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Condemnation of proposed impunity for politicians and officials in Poland

Statement on the proposed ‘bill on specific solutions related to preventing, counteracting and combating COVID-19, other infectious diseases and resultant crisis situations.’ 

Transparency International strongly opposes proposed legislation in Poland (bill no. 539) that would exempt authorities from liability for unlawful activities connected to the COVID-19 pandemic or outbreaks of other infectious diseases. The proposed provisions are not only unconstitutional, they radically increase the risk of corruption and abuse of power.

Delia Ferreira Rubio, Chair of Transparency International, said: “During an unprecedented health and economic crisis, politicians and officials need to be able to make quick decisions. However, any measures to facilitate that must meet the constitutional requirements of the country concerned and uphold fundamental principles of the rule of law.”

Poland’s “Anti-crisis Shield 2.0” passed earlier this year already grants indemnity for white-collar crime and violation of public finance regulations for purchases associated COVID-19. The legislation has protected controversial multi-million Euro purchases of masks and ventilators that lack the required certificates.

“The proposed provisions would raise justified suspicions of corruption and abuse of power,” said Grzegorz Makowski, of the Stefan Batory Foundation, Transparency International’s partner organization in Poland. “We and many other Polish organizations are calling for the bill’s immediate withdrawal. There cannot be any compromises when it comes to fighting corruption and defending the basic principles of the rule of law. The new proposal of limiting the exemption from liability to crimes related to abuse of power and so called “corruption of managers” in the private sector is not even remotely a solution,” Makowski said.

In the coming weeks, the European Commission is set to publish country-specific assessments on the rule of law for the first time. We expect that these new reports will highlight the decline that has taken place in Poland over the last decade and propose measures to remedy these worrying developments.

Makowski noted that legal mechanisms such as "acting in a state of necessity" already exist in the Polish penal code, negating the need to legalise lawlessness and grant impunity to politicians and officials. “The government should work with the opposition, representatives of the judiciary, law enforcement agencies, experts and civic organizations to develop standards of conduct in crisis situations,” he said. These standards should enable citizens to better supervise public authorities and increase the transparency of their actions by facilitating citizens' access to public information, developing e-administration, publishing information about state institutions’ activities online on ongoing basis and urgently implementing the EU directive on whistleblower protection in line with best practice.

“By now have learned how to respond the COVID-19 responsibly. Solutions that will inevitably result in corruption and abuse of power are not a cure to this crisis. They will make it only worse,” said Delia Ferreira Rubio.

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