'Legal corruption' high in absence of accountability


IRELAND SUFFERS high levels of “legal corruption” because of the Government’s failure to make political parties, large corporations and government bodies more publicly accountable, a new report has claimed.

The report by the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International is based on comprehensive research carried out over three years into the integrity of the different pillars of the State, encompassing government, parliament, courts, law and order, the public service and the media.

It finds that Ireland has made substantial progress in strengthening legal and institutional safeguards against corruption over the past 15 years.

Ireland is perceived to have one of the lowest measured occurrences of “petty corruption” (for example, bribes to officials) anywhere in the world, it states.

Referring to the “grand corruption” which existed during the 1980s and 1990s, the report states that in recent years “there is little evidence that this type of corruption poses a major threat”.

However, the report says that Ireland is regarded by domestic and international observers as suffering high levels of what it describes as “legal corruption”.

Legal corruption is described as undue political influence that stems from political funding that is lawful. This is manifested by cronyism, political patronage and favours, donations and other contacts that influence political decisions and behaviour.

The report is critical of the continuing absence of whistleblowers’ legislation, the secrecy surrounding political funding, the complete absence of regulation for political lobbyists, the risk of undue political interference in appointing members of boards, public bodies, and the judiciary.

Transparency International is a non-profit organisation with chapters in almost 100 countries. It was established in Ireland in 2004.

The research for the latest study – the National Integrity Systems Country Study – was conducted by its chief executive John Devitt from 2007 to 2009 and by Irish Times columnist Elaine Byrne during 2006.

Mr Devitt said there was a body of evidence on the role of patronage and clientelism. “We have witnessed enough cases of it and there have been enough admissions by political leaders about favouritism,” he said. “It’s a safe assumption . . . that influence is being brought to bear on policymaking . . . It’s a reasonable assumption to make that there are high levels of legal corruption.”

The report identifies a large number of serious shortcomings and weaknesses in safeguards and governance. The media is also criticised for its own lack of safeguards against bribery and corruption.

The shortcomings include:

Unvouched expenses for TDs and Senators;

Risk of patronage and corruption in appointments to State boards;

Lack of financial transparency for funding of political parties;

No power for the Standards in Public Office Commission to launch own investigations;

No disciplinary framework in place for judges;

Limits in Freedom of Information laws;

No anti-bribery policies in place for journalists;

Few fraud and anti-corruption plans for local government;

Self-regulation of professions;

Lack of whistleblower laws for business sector;

Weak regulatory enforcement for business;

Shelf companies awarded large public contracts.

The report recommends 10 measures, including whistleblowers’ legislation; a register of lobbyists; the setting up of a Garda anti-corruption unit; reform of the Freedom of Information fee system; scrapping of plans to treble the allowable value of non-disclosable gifts and loans to politicians; councillors’ declarations of interest to be posted online; State board members to be appointed by public competition; and the publication of conflict-of-interest policies for journalists.

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