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Powerful tool or paper tiger? Integrity Pacts reality checked — Part 1

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Without transparency or oversight, governmental spending creates huge opportunities for corruption. When you consider what is spent on roads, bridges, schools, housing, water, and many other projects, you can see the potential for trouble. To address this threat, Transparency International introduced Integrity Pacts in the 1990s. Since then they have been adopted across the world, gaining a near-mythical status for their corruption fighting powers.

But is this reputation deserved or deceptive? And do we have the evidence to support those claims? Drawing on recent experience implementing the Safeguarding EU Funds project across 11 EU countries, this is the first in a series of blog posts to take a deeper look at the claims made about Integrity Pacts.

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Claim #1: Having an Integrity Pact is a certification of a corruption-free procedure

Reality Check: Sadly not!

Anyone making this claim either misunderstands the Integrity Pact, or is deliberately misleading the public. The Integrity Pact can be a great tool — but it’s important to understand its role.

If an Integrity Pact is fully implemented and has the cooperation of all parties, it can play a significant role in reducing opportunities for corruption and increasing the chances of detection.

Here’s how…

The Integrity Pact brings public procurement into the daylight

In many instances, public procurement is a process that takes place behind closed doors. With large sums of money involved, the temptation to fiddle the system for personal gain can be huge. With highly technical procedures and low transparency, there is little fear of being caught. The Integrity Pact introduces an independent third party monitor — daylight in the darkness. The third party monitor is required to keep confidential data secure, but has free access to all information in the process. They also have the right to publicise what they see, so creating a degree of deterrence.

The Integrity Pact can help raise red flags before it is too late

Investigative journalists and activists are often able to find evidence of suspicious activity in publicly available data. This can lead to closer investigation and the exposure of corruption, but often only when it’s already too late to avoid the misconduct. The Integrity Pact is different because it happens in real-time. That means analysis can take place before the event has happened. Admittedly, it’s on a much smaller scale than with large amounts of data, but it does mean red flags can be raised sooner.

For example, attempts to use narrow selection criteria in order to funnel contracts to favoured bidders can be detected early on. Honest mistakes can be flagged and addressed. In the southern Italian town of Sybaris, these efforts are perceived as paying off, and have boosted public confidence that wrongdoing is more likely to be identified and exposed. At the outset of the project, public confidence was low, but by the mid-point it was rated as between fair and high.

The Integrity Pact helps to increase capacity in contracting authorities and for contractors

Integrity Pacts allow for greater interaction between the monitor and the Integrity Pact signatories — the contracting authority and contractor. This enables discussion on ethics, transparency and integrity risks, as well as debate on good practice and even targeted training. After two years of implementation in Calabria, the contracting authority staff reported having a deeper knowledge of whistleblowing, civic monitoring and open data usage. That means they are getting some of the tools they need to be able to scrutinise contracts effectively.

Similarly in Poland, Joanna Nowak, Legal Advisor for ZUE S.A. — the contractor engaging in the Integrity Pact — has said, “In working with the Stefan Batory Foundation, we have implemented a whistle-blower policy for the first time. Our partnership has helped us to bring our processes in line with our values by strengthening our corporate governance.

The Integrity Pact expands the number of those who are keeping watch

As part of the Integrity Pact, the monitor informs both the public and media about the procurement process. Where possible, they also work to develop the capacity of communities to engage in that process. In Calabria, communities have rated the extent to which they are provided with opportunities to effectively participate in public procurement processes as “fair” at the mid point, an increase from “low” at the project outset. Providing access to the information needed stimulates active citizenship! One civic monitor noted, “For years now, citizens have perceived public works as useless and a waste of money…now I have a chance to have a say in what is happening and what the government is doing.”

Integrity Pacts may not be a miracle cure. They are not designed to make sure everyone sleeps soundly at night, safe in the knowledge that every corruption problem will evaporate.

In fact, the Integrity Pact relies on everyone — from civil society, to government, to the private sector, to communities — to step up and play their part. All of these have a role in ensuring that public funds are protected and spent where they are needed.

The Integrity Pact process helps to unlock the door; it is the responsibility of each of us to push it open the rest of the way!

This blog post is based on work under the Integrity Pacts project, coordinated by Transparency International and 15 partners in 11 EU countries, with funding from the European Commission. For more information, have a look at the project website. If you need more information, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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