It was always my recommendation that the BPCC’s director must be an expatriate - not just the director, but also the senior managers. This director should lead the bureau for at least the first 3 years in order to train the personnel.
An interview with the Advisor to the Prime Minister on Anti-Corruption Matters, David Wallis, by Inta Lase from Latvian Television (Panorama)
You have considerable experience fighting against corruption in Latvia. A couple of years ago you were a project co-ordinator for the PHARE anti-corruption project. How do you evaluate this project, was it successful?
I think this PHARE project was quite successful, taking into account that this was the first anti-corruption project organised by the European Union. I think that, in terms of references, this was quite a good project. Many of the things I did on that project I have in my pocket now. This provides a good base to address the problems this project identified.
What problems do you mean?
For example, there was a project in the schools, which educated children on corruption prevention. Our co-operation with Transparency International on issues related to local government was quite reasonable as well. We met together – the local chapter of Transparency International, along with public and local administrators and we identified problems.
From the Bureau for Preventing and Combating Corruption’s (BPCC) point of view now, you identify a problem and, if you need to investigate, you investigate it; if you need to prevent it, you put steps in the system to prevent it or you even educate people on how to avoid problems with specific things.
I have tried to point out three very important directions – prevention, investigation and education – that we developed during the PHARE project and are now doing with the BPCC as well.
One more thing that we did during the PHARE project was to encourage journalists to pursue investigative journalism. This is very important because a lot of information can come from journalists. Journalists will follow the investigation and bring matters to the BPCC’s attention. The ethical code that we developed for civil servants is being adapted to suit the BPCC’s needs right now. There were a lot of things in this PHARE project that need to be continued.
You are quite positive about this project but if we look at the press clippings, we find that there was a lot of criticism of it for things like wasting money on a poster campaign and not paying attention to the problems that are really important in Latvia. For example, why do you need to educate children and not judges, policemen or officials from the State Revenue Service?
The project also developed training programs for judges, policemen and other officials. But, in general, there was a total misunderstanding with the press about the project. In particular, I mean the poster campaign. That was just one reporter who misunderstood the answer and totally destroyed the press conference by mis-reporting.
What do you mean by ‘misunderstood’?
They asked for the cost of the project and we provided them with the total cost of the entire project. They misunderstood this and reported this sum as the cost of the poster campaign. Because it was so expensive, it turned into a knockabout.
The problem was that the press was very negative about the project at that time. For example, the school project – we were conducting a demonstration in a classroom and 1 of the 25 children present said that to succeed in Latvia you need to be corrupt. I remember that the press was there as well. By the end of the day, that child had changed his mind. But, the next day the headline story in the press was that children in Latvia think that you have to be corrupt to succeed. A total distortion.
So this means that you are blaming the journalists for a crooked interpretation, but you do not think that there were failures in this project or that you were not able to present this project in an understandable manner?
Yes, the press was not interested in the project. They just wanted sensations. But the project was not a sensation, it was a job for the future.
The most important thing is to educate children because they are the future. People my age are already set in their own ways; people your age have also already achieved what you think you want. You have already set your standards and they are hard to change. But children don’t have their own values yet. Therefore, they need to understand the ethical problems, the conflict of interests and what it means to be honest.
Do you think that right now, in Latvia, educating children is more important than educating judges, policemen and prosecutors?
I think children are more important, because they are the future.
Were you in charge of drafting the job description for the director of the BPCC?
The job description has already been published in advertisements.
Of course it has, but it is more formal than substantive and does not include the priorities for the BPCC director’s daily work. What are your suggestions, what should the BPCC’s chief do?
He or she has to be a manager of people. The director’s role is the following – to make the main working decisions. It is actually an administrative, executive position after all. It is somebody who can lead the organisation without doing the BPCC’s actual hands-on work. It is important that the people in this organisation can turn to him and understand what their jobs are. It is important that this person leads the bureau in the right direction and gives the public confidence. That is my view on the role of the director. I do not believe that the director of the BPCC must have any specific occupation. I do not think that he or she must necessarily be a lawyer to be director. Many leaders of the armed forces and police forces are not lawyers, but they are still good leaders.
Perhaps in some other system this might be possible, but in Latvia the BPCC director has the final say in instigating or dropping legal proceedings in criminal cases. Do you think that a person who isn’t a lawyer would be able to make such decisions?
I think that any good leader can listen to his advisors and subordinates, understand the reasoning of a lawyer, analyse it and then agree with it or not. You do not have to be a lawyer to make a final decision, because you have the arguments in front of you and you can analyse them. For example, if you buy a house, you don’t have to understand the law. You ask a lawyer for advice and then you make a decision based on this advice. I cannot see why the director couldn’t make a decision based on a lawyer’s advice.
Don’t you think that if the director were not a lawyer it might make him or her easy to manipulate?
You mean that if the director is a lawyer he or she won’t be manipulated?
I mean that if you do not know the system, it is much easier to be manipulated.
I think what you could say is that there are some technicalities that she or he might not understand. I, for example, am not a lawyer; but I have spent over 30 years working with lawyers and prosecuting cases. When I go to the court in England, I do not have any difficulties understanding the case, the objectives and the reasons behind it. I believe that this experience is more of a qualification than the qualification of law. Practical experience working with the law and understanding the law – that is important.
During the PHARE project you met a lot of anti-corruption experts and professionals working in this field. Do you see any of them as a possible BPCC director?
I think there are many good leaders in Latvia. It is a difficult job for any person, I will say that. There are many senior-level jobs in Latvia that are much easier. It is also a very restricted position, because obviously you have to be a person of high integrity and you have to understand that your movements are watched all the time. People will see you making mistakes. Riga is a small city; there is pressure from the people just because Riga is such a small city. You try to be polite with people, you will try to make people happy, it is a very difficult position. I hope someone will take this challenge.
You already mentioned Latvia’s most important problem – people know each other very well. The political and economic elites have grown up together. How do you choose a leader in such a situation, because the chance that he or she won’t be someone’s friend, colleague or business partner is very small?
The suggestion is to make the BPCC on the Hong Kong model. The Hong Kong model is that for over 25 years you have an expatriate leader. From the UK, Australia or from other various countries – the leader and senior managers. Even now, there are 25 expatriates working in high positions.
You mean that the BPCC needs an expatriate leader?
That was always my recommendation. Not just a director, but also senior managers. At least for 3 years in order to train the personnel.
You think that a person coming from a western European country, having had different experiences, will understand how corruption and state-capture works in a post-communist country like Latvia?
I think that corruption is very similar in all countries. Corruption always is corruption – you pay to get the expected effect.
Formally, corruption is very similar, but the connections are different?
Yes. But connections always come through relatives, political and business interests, and friendships. And the objectives are always the same.
Could you be more specific and tell us where you see the weak points, the problems which should be solved to minimize state-capture?
I think that state-capture is a dangerous phenomenon. But, it is very hard to measure. It is very difficult to accurately determine exactly how state-capture works in Latvia at this stage. In a small community like Riga, it is almost impossible that people do not know each other and do not have certain relationships. Therefore, you have to set up very strong principles and make sure that these relationships do not affect the actual work. And this is the point where the prevention and education comes in – to understand conflict of interests and to understand that it is necessary to be honest.
In Latvia, it is not essential to be honest. Actually, in many cases the system is built in such a way so that it is easier and quicker for businessmen to pay bribes and not to be honest.
That is the point of education – that not always the easiest way is the honest one.
You have to have strong legislation and strong courts. When people see that they will be punished for corruption in such a way, it is no longer the easiest way.
How do you evaluate the job done by the BPCC during the last half a year?
It would be unfair for me answer this question because I haven’t looked at their work too closely yet. As far as I understand, there are many people who are expecting a lot more from them than they are able to deliver right now. Some inquiries are taking a lot of time; therefore, it is unfair to start looking at numbers or expecting easy results. Corruption is very complex and secret and it takes a lot of exercise to get the necessary evidence. It also takes a lot to get people to give evidence in order to get a case into court and to get a conviction.
We must remember that this is a new organisation. Different people are being brought in. They have different levels of experience and different levels of training. That means you need to set up trainings to get everybody up to the same standards. The BPCC is not just about investigation; that is just the visible part of it. The BPCC is also about education and prevention. It must be understood that if the investigators get involved, it means that the prevention failed. If prevention and education is taking place, there will be less work for the investigators.
Okay, you won’t analyse the results of the BPCC’s work, but probably you can judge the system – has it been formed properly?
The BPCC is following the Hong Kong principle and the Hong Kong principle will be latvianized. To succeed, you do not need to create a brand new bureau, you just have to adapt one that is working successfully. The Hong Kong bureau has been established for 40 years now and it is really a successful one. It is probably the most successful agency in the world. So it is common sense that Latvia would follow that successful model and make the changes that fit the Latvian scenario. It is important to get people there and to give the appropriate training and then the results will come.
Do you think that the mechanism in Latvia is really the same as in Hong Kong? For example, the guarantee of the bureau’s independence in Hong Kong is a non-governmental committee that supervises the bureau. In Latvia, we do not even have such a committee, the bureau is supervised by the Prime Minister?
It would be commendable to have one. I already gave my recommendation to the Prime Minister to make such a committee. This committee should go through the BPCC’s work and ensure the public and the executive that the BPCC is doing its job in the right direction. Also, it can give the BPCC directions on how to do things. Working inside the organisations, you might not see some of the obvious things that are best seen from the outside. So it will be a safety measure for the public.
What kind of people should work at this committee?
People who have been successful in business, senior government people, the heads of NGOs. People who have an interest in society in general, but are not investigators.
How would you choose them?
I think the public can nominate them.
How, exactly, could this happen, if, as you mentioned before, Riga is such a small city and political connections are so close?
We could advertise and say that we are going to elect a committee of 12 people and invite people to nominate someone, and then we will evaluate the suggestions.
Do you really think that you could choose a serious supervisory body in such fashion?
Perhaps we have to ensure that it is possible. We can keep saying that it is impossible in Latvia and that we cannot do it in Latvia. I am not interested in the difficulties in front of us, I am interested in the result. I say that all the time. It is not so complicated – you just nominate people. They get elected for a term of 3 years and then you re-elect them or appoint others.
We don’t have any such supervisory body yet, but we do have the Prime Minister supervising the BPCC. Do you think that this is the right way to build an independent investigative body?
The BPCC is seen as independent and people must understand that, if the Prime Minister takes great interest in the bureau, it is not because he wants to use it as a political tool. He is just providing support to the bureau.
Do you think that in this system there is a theoretical possibility that the bureau could raise a case against the Prime Minister or his party and should the Prime Minister like to use the bureau as a political tool, he could?
He is not, I can assure you. Anyway, you [the BPCC’s director] have to be strong enough to support your point of view and assure the public that someone is not giving you political directions. I am sure that it will be very dangerous for the Prime Minister to do so. And I think he won’t.
Do you think that the bureau has all the necessary tools to be successful in fighting against corruption? Don’t you think that there are some problems in the laws that should be fixed?
I think that the law should be changed. But, as I said before, I am not a lawyer. I have been meeting with the prosecutors and they told me that a few things needed to be changed.
Perhaps you could be more specific and name the most important problems that you see in the laws and which should be changed?
Again, I am not a lawyer. This week, I spoke with Mr.Pumpurs. He told me that, if there is an operation on bribery and you provide a person with money to use – for example 20,000 Ls – you have to be ready to keep this money in the safe for 18 months until the case is heard by the court. That’s useless. In the UK, it would be enough to just note in the case that there was a bribe of 20,000 Ls. This is a very simple example of where the law must be changed. There are also other examples. Also, after you join the EU, you have to follow their guidelines – for example, the declaration on human rights – and this will change Latvia’s investigative system.