The month of October sees the close of the American presidential campaign, a perfect time to give thought to the “spoils system”, a practice in which political parties reward their supporters by appointing them to posts in the administration when there’s a political changeover. The system involves a good many professional transitions between private and public. On this occasion, the porosity between lobbying, the business community and public administration on the other side of the Atlantic has been heavily criticised by the Democrat political class.
More generally, the High Authority has published an overview of lobbying regulation mechanisms in 41 jurisdictions across the world, in French and in English. It contains information on laws, rules and codes of conduct currently in force, as well as on institutions responsible for enforcing them.
In Ukraine, the Constitutional Court has decided to remove the National Agency on Corruption Prevention’s supervisory powers. In South Africa, public officials have asserted that there’s something even more serious than the Covid-19 pandemic: the corruption pandemic that’s accompanying it.
A document has exposed the extent of lobbying activities carried out by the pesticide industry, targeting European Commissioners in an attempt to reduce the goals of the Green Deal. The European Commission has set itself the goal of halving the use of pesticides in the Union by 2030, an unrealistic goal according to ECPA (European Crop Protection Association) and COPA-COGECA (Committee of Professional Agricultural Organisations-General Confederation of Agricultural Cooperatives). These associations representing the agricultural sector have stepped up their efforts to have the goal reduced to 25%. (Unearthed, 12 October 2020)
During the negotiations on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in the European Parliament, a number of observers noted that there seemed to be a conflict of interest among some MEPs who were both beneficiaries and negotiators of CAP subsidies. As farm owners, ten of them receive European aid whose levels they helped set. Members of the European Parliament’s Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development (AGRI) and the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Security (ENVI) are the most likely to be in a conflict of interest situation. Only a few MEPs decided to separate themselves from their farming interests at the start of their European mandates. CAP aid received by parliamentarians is not systematically included in the declarations of interests uploaded on the Parliament’s website (Médiapart, 20 October 2020)
A hundred MEPs have signed an open letter to the European Commission requesting that it improve its criteria for selecting its advisors in the future. This follows last spring’s announcement of the selection of the BlackRock investment fund as advisor on integration of social and environmental factors into supervision of banks in Europe. The MEPs pointed to a conflict of interest as, among other things, BlackRock promotes widening of the CO2 emission allowance market. (Euractiv, 2 October 2020)
The G20 Anticorruption Working Group’s ministerial meeting was held on 22 October. An opportunity for Transparency International (TI) to stress the importance of a concrete global response to corruption during the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the NGO, backed up by a score of cases documented by journalists, corruption affecting funds set up to combat the pandemic already stands at over a billion dollars. TI calls upon G20 countries to provide financial assistance to the countries impacted by corruption and to ensure that civil society has adequate means of verifying that funds mobilised to counter Covid-19 actually get to their destination. (Transparency International, 21 October 2020)
The Japanese firm Dentsu is being investigated by French prosecutors regarding a possible conflict of interest in the selection of the city of Tokyo as the venue for the 2020 Olympic Games. The Japanese public relations company lobbied in favour of Japan’s capital and paid out several million dollars to finance its bid. At the same time, Dentsu holds a contract for marketing the Olympic Games, under which the firm is normally prohibited from supporting a candidate city, in order to maintain the neutrality of the candidacy process. (The Japan Times, 20 October 2020)
In an open letter, the Friday Group, a Belgian political think-tank, has called for increased supervision of ministerial staff. It sets out nine proposals for promotion of ethics in ministerial offices, including a draft ethical charter to be signed by all “cabinettards” (ministerial advisors). The question of professional transition is also raised, as has inclusion of all staff members’ mandates and remunerated activities and the time spent on such activities. (La Libre, 22 October 2020)
The High Authority for Transparency in Public Life has published an overview of lobbying regulation mechanisms in 41 jurisdictions across the world. The study covers all European Union Members States along with such countries as Canada, Chile and the United States, local initiatives such as the mechanism implemented in Catalonia, and the mechanisms provided for by European institutions. (Contexte, 22 October 2020)
The journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia has been posthumously awarded the Allard Prize for International Integrity, in recognition of her commitment to the fight against corruption. The co-recipient is Howard Wilkinson, the whistleblower who reported the Danske Bank money-laundering scheme. Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered in October 2017 following her revelations of corruption in the Maltese political class. The Prize will go to the Daphne Caruana Galizia Foundation for investigative journalism. (Times of Malta, 22 October 2020)
A former Conservative Party minister is at the centre of a controversy regarding professional transition. When she was Minister for Maritime Affairs, Nusrat Ghani had lobbied for a £3-million grant to the Belfast Maritime Consortium, which she has just joined. The former minister had written to one of her Government colleagues to argue in favour of the Consortium. The Independent Advisory Committee on Business Appointments recommended that her transition be conditional on Ghani not providing any information from the time she was a minister. (The Guardian, 26 October 2020)
The Constitutional Court of Ukraine has ruled that the supervisory powers exercised by the National Agency on Corruption Prevention (NACP) with regard to declarations of interests and assets are unconstitutional. The Court has also decriminalised false declarations. The Government has opposed the decision and ordered the NACP to reopen the public register of declarations. President Zelensky deems that the Court’s decision jeopardises the system for combating corruption developed after the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution, an opinion shared by other anticorruption NGOs. (Transparency International, 29 October 2020; Financial Times, 31 October 2020)
In Opposition leader Pieter Groenewald’s opinion, the corruption pandemic is worse than the Covid-19 pandemic. He has made his views clear on implementation of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s recovery plan. Two-thirds of procurement contracts connected with Covid-19 are currently under investigation. For Groenewald, corruption is systemic and affects all levels of the administration. (News24, 21 October 2020)
The Knesset voted in favour of a parliamentary investigation into a corruption scandal involving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s staff. However, the vote was voided on a technical point by the President of the Israeli Parliament, who is a member of the Likud Party currently in power. The cancellation has angered the opposition party Meretz. The case involves submarines and the opposition accuses Netanyahu of a conflict of interests in a sale of military vessels by ThyssenKrupp. The opposition and several associations have stated their intention of filing a petition before the Supreme Court against the vote’s cancellation. (The Times of Israel, 21 October 2020)
The Brazilian police found bundles of banknotes during a search of Senator Chico Rodrigues’ home in Boa Vista. The Senator claimed that he had simply been doing his work as a parliamentarian by bringing federal funds to his State in order to combat the pandemic. This close ally of Bolsonaro’s has dealt another blow to the Brazilian President’s campaign promises to combat corruption. Bolsonaro himself is under investigation for alleged interference in federal police enquiries into cases of corruption involving his allies. (Le Figaro, 15 October 2020)
The Working Group on Covid-19 set up by Canada’s National Research Council has been criticised for its lack of transparency. Tasked with identifying and supporting projects on marketable vaccines, the Working Group advises the Government on what health measures to implement. Despite declarations of interests that reveal links with pharmaceutical industries likely to be recommended by the Working Group, the Canadian Government has defended its decision to propose experts with real or apparent conflicts of interest by citing their expertise. The Canadian Ethics Commissioner was not able to supervise the Working Group’s composition due to its voluntary nature. (The Conversation, 8 October 2020)
Joe Biden’s son-in-law, Howard Krein, continued to work for a firm investing in startups developing Covid-19 solutions while advising the Democratic candidate’s campaign on the pandemic. If Joe Biden is elected, this situation could well result in a potential conflict of interest, as the Democratic programme intends to invest massively in research projects on Covid-19. Trump has made numerous claims of conflicts of interest in the Democratic candidate’s entourage over the course of the election campaign, in particular with regard to Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, whom he has accused of profiting from his father’s mandate as Vice-President in order to do business in China and Ukraine. (The Hill, 13 October 2020)
Google’s interest representation costs increased between July and September, while regulators and lawmakers were getting ready to publish the results of their investigations into trade deals. Google spent over 1.9 million dollars, a 14.2% increase. Facebook far outpaced other IT companies in its lobbying activities, spending 4.9 million dollars over the past three months. (CNBC, 21 October 2020)
Brian Ballard is the lobbyist who has benefited most from Donald Trump’s presidency, according to the Wall Street Journal. After organising fundraising campaigns that made several million dollars for the Republican candidate’s campaign, Ballard opened his own lobbying firm in Washington in 2017. Attracting 122 clients, he amassed 75 million dollars in four years. Making the most of his personal ties with President Trump was the key to his success. (The Wall Street Journal, 21 October 2020)
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and 39 other Democratic members of the House of Representatives have signed a letter requesting that former business leaders and lobbyists be prohibited from being appointed to senior positions requiring the Senate’s approval in the future administration, following the Presidential election on 3 November. Although the letter is officially intended for the leaders of the Senate’s Democratic and Republican members, according to its signatories it is actually addressed to Joe Biden to ensure that he takes heed of the lessons to be learned from the Trump administration’s abuses. (Politico, 16 October 2020)
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has presented a report on the opaqueness of Mexico’s public finances, highlighting cases of corruption in public investment funds. According to the report, for example, 44% of financial resources intended for scientific research have ended up in the pockets of private companies unconnected with research. However, the opposition sees the report as no more than an excuse to justify the shutting off of sources of funding for art, education and research. (The Guardian, 6 October 2020)
Following a whole string of corruption scandals involving the administration, Australian MP Helen Haines is calling for creation of a federal integrity commission. Sums paid to senior civil servants in the Securities and Investments Commission, purchases of luxury watches by the Australia Post, and land speculation: examples of corruption in the Australian public sector have recently been on the increase. Helen Haines proposes creation of a commission within Parliament to assess and investigate allegations of corruption, in particular by collecting whistleblowers’ reports. A code of conduct for federal public officials has also been proposed. (The New Daily, 27 October 2020)
The Pakistani Government called on the services of an American lobbying firm in the hope of improving its image in the eyes of the Trump administration a few days before a meeting by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an intergovernmental agency created on the initiative of the G7 to combat money laundering and the funding of terrorism. The meeting held from 21 to 23 October ruled on keeping Pakistan on the “grey list” of countries deemed to be holding back in the fight against terrorism. (Timesnownews, 12 October 2020)