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  • The creation of the High Authority

    The creation of the High Authority for transparency in public life is the result of continuous efforts to strengthen exemplarity and transparency in public life.

    Between 1988 and 2013, this mission was entrusted to an administrative commission, the Commission for financial transparency of political life, created by the law n° 88-227 of 11 March 1988. This commission, which had itself been created following another scandal, had very limited means to fulfill its missions, whether from a legal or material point of view.

    The Commission only focused on variation of assets of public officials between the beginning and the end of their functions. When it was able to identify an unexplained variation of wealth, which could have been the sign of a potential criminal infraction, it transmitted the file to the competent prosecutor.

    Without any investigation prerogatives, as submitting an incomplete or false declaration was not a criminal offence, and without the human resources (only six agents) required for an effective monitoring of these declarations, the Commission did not have the means to fulfill its missions.

    In 1994, a parliamentary group called « Politics and Money », led by the president of the National Assembly, drafted 19 proposals concerning, among other things, the reform of political party statute and the extension of asset declaration obligations to other elected officials.

    Two laws adopted in 2011 granted new means to the Commission, in particular the possibility to ask filers for their fiscal returns. If the filer did not communicate it upon request, the tax administration could give these elements to the commission. A criminal infraction was created in case of incomplete or false declaration. However, only two cases were transmitted to the judicial authorities based on this incrimination and only one resulted in a conviction.

    As a first answer to growing criticism, the Senate set a Parliamentary ethics committee in 2009, and the National Assembly created an Ethics commissioner in 2011.

    In 2011 and 2012, the committee of reflection for the prevention of conflicts of interest in public life (Sauvé Committee) and the committee for the renovation and ethics of public life (Jospin Committee) were created. They recommended to introduce in French legislation a specific definition of conflicts of interest and to develop mechanisms to prevent them in public life. They also proposed the creation of an independent authority entrusted with this mission. These reports highlighted the flaws of the existing schemes.

    The High Authority for transparency in public life was created in 2013 following a scandal, the so-called « affaire Cahuzac », which involved the Budget secretary in the first cabinet under the Presidency of François Hollande. While leading the fight against fiscal fraud, he finally admitted holding hidden bank accounts abroad that he had neither declared to the tax administration nor to the commission tasked with the control of the assets of public officials.

    Therefore, the laws of 11 October 2013 on transparency in public life were drafted and discussed in order to address these issues in the French institutional architecture. Regulation of public integrity sought to be entrusted to a unique, fully independent, and more effective authority, in charge of enforcing the control of declarations of assets and interests, preventing conflicts of interest – a notion defined for the first time in French law –, counseling and advising public officials or administrations, and promoting transparency in public life.

    Since its creation, several laws expanded its scope and missions. Among them, the law of 9 December 2016 on transparency, the fight against corruption and the modernization of economic life, established the online public lobbying register to inform citizens about the relations between lobbyists and public authorities. In 2017, with the law on “trust in political life” the High Authority now receives the declaration of interest from the presidential election candidates, in addition to their declaration of assets. It also has to be informed when a member of the Governement or a major local elected official hires a member of his extended family (hiring a member of his immediate family is now forbidden).

    More recently, the Act of 6 August 2019 on transformation of the civil service gave the High Authority new ethical control and advice competences with regard to civil servants and public officials, significantly redefining its scope of action. Since its creation, the High Authority has been monitoring the revolving door of certain high-ranking public officials, including ministers, between the public and private sectors. With the abolition of the civil service’s Ethics Committee and transfer of various of its missions to the the High Authority, it now also monitors the revolving door of civil servants, in accordance with a subsidiary principle. Such controls first concern plans for combining other activities with public offices and transition to the private sector. A new preventive mechanism was also introduced: the “pre-nomination” control for certain high-ranking public positions.

  • An independent administrative authority

    Under French public law, the High Authority is an “independent administrative authority”: it is a permanent body in the administrative structure responsible for guaranteeing integrity amongst French public officials, but it cannot be instructed nor ordered to take specific actions by the Government. The High Authority is affiliated to the Government for budget matters, but has financial autonomy. The institution is not answerable to the executive power and is solely subject to audit by the Supreme Court of auditors and the Parliament (e.g. auditions, parliamentary investigation committees) and control of administrative and judicial courts.

    To guarantee its independence, the High Authority is composed of a collegial body of thirteen members responsible for taking the main decisions of the institution. In addition to its President, appointed by the President of the French Republic following a procedure entrenched in the Constitution, six members of France’s highest judicial bodies (Supreme Court of auditors, Court of cassation, Council of State) are elected by their peers. In addition, the President of the National Assembly, the President of the Senate and the Government each appoints two qualified individuals.The High Authority’s members are appointed according to the principle of gender parity. They serve a non-renewable and non-revocable mandate, and can neither receive nor seek orders or instructions from the Government.

    The collegial body of the High Authority is submitted to strict rules of deontology and to professional secrecy, provided by the institution rules of procedure. As all members of boards of independent administrative authorities, they have to submit declarations to the High Authority with strict rules of individual recusals as they are checked within the institution and to avoid any bias in the control and decision. Yet, unlike other members of boards of independent administrative authorities, their declarations are made public and available online.

    The rules of procedure of the High Authority, published in the Official Gazette, detail every working process. The common point of those processes lies in the will to create the conditions, whenever it is deemed necessary, of a contradictory discussion with the public officials, by offering them the possibility to explain their point of view to the person in charge of their file and by guaranteeing the possibility to provide observations at all stages of the process.

  • The organisation of the High Authority

    The General secretariat

    It coordinates the work of the departments and prepares the meetings of the collegial board. It also manages the administrative and financial direction of the institution, including the recruitment of agents.

    Relations with declarants, information and communication division

    The division is tasked with the identification of filers, the reception and registration of declarations and their publication (when applicable) at the end of the monitoring process. This division proceeds to a first formal verification of the declarations in order to make sure they are fully completed. The staff is also in direct contact with the filers to answer their questions on how to fill the declarations. For publication purposes, they are also in charge of anonymizing the documents. They are also tasked with sending reminders to public officials when they are close to a submission deadline, and, when applicable, with drafting injunctions.

    The division is in direct relation with public institutions, as well as media and civil society organisations, in order to share information on the functioning and missions of the High Authority and inform the public about its missions, objectives and concrete projects and activities.

    Public officials monitoring division : ensuring the control of the information declared

    The mission of this division is to monitor the declarations of assets and interests. Thanks to information gathered through open sources, information at the High Authority disposal, data transmitted by the tax authorities, etc., the agents of this division contribute to ensure elements declared are fully checked and variation of assets throughout the mandate or functions is analyzed. Therefore, this division has to implement the investigative powers of the High Authority and to solicit, whenever necessary, the observations of public officials regarding questions that may arise from the analysis of their statement.

     

    The interest representatives monitoring division

    The Interest representatives monitoring division monitors compliance by interest representatives with their obligations. In particular, it ensures the registration of interest representatives on the register and the accuracy and completeness of the information declared, as well as compliance by interest representatives with ethical obligations.

    Legal and Ethics division : supporting public officials with ethical expertise

    The « legal and ethics » division counsels public officials and institutions with regard to the prevention of conflicts of interest. It is involved in the examination of all requests for opinion addressed to the High Authority, whether they cover ethical questions, the will to exercise new private activities in the three years following the end of functions, or the implementation of new ethics mechanisms in a public institution.

    This division is also tasked with partnerships and international relations as well as drafting reports and studies.

    IT Division : fostering and securing processes

    The IT division ensures the proper functioning of the information system of the High Authority and its security. It has been tasked with the creation and implementation of the information system, the creation of a website, the development of an e-declaration application and the mandatory online lobbying register.

    Administrative and Financial division : supporting the daily activity of the institution

    This division ensures the daily functioning of the authority, covering budget, but also financial and auditing matters, recruitment and human resources questions, etc.

    All members of staff are bound by strict ethical rules and professional secrecy. For instance, they are required to inform their immediate superior of any file that could place them in a situation of conflict of interests. In these circumstances, the case is passed on to another agent. Staff members receiving a delegation of signature must transmit to the President of the High Authority a declaration of assets and liabilities and a declaration of interests in order to make sure that any potential conflict of interest is avoided.

  • An open institution

    One of the main objectives of the Laws of 11 October 2013 was to foster transparency in public life through the publication of declarations on the website in a reusable way.

    Initially, the declarations received by the High Authority were in a paper format, which implied to scan and anonymize them, before their publication on the website of the High Authority.

    On 15 October 2016, online disclosure became mandatory and all declarations are now filed online, which made it possible to publish their content in an open data format starting in 2017. It was one of the priorities of 2017 with the conception and implementation of a lobbying register, which was launched on 3 July 2017. The list of published statements is available on the High Authority website but also on the platform data.gouv.fr. They are published under open license. This allows, a great liberty of reuse of information, the commercial adaption and exploitation of data and to promote the quality of sources. The only constraint is the mention of sources.

    Such openness to citizens and civil society was recognized in the laws of 11 October 2013, under the form of an approval for referral to anticorruption civil society organizations. Anti-corruption organizations contribute to promote public probity. In this respect, the laws of 11 October 2013 on transparency in public life have granted them with the possibility to refer to the High Authority for transparency of public life when they have knowledge of a situation or facts likely to constitute a breach to the various obligations set out in the law. They can submit cases of conflict of interest, non-compliance with declarative obligations or « revolving doors » practices to the High Authority.

    Two such associations are currently accredited by the High Authority.

    Transparency International France

    Transparency International France is the French chapter of Transparency International, a transnational civil society organization that is committed to promoting transparency and integrity in public and economic life. Created in 1995 and chaired by Patrick Lefas since 2020 the association seeks to raise awareness amongst policy makers and civil society on integrity and transparency issues, and campaigns for the strengthening of the legal and institutional anti-corruption framework.

    Date of Issue of approval: June 5, 2014 (renewed in 2017)

    Anticor

    Anticor was created in 2002 with the aim to fight against corruption and to uphold ethical conduct amongst politicians. Its ambition is to restore citizen’s confidence in those who represent them and act on their behalf, whether be they political or administrative representatives.

    Date of Issue of approval: January 27, 2016 (renewed in 2019 for three years)

     

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