Anti-corruption delays 'cost billions'

Thu, Oct 25, 2012, 01:00

Delays in implementing anti-corruption reforms promised in the Programme for Government are potentially costing the economy billions of euro every year, an international watchdog body has claimed.

Transparency International Ireland today published an update to its 2009 report examining the principal institutions responsible for enhancing integrity and tackling corruption.

These include the executive and legislature, political parties, the judiciary, the Ombudsman, the civil and public service, law enforcement agencies and the media.

The National Integrity Systems 2012 report is part of an EU-wide anti-corruption initiative supported by the European Commission’s home affairs directorate.

The report finds that measures aimed at preventing undue influence over public policy and stopping corruption in local government have yet to be implemented.

Some 39 recommendations were made in the 2009 report to address underlying governance issues, reform the political system and to strengthen legal and institutional safeguards against maladministration and corruption.

Transparency International said that “regrettably” none of these reforms had been implemented in full. Partial progress had been made in 20 areas.

Several key anti-bribery and white collar crime laws had been passed since 2009, strengthening anti-corruption legislation. Ireland had also ratified the United Nations Contention Against Corruption – one of the key recommendations in the original study.

The organisation also welcomed recent measures aimed at increasing transparency in political party funding which it said “should go some way to preventing corporate and individual donors from buying political influence”.

Transparency International criticised the Government’s delay in bringing a whistleblower protection bill before the Oireachtas and its “U-turn on a Programme for Government pledge to restore Freedom of Information to its status before it was weakened in 2003”.

The report said the “discredited light-touch approach to financial regulation” had been replaced with “a more assertive model”.

But it said it remained to be seen whether these measures would break “the historical tendency of the Financial Regulator to be a servant of the banks, not a master”.

Chief executive John Devitt said the delays were potentially costing the Irish economy billions of euro every year.

“In 2009 we estimated that the Irish economy was losing around €3 billion annually from white collar crime and corruption. However, too little has been done since then to detect and prevent a problem that has left the country bankrupt,” Mr Devitt said.

“Given the potential losses the country faces from future corruption, the Government needs to address this issue with the same urgency it has shown in bailing out our banks.”

Mr Devitt said it was not only traditional forms of corruption such as bribery that cheated citizens.

“Hundreds of thousands of people are struggling to make a living today, and that is in no small part down to the fact that strong measures to prevent corruption and white-collar crime were not in place during the boom years.

“Increased transparency and accountability are required to stop corruption - and will help in the country’s economic recovery. The Government cannot afford to drag its heels on reforms any longer," he added.

Key findings

• Measures to control and prevent conflicts of interest in central and local government are inadequate

• Political lobbying remains unregulated and shrouded in secrecy

• Lengthy delays in introducing whistleblower protections are unacceptable

• Freedom of Information (FOI) fees are excessive and the Government is reneging on its Programme for Government commitment to restore the original FOI Act

• Agencies fighting white collar crime and corruption are not adequately resourced

• The risk of patronage and corruption in the appointments process to State boards and bodies remains high

• The parliamentary expenses and allowances regime is unduly complicated and opaque

• Recent opinion polls highlight worrying ethical shortcomings in Irish businesses

Key Recommendations

• Implement stronger anti-corruption safeguards at local government level

• Consider measures to encourage self-reporting of white collar offences. Measures should be introduced to encourage self-reporting of corruption-related offences

• Disclosure of interests for public officials aimed at preventing conflicts of interests should be more comprehensive

• All public officials should be required to declare all of their personal and business-related assets and liabilities, as well as those of family members

• These declarations of interest should be monitored by the relevant oversight agency

• Increase education and awareness-raising on corruption and anti-corruption

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