Fight against corruption as a way of life

epa03644178 A businessman uses a tablet computer at a park in Tokyo, Japan, 29 March 2013. Japan's unemployment rate edged up by 0.1 percentage points to 4.3 per cent in February 2013, the government said 29 March 2013. The number of unemployed people dropped by 120,000 from a year earlier to 2.77 million, falling year-on-year for the 33rd consecutive month, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications said. EPA/KIYOSHI OTA

Due to delay in naming political corruption the major social and political problem in Croatia, the anticorruption policy in Croatia in the period 2008-2011 lacked the analysis of the actual situation in the specific areas. This was one of the main conclusions reached in the round table discussion entitled “Anticorruption policy perspectives without pressures from the European Union“ held on June 26th 2012 in the Croatian Parliament and including the presentation of the analysis entitled “Anticorruption policy or just a reflex of the accession process?“.

Due to delay in naming political corruption the major social and political problem in Croatia, the anticorruption policy in Croatia in the period 2008-2011 lacked the analysis of the actual situation in the specific areas. This was one of the main conclusions reached in the round table discussion entitled“Anticorruption policy perspectives without pressures from the European Union“ held on June 26th 2012 in the Croatian Parliament and including the presentation of the analysis entitled “Anticorruption policy or just a reflex of the accession process?“.

„If our strategic documents were this defective, how can we explain the important positive shifts that took place in some areas of mitigating corruption? The answer to this question is simple – the official documents of the European Commission assumed the role of the Croatian anticorruption documents. Croatia had no anticorruption policy of its own, but what it did have were strategic and coordinated activities in meeting the requirements necessary to close the Chapter 23“, emphasised the author of the analysis – Duje Prkut, researcher within the GONG Research Centre. Therefore, the question is: how to move on without the pressure imposed by the EU? „We must and we can continue this process of decreasing corruption and building a modern and efficient society without interventions from the European Union“, replied Josip Kregar, independent MP.

The risk of going backwards: “We must and we can go on without interventions from the European Union“
“After joining the EU, many new members, especially the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia, moved backwards in their reforms, which makes this matter pretty relevant“, pointed out Saša Šegrt, executive director of Transparency International Croatia, based on the analysis “Money, Politics and Power – Corruption Risks in Europe“ referring to the corruption risks in 23 EU countries, Norway and Switzerland. As she mentioned, one of the possible answers lies in the initiative taken by the Open Government Partnership, whose Action Plan will continue to be implemented even after Croatia joins the European Union.
An important factor to keep us disciplined for a little longer is the monitoring of the European Commission, as pointed out by Vesna Fabijančić – Križanić, SDP MP: “We must be aware of the fact that we must make a good use of the year of monitoring, since I wouldn’t agree that there was no pressure coming from the European Union and that this was the consequence of July 1st 2009, when the new Penal Code came into force, nor the consequence of the fact that there was enough political willingness at the time. I advocate for the new anticorruption strategy. The fight against corruption is a dynamic mechanism that requires to be improved and upgraded every once in a while, not only in terms of legal regulations, but also in terms of raising awareness in the society in general.“

The 33% of citizens consider bribery of customs employees a usual matter
Taking into account that this anticorruption policy gave no visible results, as shown by the findings of the Research of the citizens’ perception of corruption conducted by the Ministry of Justice presented by Davor Dubravica, Head of the Independent Anticorruption Sector. To be more precise, since 2007, when the research was conducted for the first time, until 2012, there was no significant change in the number of citizens who admitted to have bribed public officials, e.g. in hospitals.
This is precisely why we need a new strategy based on the adequate analysis of the situation and prepared in the process that involves consultations with the interested stakeholders. In order to be efficient, it must “comprise specific measurable goals referring to specific areas, but it must also provide the evaluation of results“, as pointed out by Duje Prkut. The majority of participants of the round table discussion agreed that it is necessary to draft a new strategy, as it also stands to express the political willingness and the basis for the vital reforms. Josip Kregar also emphasised the need to condemn corruption in a clear statement, followed by the specific measures that will not be adjusted to political options because “corruption is like an onion – as soon as we peel off one layer, another one reveals itself“. Jadranka Kosor, former president of the National Commission for Monitoring the Implementation of the Anticorruption Strategy, agreed to that: „Since a lot has been said these days in Croatia about the consensus between the opposition and the ruling party, the best thing would be to reach the consesus in making the fight against corruption the way to run the country. Regardless of who won the elections, this must be a permanent political commitment for all of us who deal with politics. Anticorruption cannot be a campaign, it cannot be limited to specific cases, it has to be a way of life.“

Corruption risks: confidential information 
During the round table discussion there was an announcement of establishing a Department for Privatisation-related Crimes and War Profiteering within the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Dušan Miljuš, spokesperson of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, announced that the task of this department will be a direct research of the privatisation and the privatisation-related crimes, as well as the crimes related to war profiteering.

The new strategy must surely identify the new corruption risks that have not been covered by the anticorruption strategy until now. Dragutin Lesar, labour MP, has drawn attention to the form of corruption related to confidential information. “I don’t see corruption only as money- or property-related issue, but also as a political issue. In Croatia, there is a practice involving a group of people who are not subject to any laws or regulations, and these are the volunteers working in public service, who are (or could be) at the source of confidential information.“ 

Media (anti)corruption policy 
In order to be able to perform their primary function, the media must have access to information vital to the public. Democracy includes freedom of speech, but also an access to information. Slavica Lukić, vice-president of the Croatian Journalists’ Association was more precise: “The right to a two-way communication with those who hold political power is a very important instrument. It is an instrument which the journalists in this country do not have.“ In its open letter, the Croatian Journalists’ Association has already warned about the Government’s tendency to close up before the journalists and has requested to ensure the minimum access to information, such as regular press conferences, where the journalists from every newspaper, and not only the favourable ones, will be given the right to address the Prime Minister, Government vice-presidents and ministers about the topics of the public interest.
“We have a situation in which the Prime Minister and the President give interviews to selected newspapers, and this communication is arranged from the background by two private PR agencies. We have no knowledge as to in what way these agencies were hired as PR agencies of the Prime Minister and the first vice-president of the Government. At the same time, we know that the Government has its public relations offices, financed by tax payers. We do not know what were the selection criteria in choosing the media and the journalists that the most powerful politicians in this country communicate with. I must make a question – did we meet the conditions to repeat the Fimi media affair? Unfortunately, the prerequisites for its rerun are all here.“

At the moment, the Freedom of Information Act is being changed and amended – GONG is the member of the working group drafting the changes, since the existing legislation proved to be inadequate (for more information take a look at GONG Report on FOIA Implementation in 2011).Dubravko Bilić, newly appointed Head of Personal Data Protection Agency, agreed with that: “This Act has many shortcomings that must be changed, such as the issue of sanctions, public interest test, and data classification. There are many problems making the work complicated. As a society, we must be aware of the importance of transparency, because the corruption originates in the absence of transparency. Wherever there is a lack of openness or a lack of information, people are right to think that something is being hidden, even though it might not be the case.“ 

Peđa Grbin, SDP MP, emphasised: “There are two measures that are likely to bring results in mitigating corruption: one refers to confiscating the material benefit, and the other refers to certainty that the perpetrator will be sanctioned. What is the role of the state in this? To adopt regulations in an open manner and in respect of the Code of Practice on Consultations with the Interested Public, to adopt legislation within the regular procedure, and to inform the public as to the matters regulated by this legislation.“ He also mentioned the Ostracism in Athens as an efficient tool in the fight against corruption, which led to the complete condemnation of persons involved in the matters of corruption by the public as a whole.

Another weak point of the Croatian fight against corruption is the local selfgovernment. The research conducted by GONG under the name of LOTUS shows that the majority of the local selfgovernment units lacks transparency in performing their activities. In reference to that, Jadranka Kosor stated that „we failed to sufficiently articulate in political space the fight against corruption at the local level, which is neglected by the media and by the politics as well. As if the only things that matter are those taking place at the political top, and everything else is less important. On the contrary, the way of life in close connection with corruption starts in local communities.

In order for the new strategy to become efficient, we have to work on raising the society awareness on the matters of anticorruption. This is the key issue. In order to succeed, “the anticorruption strategy must be a lifestyle. It should become a way of life for each one of us. A crucial role in this process is the one of the media” emphasised Damir Kos, Supreme Court Judge. Can we succeed without the European Union? “I think we can, because we have to“ Josip Kregar is certain: „Let us admit right now – Croatia was largely destroyed by corruption. And that makes this our and not the European problem.“