The cost of corruption and inaction

Wed, Feb 5, 2014, 01:00

Four out of five Irish people believe Ireland is a corrupt country. That is just one of the many depressing findings in the European Commission’s first report on the state of corruption in the EU’s 28 member states. The Irish figure is marginally above the European average, where 76 per cent also regard their respective countries as corrupt. Ireland’s performance in tackling corruption has improved in recent years, as the report readily acknowledges. Nevertheless, the Irish public clearly remain unimpressed by what has been achieved so far. And, worryingly, some 3 per cent of those surveyed in Ireland said that in the past year they had either been asked, or expected, to pay a bribe in return for services.

Corruption costs the EU an estimated €120 billion each year. It also erodes public trust and undermines confidence in democracy. The European Commission’s initiative, which is long overdue, is an attempt to bolster democracy by checking corruption in member states, and by making national governments more publicly accountable through a review of their anti-corruption efforts. Almost a decade ago the United Nations Convention against Corruption came into force, which Ireland finally ratified in 2011. The UN convention and the EU’s regular scrutiny of anti-corruption measures in member states will increase the external pressure on government to do more, and faster.

The Commission in its report found that while Ireland had implemented many reforms in tackling corruption, it needed to improve the speed at which it secured criminal prosecutions. It noted that while the number of prosecutions for white-collar crime had increased between 2003 and 2010, the number of convictions secured had fallen significantly. Last June Matthew Elderfield, the former Financial Regulator, called for a public debate about strengthening the laws on white-collar crime. Mr Elderfield also questioned whether the Garda and the Office of the Director of Corporate enforcement had the necessary resources to take on the number of cases that may be required in this area. And, as the report also points out, the investigation into allegations of irregularities at Anglo Irish Bank took nearly four years before indictments were issued.

The aim of the Commission’s report is to try and ensure good governance across EU member states. John Devitt, chief executive of Transparency International Ireland has said the report also provides a welcome reminder of the findings of the Moriarty and Mahon tribunals, and of the need to avoid the temptation to move on to the next scandal – Irish Water, the charity sector and the Garda – and to forget the last. As Mr Devitt also rightly says, much work needs to be done to act on the findings of previous investigations.