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EU auditors send anti-corruption report back to the drawing board

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 - Sunday, 13 April 2014, 09:15

The European Court of Auditors (ECA) has written to the leaders of the EU criticising the EU Commission’s Anti-Corruption report as being overly descriptive and offering little analysis and no substantive findings, relying instead on the results of corruption perception polls, whose usefulness is limited.

“At first glance, the outcome of the Commission’s report seems alarming, but the findings of the report are primarily based on the perceptions of citizens and companies,” said Alex Brenninkmeijer, the ECA member responsible for the analysis. “Reality may well be different. And it is unfortunate that the Commission excluded EU institutions and bodies from its analysis.”

The ECA said that corruption and fraud erode trust in public institutions and democracy and also undermine the functioning of the EU’s internal market. It welcomed the Commission’s anti-corruption report as a promising start to a useful discussion.

The independent audit institution encourages such discussion, because it is an important contribution to the accountability of public institutions, both national and at EU level, towards EU citizens. Enhancing good governance by improving transparency and accountability – in particular in the field of anti-corruption measures – is essential for gaining public trust in public institutions. A policy of transparency and accountability is fundamentally necessary in order for these institutions to carry out their duties properly, and to ensure the integrity of their staff. Transparency and integrity are key conditions for fighting fraud and corruption.

The ECA said it considers that thorough, timely and accurate data and independent evaluations, at EU and member state level, need to be further developed in order to identify: • The actual risk areas. • Reasons why corruption occurs. • Which measures need to be taken, and which have proved to be effective.

Basing anti-corruption measures on perceptions instead of the actual occurrence of corruption brings with it the risk that these measures might be unnecessarily burdensome and fail to address the real causes for corruption.

Calls for Malta to improve transparency of judicial appointments, further reform Mepa

The Council of the European Union has published its own report on Malta by way of its EU Anticorruption Report, calling on Malta to improve the transparency of its judicial appointments and the decision-making process attached to environmental planning and to increase coordination among the institutions that investigate corruption.

In its report to the European Commission, the Council, which comprises the EU’s member states themselves, calls on the government to “strengthen the ability of the judiciary to handle corruption cases by revising the appointment and dismissal procedures for judges to ensure transparent and merit-based selection and removal, and enforcing decisions of the Commission for the Administration of Justice that find a breach of the Code of Ethics for the Judiciary”.

The recommendation speaks volumes, considering the many cases in which members of the judiciary have been accused of corruption and other transgressions.

It also calls on Malta to define clear standard procedures and rules on the distribution of cases of alleged corruption among the competent anti-corruption institutions and to improve coordination among these institutions to optimise the collection of evidence.

It is also advisable, the report notes, to “Prioritise the effective investigation and prosecution of corruption and, should the Permanent Commission against Corruption be retained, widen its remit, and empower it to appoint its own specialists.”

On the environmental planning front, the report urges Malta to continue “reforms at the Malta Environmental Planning Authority to further build public confidence in its integrity and impartiality”.

On party financing, the report notes that while preventing and addressing corruption has been a priority in Malta, leading to reforms aiming for greater transparency, the “financing of political parties remains largely unregulated”.

“Introducing disclosure obligations and caps on political donations, a ban on anonymous donations beyond a reasonable threshold, the publication of independently audited party accounts and monitoring by the Electoral Commission of compliance with the transparency requirements,” was also advised.

The government recently unveiled its proposed party financing legislation, launching a consultation process that should lead to the long-awaited introduction of legislation regulating political parties before Parliament rises for the summer recess.

The proposed law establishes that only donations exceeding €10,000 are to be made public; a threshold already deemed critically high by the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption body, the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO).

The proposals would still allow anonymous donations – which, according to GRECO, are only allowed by a “few rare states” in Europe – but donations larger than €500 will have to be registered internally, and reflected in the party’s accounts.

Only those who donate more than €10,000 in any given year would have to be reported directly to the Electoral Commission and made public as a result, while donations exceeding €50,000 would be prohibited.

 

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