In this month of September 2019, there are a significant number of international developments regarding the promotion of public integrity and the prevention of corruption. To begin with, there is the debate around combating conflicts of interest within European institutions. Whilst 27 European Commissioners have just been appointed, for some of them the way ahead already looks to be fraught with difficulties. The establishment of an independent body dedicated to ensuring that all European institutions comply with ethical rules, as called for by the new President of the European Commission, Mrs Ursula von der Leyen, would appear to be indispensable.
In addition, the President of the United States is the subject of impeachment proceedings, accused of having pressurised the Ukrainian President into placing the son of his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, under investigation. Finally, Jordan and Somalia have recently passed anti-corruption laws. The challenge is now to ensure their effective implementation, and the independence of the newly-established commissions. This is also a preoccupation of Indonesian citizens, who have recently spoken out about the risks of undermining the independence of the KPK, their anti-corruption agency.
On 10 September 2019, the new President of the European Commission, Mrs Ursula von der Leyen, submitted her nominations for the Commissioners who are to form her working team and who will take up their duties on 1st November 2019. If the European Parliament confirms her appointment, Vera Jourova, from the Czech Republic, is to serve as Commissioner for Values and Transparency. In her mission statement, Mrs von der Leyen particularly urges the new Commissioner to resume negotiations with the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers regarding the reform of the Transparency Register, in order to bring more visibility to the European legislative process. She would like to see European institutions’ obligations in this area go further than current practice. The President has also urged the Commissioner to establish an independent body dedicated to ensuring that all European institutions comply with ethical rules.
From 30 September, candidates for the post of European Commissioner will be interviewed in Brussels. Over a 10-day period, MEPs will attempt to identify possible conflicts of interest and will examine the future Commissioners’ income tax returns and asset declarations. (Le Monde, 23 September 2019)
However, the Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee (JURI), mandated to scrutinise the candidates’ declarations of financial interest before they are interviewed, has already found the Romanian candidate, Rovana Plumb, nominated for the post of Commissioner for Transport, and the Hungarian candidate, Laszlo Trocsanyi nominated for the post of Commissioner for Enlargement, to be in situations of overall conflict of interest, making them unfit to be members of the College of European Commissioners, regardless of their portfolios. This sunset decision prior to their interviews is without precedent, to the extent that the President of the European Parliament is unsure as to how to proceed. (Contexte, 27 September 2019; The Guardian, 26 September 2019)
Debates around combating conflicts of interest within the European Parliament are in full swing in this month of September. According to the latest figures from Transparency International Europe, one third of the 751 MEPs elected in May are employed in paid activities in addition to their mandates. Some of these activities may constitute situations of conflict of interest, but European legislation has not been designed to combat these forms of abuse, according to the NGO. Although sanctions have been provided for, they are non-existent in practice. (Le Monde, 26 September 2019)
With regard to the outgoing Commissioners, the French online newspaper Médiapart cited the case of the German Commissioner Günther Oettinger, responsible for the European executive budget, who had filed articles of association for his future public relations company in Hamburg’s Trade Register. Jean-Claude Juncker sought advice from the European Commission’s Ethics Committee. (Médiapart, 17 September 2019)
In an evaluation report published on 4 September 2019, the Council of Europe’s Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) called on Denmark to strengthen its anti-corruption policies with respect to members of the government and police officers. The report called for particular attention to be paid to the rules on how individuals in managerial positions should engage with lobbyists, as well as on their employment after leaving the public sector (revolving doors). However, the GRECO commended the strengthening of police procurement procedures during 2018, the content of the new guidelines, « Good practice within the police force and the State Counsel’s Office », and the changes to security clearance procedures, and highlighted the creation of the Independent Police Complaints Authority in 2012.
The 19th International Anti-Corruption Conference, organised by Transparency International, is to be held in Seoul, Korea from 2 – 5 June 2020. The theme of the 2030 conference — truth, transparency and confidence — has been announced. The call for session proposals will open on 1st October.
On 4 September 2019, the dividend tax fraud — known as “CumEx” — criminal trial opened in Germany. Two British former bankers are charged with having implemented a tax scheme that allowed share owners to circumvent dividend tax. Widespread throughout Europe, this fraud will have cost Germany — where in 2012 these operations were rendered impossible through a legislative amendment — € 7.2 billion, as against costs to Denmark of €1.7 billion and to Belgium of €201 million, according to an investigation carried out in late 2018 by 19 media outlets. (La Tribune, 4 September 2019; The Guardian, 4 September 2019)
Whilst the United Kingdom has become bogged down in an uncertain Brexit outcome, its Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, is once again in trouble. Allegedly, whilst he was mayor of London he failed to declare possible conflicts of interest with his friend, the American model-turned-entrepreneur Jennifer Arcuri. According to the Sunday Times, Boris Johnson allegedly awarded several grants, to the tune of tens of thousands of pounds, to businesses belonging to Jennifer Arcuri, without ever declaring potential conflicts of interest. (7sur7, 24 September 2019; The Times, 24 September 2019)
In Russia, local elections in the capital on 8 September have left Vladimir Poutine’s party, United Russia, in a difficult position. Alexei Navalny, his principal opponent, is considered to be responsible for this electoral setback. Following the banning of independent candidates, he called for a vote in favour of the candidates most likely to beat those representing the government. His strategy was successful in Moscow, where the Kremlin’s candidates were defeated in 20 of the 45 districts. Elsewhere, candidates loyal to the ruling party gained seats in most of the 6,000 local elections, but the situation remains tense and uncertain in St Petersburg where the results have still not been published. Following this summer’s many anti-government demonstrations, seven demonstrators were given prison sentences. (Le Monde, 17 September 2019; Le Monde Diplomatique, September 2019)
The former president of Tunisia, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, died on 19 September in Saudi Arabia where he had been living in exile since the 2011 revolution. After more than two decades of repressive government, Ben Ali was overthrown in 2011 by a popular movement, the beginning of a wave of revolts within the region known as the “Arab Spring”. The Ben Ali era was marked by corruption on a massive scale, the Ben Ali clan helping themselves to the country’s wealth with impunity. Close to five billion euros — approximately one quarter of private-sector profits — were misappropriated, according to the World Bank. (Le Point, 19 September 2019; BBC News, 19 September 2019)
Also in Tunisia, the first round of the presidential elections, which took place on 15 September, generated a shock wave when candidates from the traditional political parties were eliminated. Two outsiders, Kaïs Saïed, a professor of constitutional law, and Nabil Karoui, a telecommunications tycoon currently in prison for suspected tax evasion, will be competing in the second round on 6 October. (La Croix, 22 September 2019)
In Jordan, a new anti-corruption law now bans officials in public office from holding interests in private companies under contract to the State. Since the law was introduced, one Member of Parliament has had to resign. However, critics are concerned about the implementation of the law, and the fact that many public officials are circumventing it by registering their interests in the names of family members. (Al Jazeera, 5 September 2019)
In Iraq, the Commission of Integrity, the Iraqi anti-corruption watchdog, has announced that over a billion dollars have been returned to the State coffers as a result of a large-scale operation. Further actions are underway and arrest warrants were issued for eleven former ministers. However, the country’s reputation continues to be damaged by a number of scandals in the reconstruction and oil sectors. (Le Figaro, 6 September 2019)
In Israel, the Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his rival Benny Gantz were almost equally placed after the legislative elections of 17 September, and are attempting to form a government. With the support of their allies, Messrs Netanyahu and Gantz obtained 55 and 54 seats respectively, a score in both cases below the 61 needed to obtain a majority. At the same time, Mr Netanyahu is to be brought before the Attorney General on charges of “corruption », « breach of trust » and « misconduct » in matters involving, amongst others, tax benefits awarded to a businessman in exchange for favourable coverage from his media outlet. (Le Point, 24 September 2019; NPR, 25 September 2019)
The former president of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, died in Singapore on 6 September. A hero of independence, Robert Mugabe ran the country for 37 years. He leaves his country struggling with widespread corruption and systemic dysfunctions. (Franceinfo, 6 September 2019; The Guardian, 6 September 2019)
During a visit to Mozambique, Pope Francis denounced the corruption of its leaders and its disastrous impact on the population, a significant proportion of whom lives below the poverty line. (Le Point, 6 September 2019: Reuters, 6 September 2019)
In Somalia, President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed has passed an anti-corruption law which will allow the creation of independent anti-corruption commissions at both federal and regional levels, according to a statement from the Presidency. (Africanews, 21 September 2019; Africanews.com, 21 September 2019)
In Indonesia, Parliament has introduced legislation that could reduce the powers of the anti-corruption agency KPK. A number of demonstrations have taken place in Jakarta to protest against the risks of undermining the independence of the KPK. The Indonesian president, who is set to be invested for a second term in October, has plans to revise this law. (Le Figaro, 24 September 2019; The Washington Post, 24 September 2019)
In the United States, the Democrats are initiating impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump. He is accused of pressurising Vladymyr Zelensky, the Ukrainian President, into placing the son of his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, under investigation — the former having served between 2014 and 2019 on the board of a Ukrainian gas company that has been accused of corruption. (Le Point, 25 September 2019; The New York Times, 25 September 2019)
Meanwhile, the US Democratic Party continues to campaign for the presidential primaries. Citing the fight against corruption and the influence of lobbies on public policy as the country’s major challenges has put the candidate Elizabeth Warren on a strong footing. Mrs Warren’s achievements include introducing the Anti-Corruption and Public Integrity Act in the US Congress in 2018, which proposed, amongst other things, a lifetime ban on all lobbying activities for legislators and the creation of an Office of Public Integrity. Congress finally adopted an abridged version of this Act. (The New Yorker, 17 September 2019; Medium, 16 September 2019)
Also in the United States, the whistle-blower Edward Snowden, a former subcontractor to the National Security Agency (NSA), faces prosecution under American law following the publication of his memoirs. He is accused of having published his book without having submitted his manuscript to his former employers, the CIA and the NSA, thereby breaching the confidentiality clauses of his employment contracts. A complaint which is being added to the charges issued against him for espionage, theft and the unlawful use of government property. In June 2013, Snowden revealed the scale of the surveillance carried out by the powerful intelligence services. He has since been stranded in Russia where he was offered asylum. (Libération, 18 September 2019; The Guardian, 23 September 2019)
LATIN AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN
Transparency International has published its corruption barometer for Latin America and the Caribbean, the result of a survey of the experience and perception of corruption amongst 17,000 citizens in 18 countries. More than one in five individuals in that part of the world has had to pay bribes in order to obtain access to a public service such as water or electricity. Moreover, one in four individuals has taken bribes in exchange for votes, which highlights the lack of public integrity on the part of the region’s governments.
In Guatemala, the CICIG, the United Nations-backed International Commission against Impunity mission, was terminated on 3 September after being declared undesirable by President Jimmy Morales, despite its undeniable successes in combating impunity. (La Croix, 5 September 2019; Al Jazeera, 3 September 2019)
However, in El Salvador President Nayib Bukele, elected in February, has recently launched an International Commission against Impunity in his country along the lines of Guatemala’s CICIG. The announcement, which has given rise to a wave of criticism from the traditional Salvadoran parties, is nonetheless backed by the population. (Le Monde, 8 September 2019)