Government cannot afford to drag its heels on integrity reforms says TI Ireland
Study on corruption in Ireland published today finds ‘partial progress’ in tackling the problem. TI Ireland claims delays in introducing promised reforms could cost the Irish economy billions every year.
Anti-corruption group Transparency International (TI) Ireland today warns that the coalition cannot afford to wait for reforms to clean up politics and business that were pledged under the Programme for Government. The warning comes as it publishes a European Commission-funded study on safeguards against corruption in Ireland.
The National Integrity Systems study finds that measures aimed at preventing undue influence over public policy and stopping corruption in local government have yet to be implemented. TI Ireland also criticises the Government’s delay in bringing a whistleblower protection bill before the Oireachtas and its U-turn on a Programme for Government pledge to restore Freedom of Information to its status before it was weakened in 2003.
‘These delays are potentially costing the Irish economy billions of Euros every year,’ claimed TI Ireland Chief Executive John Devitt. ‘In 2009 we estimated that the Irish economy was losing around €3 billion annually from white collar crime and corruption. However, too little has been done since then to detect and prevent a problem that has left the country bankrupt. Given the potential losses the country faces from future corruption, the Government needs to address this issue with the same urgency it has shown in bailing out our banks’.
Today’s report, the National Integrity Systems Ireland Country Study Addendum, welcomes recent measures aimed at increasing transparency in political party funding which ‘should go some way to preventing corporate and individual donors from buying political influence’. New laws combatting bribery and white collar crime are also welcomed in the report, which analyses progress in stopping corruption in Ireland since its last national integrity study was published in 2009.
The study acknowledges that the discredited light-touch approach to financial regulation has been replaced with a more assertive model. However, TI Ireland concludes that, ‘it remains to be seen whether these measures will break the historical tendency of the Financial Regulator to be ‘a servant of the banks, not a master’. Today’s report also finds that none of TI Ireland’s previous recommendations have been fully implemented, while nearly half of its 2009 proposals have not been implemented at all.
‘It is not only traditional forms of corruption such as bribery that cheat citizens. Hundreds of thousands of people are struggling to make a living today, and that is in no small part down to the fact that strong measures to prevent corruption and white collar crime were not in place during the boom years. Increased transparency and accountability are required to stop corruption - and will help in the country’s economic recovery. The Government cannot afford to drag its heels on reforms any longer’, added Mr Devitt.
Today’s research is an update of TI Ireland’s 2009’s National Integrity Systems Study which reported that Ireland was perceived to suffer high levels of lawful or ‘legal’ corruption. Legal corruption takes many forms and includes cronyism and patronage. World Bank research shows that legal corruption is associated with higher fiscal deficits in industrialised countries, including Ireland.
- Ireland has strengthened its anti-corruption legislation by passing key anti-bribery and white collar crime laws, some of which give significant new powers to law enforcement agencies. It also welcomes Ireland’s ratification of the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC).
- A new requirement for political parties to publish annual audited accounts is among a set of disclosure measures which should improve transparency. However, additional reforms are needed to address the risk of improper influence on policy making by sectoral interests.
- Efforts have been made to improve the oversight of public procurement with the establishment of a National Procurement Service. However there are concerns that public agencies are not dealing with complaints about pre-qualification criteria in a consistent manner.
- Current measures to control conflicts of interests are inadequate. In addition, political lobbying remains entirely unregulated. The Government has recently published proposals to address this area.
- Freedom of Information laws remain curtailed and bodies which control significant public assets still fall outside their scope.
- Fraud and corruption risks in local government identified in the 2009 study have not been fully addressed.
- Implement stronger anti-corruption safeguards at local government level: These should include transparency measures as well as more emphasis on prevention through training, education and research. Fraud and Corruption Alert and Contingency Plans should be independently reviewed every two years to measure progress, with reviews published online.
- Consider measures to encourage self-reporting of white collar offences: Measures should be introduced to encourage self-reporting of corruption-related offences. These should include the use of Deferred Prosecution Agreements, whereby prosecution of individuals and companies can be waived or delayed where they have fully disclosed an offence that has not already been detected.
- Disclosure of interests for public officials aimed at preventing conflicts of interests should be more comprehensive: All public officials should be required to declare all of their personal and business-related assets and liabilities, as well as those of family members. These declarations of interest should be monitored by the relevant oversight agency.
- Increase education and awareness-raising on corruption and anti-corruption: This should include sustained public-awareness raising initiatives involving civil society organisations; on-going ethics training and advice for public officials including elected representatives; and continuous research on the efficacy of existing anti-corruption measures.
The National Integrity Systems research analyses the role of institutions and laws in stopping corruption. Today’s study is part of a wider review of integrity systems in 25 European countries funded by the European Commission’s Prevention of and Fight Against Crime Programme at Directorate General Home Affairs. Transparency International Ireland’s National Integrity System assessment was published in 2009 and was led by John Devitt and Dr Elaine Byrne. Today’s study is an addendum to that report. Research was conducted over a year period by Ireland’s Advocacy and Research Manager, Nuala Haughey, formerly an Irish Times journalist.
TI Ireland launched Western Europe’s first anti-corruption helpline in 2011. Since then it has received 260 calls from members of the public and employees reporting workplace concerns or corruption. More information on the helpline is available at www.speakup.ie.
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