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“The secret is – there is none. Keep calm, deflect attacks, and live your mandate diligently”: advice of anti-corruption peer-institutions in Romania

Kyiv-Bucharest, 3-7 October 2016 - The delegation of 12 representatives of the National Agency on Corruption Prevention (NACP) headed by by the Deputy Head of the NACP Mr. Radetsky, spent a week learning about the experiences of their Romanian counterparts that make up the country's anti-corruption "shield".

 
ABB8412CA1932E642615DC61C73BBE46981CB82CE1B0FB9EC2pimgpsh fullsize distrEight years and thousands of cases later, revived from being declared unconstitutional in 2010, the Romanian National Integrity Agency (ANI) is currently considered a success-story to be learned from when one talks about conflict of interest prevention and management, as well as asset declaration verification and violation sanctioning in the Eastern-European region. Built as an administrative (non-law-enforcement) body called to prevent corruption, ANI has accumulated experience in exactly those areas that have become mandates of their Ukrainian counterpart NACP, and, thus, the majority of heated discussions and idea-sharing took place in the warm atmosphere of ANI's historical building in the center of Bucharest.
 
Throughout day one, NACP specialists who represent two departments – one for financial control (i.e. related to asset declaration collection and verification) and one on conflict of interest prevention – were able to interact with ANI practitioners, the integrity inspectors, to discuss the business-process for asset declaration intake and processing, techniques to handle the conflict of interest and overall frameworks for incompatibility of public official positions.
 
Day two involved a change of perspective, and started off by a meeting with representatives of the Romanian sister institution for the Ukrainian National Anticorruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA). Joining the functions of investigations and prosecutorial oversight and court representation, the DNA shared its perspectives on collaboration with the preventive side of anticorruption work in the country. After a brief introduction of the institution and its mandate, DNA colleagues dwelt on ways to ensure solid information exchange between the prevention and investigation side of work.
 
Followed by this, the group was invited to visit the Anti-Corruption General Directorate of the Ministry of Internal Affairs that has a dual function – that one of integrity testing of law-enforcement agency officials and line officers (including the police, customs, border control, national emergency service, etc.), as well as wider societal anti-corruption education and awareness-raising. Romanian colleagues dwelt, in part, on the specifics of the integrity testing tool that allowed law enforcers perceive a higher degree of detection threat, and thus stimulated prevention vis-à-vis corruption-related practices.
 
61c57baIn the evening, to complete the full cycle of anti-corruption work with regards to tracking assets and determining unexplained wealth, the NACP team met with the Asset Commission under the Court of Appeal of Bucharest. The judge whom herself adjudicates cases that emerge from ANI administrative investigations and verifications, spoke about the existing court practice and interaction with ANI inspectors that bring the cases to the table.
 
Later on, throughout day three, NACP colleagues were able to delve deeper with their ANI peer-inspectors into the depths of electronic systems that underlie ANI operations (including the SIMIDAI system and some of other tools under development at the moment). The Ukrainian delegation was eager to explore the foundations for the Romanian modular software solutions, and it was agreed that after exchange of basic information from the Ukrainian side regarding the existing e-declaration system, more technical details could be discussed at working level.
 
On that same day, three live cases were presented by ANI and picked apart together with Ukrainian colleagues to showcase how investigations progressed, what challenges were faced, and what strategies could have been used to avoid delays or undesirable results.
 
Day three concluded with a meeting between the Ukrainian delegation and civil society experts working on issues of ANI oversight and assistance, as well as the wider policy issues regarding corruption prevention and response. The discussion uncovered that the case of Romania, despite success in establishing anti-corruption institutions and tackling the big-fish cases, was not and is not an easy fight for either these institutions or the civil society. Civic experts highlighted striking similarities with the Ukrainian case, noting that multiple laws were tabled to declare anti-corruption bodies either unconstitutional or leave them toothless. Solution according to them? Stay strong and determined, continue on the chosen path and raise much noise, explaining to the people why the changes would be detrimental and who tries to debilitate the effective institutions.
 
Finally, throughout the last day, the delegation met with the National Agency on Civil Service, that is part of the multilateral ANI oversight mechanism, and also coordinates work of focal points in the national institutions that ensure submission of asset declarations.
 
All in all, the study trip came at a very opportune time – as Ukraine is currently working on ensuring proper regime for asset declarations verification, and is seeking effective mechanisms for conflict of interest prevention and response. What is even more important, discussions like those held throughout the 4 days clearly demonstrate some of the lessons learned for effective anti-corruption mechanisms, especially in eastern European contexts:
 

40F76BEABA34974EF1A7DAE01A1B87816BE6AA0AFB278C9280pimgpsh fullsize distr* Neither Rome nor Bucharest were built in a day: anti-corruption institutions of Romania have gone through a stage of birth, consolidation, and only then – successful stable operations. Trust with the society, that is bedrock to effective work, – takes time to build, as well as due processes, administrative machinery and court practice;

 

* The swords of Damocles will be there always: Just keep calm and carry on: Romanian legislators have over the years been eager to curtail the mandates of ANI and DNA, trying to nullify their effectiveness, and once – in 2010 – even effectively declared ANI unconstitutional through the higher court decision. Attacks on institutional sovereignty and effective mandates take place at least once each Parliamentary session, and especially after regular elections. At the same time, it takes strong alliances with the civil society and with the people at large to be vocal and deflect the attacks. Effective investigations and court decisions, openness to CSO scrutiny and an amicable approach of alliance-building beyond the political realm are some of the predictors for success;

 

* United we stand, divided we fall: preventive measures (ANI) reinforce criminal investigations (DNA) and vice versa. Building effective ties between institutions, working for each other, not against each other, are evident pieces of advice but cannot be emphasized enough.

 

* Pick the low-hanging fruit, then build the ladder: throughout the first years of operation, it may be tempting to go deep into one case and conduct very comprehensive, multilateral verifications and cross-checks. While this may be a laudable practice, at first there is need to show results and effectiveness. Hence, crude verifications that produce results and are able to span many more cases are better, at first, than several very much in-depth verifications that find nothing. Demonstration of low-hanging fruits early on will allow one to build an effective ladder in the meantime.

Discussions held between the institutions throughout the 4 days became possible through support rendered by UNDP project "Enhanced Transparency and Integrity of Public Service in Ukraine" funded by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and colleagues of the UN Country Office in Romania.