may be difficult to work out appropriate quantitative criteria to judge the BPCC’s work, this is possible in specific instances. For example, a suggestion was made during a discussion of experts to calculate just how far prices had fallen in a heretofore corruption-ridden area of public procurement.

Another criterion, while most certainly not strictly quantitative, could be the outcome of criminal proceedings initiated by the BPCC. While the occasional acquittal of officials apprehended by the BPCC could simply result from normal judicial proceedings, a systematic series of acquittals would indicate a problem with the quality of the bureau’s work. Also, independent and high-quality studies could indicate whether the situation has improved regarding those specific areas of activity that people consider to be especially prone to corruption,

However, it is possible that the most important criterion for judging the BPCC’s work is the bureau’s level of trust in society. Society’s trust in the process of preventing and combating corruption is so important that its level must be regularly clarified through public opinion polls and can certainly be used as a relevant criterion. Of course, BPCC officials should not turn into media heroes who stand above the law, but an anti-corruption institution that does not have society’s trust is almost pointless.

In any case, these and still other quantitative and qualitative criteria for judging the BPCC’s work should be laid out in one document, which would then serve as a foundation for all future evaluations of the bureau. These evaluations could then provide well-founded judgements to serve as answers to politicians’ rhetoric about the bureau’s work being either too energetic or too lackadaisical.

Evaluating the BPCC’s work will take time. Employing assessment criteria will also take time – at least a year. Guntis Rutkis’ health indeed casts serious doubt on his ability to fully meet his obligations as the bureau’s head. Under other conditions, evaluating the bureau’s leadership would have to be a far more deliberate and diligent process.

The BPCC also requires other measures to guard its independence, which cannot be fully elaborated on here. One such measure is progressively increasing financing guaranteed by law for the next few years to come. Also, a public commission or council to monitor the BPCC’s work would be necessary, much like that found in Hong Kong’s independent anti-corruption commission.

Politicians cannot burden the BPCC with unreasonable demands and still ask for results within a few weeks, as was the case almost immediately following the inauguration of the 8th Saeima (Parliament). Instead, attention should be paid first to whether the BPCC is fulfilling its working programme, which should be approved as quickly as possible, and then to whether the bureau’s work is providing positive results that meet the determined criteria. Then – after some time – it will be clear whether or not the BPCC has developed into a powerful anti-corruption instrument. raksts

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