Government ‘must do more’ to counter corruption

81 per cent of people in Ireland say they think corruption is widespread in the country

EU Anti-Corruption Report: Corruption-related risks associated with close ties between politicians and industry continue to be a cause for concern. Photograph: Nikolay Doychinov/Reuters

EU Anti-Corruption Report: Corruption-related risks associated with close ties between politicians and industry continue to be a cause for concern. Photograph: Nikolay Doychinov/Reuters

Mon, Feb 3, 2014, 14:34

The Government needs to do more to fight corruption in public life, according to a European Commission report published today.

Some 81 per cent of people in Ireland say they think corruption is widespread in the country, 5 per cent above the European Union average of 76 per cent.

The assertions and statistics come from the EU Anti-Corruption Report published today which is based on a survey of EU member states.

Stating that the Irish government had “undertaken substantial reforms in its anti-corruption policies” by improving transparency with regard to funding of political parties, it said nonetheless that more work could be done to ally public concerns.

“More work could be done to improve the capacity to prosecute and punish corruption cases in a timely manner,” said the report. “Further work could also be required to address the few remaining concerns around the funding of political parties, election and referendum campaigns and corruption risks related to conflicts of interest at local level, as well as in the area of urban planning.”

The report describes the programme for government as “an ambitious programme of political and legislative reform” in response to “several large-scale cases where politicians and industry players colluded either in an illegal and corrupt manner or legally but in an improper or unethical manner”.

Noting the various pieces of legislation and agencies concerned with anti-corruption measures and enforcement, the report says that the Government “is currently reviewing a draft law to consolidate the seven overlapping anti-corruption statutes and create a set of new offences, including trading in influence, and strengthening the penalties for corruption, including removal from or ban on holding public office”.

The report says Ireland’s request for financial help from the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank was caused by “intense competition for profits in the booming (1990s onwards) economy and property market as a result of which “the pace of credit expansion accelerated sharply”.

“By the autumn of 2010, the loss of investor confidence in Ireland triggered a crisis,” it notes.

It continues: “Lengthy investigations that have not yet led to court decisions regarding financial institutions at the heart of the banking crisis in Ireland have contributed to a general climate of mistrust in the transparency and accountability of the financial sector in the country, and in the capacity of corporate oversight and enforcement. For instance, the investigation of the alleged irregularities concerning the Anglo Irish Bank lasted nearly four years before an indictment was issued against its former CEO, who is facing 12 charges in connection with financial irregularities.”

The full EU-wide report identified public procurement as an area of general, EU-wide concern. In relation to Ireland, it notes that public works, goods and services account for 14.6 per cent of GDP in 2011. The report goes on to note that the Government Contracts Committee and the National Public Procurements Policy Unit has published general ethics in public procurement guidelines to help public-sector buyers conduct purchasing operations in line with probity and accountability standards.

“These contain detailed provisions on the disclosure of conflicts of interest and acceptance of gifts and hospitality by those involved in public procurement,” it says.

The report notes various measures taken on foot of the Mahon Tribunal and the increased focus nationally on the funding of politics. It identified weaknesses in the strictures governing political donations.

“The Mahon Tribunal report highlighted ways in which the new thresholds could be circumvented and noted that there is nothing to prevent an individual donor from giving a donation to a political party and to each individual member of the same party,” it said. “This could lead to a significant amount of money, capable of giving rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption. Furthermore, the new legislation does not set specific time-frames within which political parties are to discharge their disclosure obligations. This is a significant shortcoming since it is more difficult to identify potential links between a donation and a kickback if a considerable period of time has passed from the receipt of the donation to its disclosure.”

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