SAR conference: “2016, The Decisive Year for Public Integrity Reform”

On February 25th, the Romanian Academic Society (RAS), together with the Chancellery of the Prime-Minister, and the Ministry of Justice, organized the conference entitled “2016, the Decisive Year for Public Integrity Reform”. The topic focused on the state of public integrity in Romania and what can be done to improve the control of corruption.

The main take away from the conference – which was attended by over 150 distinguished guests from public institutions, civil society, and media organizations – was that punitive measures alone are not enough to truly reduce corruption and that good governance requires a more comprehensive approach, centred on administrative reform, as stated in the opening address by the RAS President, Professor Alina Mungiu-Pippidi. Emphasis should therefore be placed on accurately measuring the level of corruption in a given country, identifying what has already worked in reducing it, and finding policy measures that would lead to genuine improvement of “public integrity”, understood as a country’s capacity to control corruption.

Prime-Minister Dacian Cioloş highlighted the need to prevent corruption from occurring in public entities, in addition to the prosecution of deeds already committed, pointing out that integrity in public office must be complemented by competence and responsibility. His example of an efficient administration was that of state documents needing no more than two signatures, a sign that public officials are not afraid to take responsibility for their actions.

Watch the full statement here.

How can we tell if we are doing better or worse?

Professor Alina Mungiu-Pippidi followed-up the Prime-Minister’s speech by pointing out that there is a growing belief in Europe that success is due more to corrupt practices than personal merit, a fact which makes perception-based measurements of corruption highly inaccurate over the short-term. As such, she introduced a new instrument, created for the Dutch Presidency of the EU, the so-called Index of Public Integrity, which can be used to make accurate assessments and comparisons from one year to the next.

The example used to highlight corruption in Romania is that of public procurement in the construction sector, where Romania spends more than any European country, yet the results are generally poor in quality. Because there are so many opportunities for corruption, particularly in the construction sector, a specialized anticorruption agency cannot stem its flow through prosecution alone. This is evidenced by the overall reduction in control of corruption scores over five years in countries that have established such prosecutorial anti-corruption agencies.

Effective control of corruption therefore requires a balance between constraints and opportunities.Opportunities include corruption “proofing” the legislation instead of drafting special anticorruption laws, simplifying the bureaucratic apparatus and its output, and digitizing public services, whereas the constraintsrefer to monitoring public institutions through online interactions, auditing and judicial independence. In the end, Professor Mungiu-Pippidi presented comparative graphs of Romania’s overall public integrity scores in 2014 and 2015, and explained how well public integrity correlates with established corruption measurements based on perception such as the World Bank’s Control of Corruption indicator or Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index.

See the full presentation by Professor Mungiu-Pippidi here.

The presentation is available for download here.

Read the chapter (Romanian only) on how to prevent corruption here.

Bogdan Chiriţoiu, President of the Romanian Competition Council, praised the use of objective data in corruption measurement and urged government authorities and academia to work closer together on policy solutions, warning that there is no “silver bullet” for tackling corruption. Speaking of what can be done in order to improve public integrity, he mentioned monitoring procurement procedures and contracts to ensure competitiveness, as well as making data about them available online in a more user-friendly manner (open data format), in addition to simplifying the legislation, which Romania is currently involved in doing with help from the OECD. With regard to state-owned companies, Mr. Chiriţoiu expressed concern over the still oversized and largely inefficient public sector, which would benefit, in terms of transparency at least, from private management and being listed on the stock-market. The public sector as a whole, he argued, would benefit not only from de-politization of agencies, but also from providing higher wages for public officials, and from preventing incompatibility issues by following up on former state employees who are hired by private companies.

Watch the full statement here.

Dragoş Tudorache, Head of the Prime-Minister’s Chancellery, agreed that corruption stems from poor legislation and offered transparency as a means to encourage predictability, given that opacity is where corrupt practices are hidden. He underlined that part of the measures taken by the present Government to increase transparency include a registry of meetings with lobbyists, and disclosure of public spending by appointing private managers to all state-owned enterprises and creating a core of professionals to serve on their boards. With regard to transparency of public spending, plans were announced to condition the allocation of government funds to public authorities on their active disclosure of all public expenses on a centralized online platform that will soon be launched. Thus, all public spending will mandatorily be online, making it harder to misuse funds. In addition, one of the Government’s goals is to apply for OECD membership, along with Argentina and Thailand, which would lead to several years of international monitoring on how reforms are carried out in Romania.

Watch the full statement here.

Following the guest-speakers, Professor Mungiu-Pippidi presented the results of the research carried out within ANTICORRP’s Work Package 8 on the preferential allocation of public procurement contracts in the construction sector in Romania from 2007-2013. The main indicators used to measure particularism weresingle bidding, the winning firm’s political connections and agency capture (understood as the allocation of over 50% of a public entity’s procurement budget to a single company in the situations when that entity awarded at least three contracts of over one million euro in a single year). The data indicate a steady decline in these types of preferential allocation practices, yet this may be the result of more subtle corruption techniques gradually being developed, a sign that more monitoring is required.

Watch the presentation here.

Read the chapter (Romanian only) on government favouritism through public procurement in the Romanian construction sector here.

A detailed English version of this research is available here. A shortened version of this research is availablehere.

Valentin Mircea, head of the Prime-Minister’s Control Corp mentioned, during the Q&A, that control bodies in general perform mostly a reactive function, having very little legislative leeway. As such, Mr. Mircea declared that work is in progress to organize this administrative control which will place a special emphasis on preventing abuse.

Watch the full statement here.

This event was organized within the EU FP7 Research Project ANTICORRP – Global Trends and European Responses to the Challenge of Corruption (EU Grant Agreement number: 290529), Work Package 8 – Corruption, assistance and development.

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