As the Dail debates the Taoiseach’s testimony to the Mahon Tribunal, Transparency International calls on both the Government and Opposition to articulate a clear vision to fight corruption
The 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), launched today by Transparency International (TI), shows that Ireland’s international reputation for straight dealing has been hurt by weak safeguards against corruption and Government’s reversal of important political reforms.
The global index of expert surveys on corruption shows that perceptions of public standards in Ireland have worsened considerably since 1995 (see table below). At the time ethics legislation was first introduced, Ireland was ranked 11th “least corrupt country” in the world with a score of 8.57.
Ireland's score has fallen to 7.5 since then, and we are now ranked 17th out of 180 countries listed in the index this year. Countries are scored from 0 to 10 - a score of 10 denotes a country unaffected by corruption. Somalia and Myanmar share the lowest score of 1.4. Denmark has edged up to share the top spot with perennial high-flyers Finland and New Zealand at 9.4.
The scale of the problem
Irish businesses are believed to lose €2 billion from economic crime and corruption every year. Ireland’s reputation for clean politics and business is also believed to affect its ability to attract to foreign direct investment (FDI).
“The new Government has to take greater responsibility for Ireland’s image abroad – if only for the effect our country’s reputation has on inward investment and our economy. The best way to do this is by showing the world that we have learned from the past” said TI Ireland’s CEO, John Devitt. “Unfortunately, recent history shows we haven’t learned enough”.
Earlier this year, the Government moved to weaken ethics legislation by trebling the value of loans or gifts that politicians could accept without publicly declaring them. TI Ireland also claims that too little has been done to prevent corruption in the two areas that are subject of current Tribunal investigations.
A forthcoming TI Ireland study will show that the financing of political parties and Local Government remain wide open to abuse and fraud. Political parties and candidates are still able to receive large donations from businesses without declaring them or publishing audited accounts. Only those donations over €5079 to parties and €635 to candidates must be declared to the Standards in Public Office Commission. The situation is believed to be more serious in Local Government, where political finance controls are even weaker. In the past year, a number of investigations and prosecutions have also been launched on foot of financial irregularities in local authorities.
The weakness of anti-corruption measures in local authorities was underlined by a Government survey in 2006 which showed that only 7 out of 34 County Councils had fraud and corruption alert plans in place. At the same time only 15 out of 34 local authorities had a member of staff deployed on internal audit work. 60% of internal audit staff had not received relevant formal training.
What can we do about it?
While investigations and prosecutions are to be welcomed says Devitt, the rising number of cases and Ireland’s score on the CPI suggest we have a lot more to do to prevent corruption.
TI Ireland is calling on the Government to ratify the United Nations Convention against Corruption. This international treaty would help Ireland develop a clear plan to improve transparency and accountability in politics, government and business. Among the measures to be introduced would be wide-ranging “whistleblower” legislation that protects those employees who report wrongdoing against legal action or dismissal by their employers. Last year the Government decided to scrap plans for a comprehensive Whistleblower Bill for staff in the private and public sectors.
Another welcome move would be a large reduction in fees for Freedom of Information requests and appeals. The amendment of the Freedom of Information Act “was a step backwards”, Devitt said. The Information Commissioner has witnessed a sharp decline in requests for official information from the media since 2003. The amendment led to the introduction of the highest known fees in the world for information and an 83% drop in FOI requests from the media in its first year alone. Freedom of Information is recognised as a powerful tool against corruption and abuse of power.
Enforcing existing law is equally important. TI Ireland is also urging the Government to provide the necessary resources and staff to enforcement agencies such as the Director of Corporate Enforcement and the Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation (GBFI). They have also called for the establishment of an anti-corruption unit at the GBFI and backed the Standards in Public Office Commission’s request to be allowed to appoint an Inquiries Officer to investigate wrongdoing in government without a prior complaint from the public.
TI Ireland is due to publish its National Integrity System study later this year.
Ireland ’s score on the Corruption Perceptions Index 1995 to 2007
|No. of countries||41||54||52||85||99||90||91||102||133||145||159||163||180|
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