Resolving a crisis caused by a coronavirus, and further complicated by the Zagreb earthquake, requires swift and decisive action. However, during this crisis management, the Croatian Government must not forget about transparency so as not to undermine citizens’ confidence in institutions.
Identifying corruption risks can help strengthen our response to the pandemic and provide healthcare to those who need it most. Gong has already made demands to preserve democracy in the time of coronavirus. Still, it is important to warn that special efforts are needed to prevent corruption, which in times of crisis can flourish if the public does not have information on what is happening.
Therefore we call on the Croatian Government to ensure:
1. Transparent procurement of medical equipment
The procurement of medical equipment must be transparent, and the public should know who the suppliers are and how much the Government is buying. For example, news that tons of medical equipment arrived from China provides insufficient information. All procurements should be published in one place (e.g., official government page koronavirus.hr), labelled #COVID19, indicating whether the goods were purchased by public procurement or by direct negotiation. Additionally, such data should be published in the API format that would allow researchers and journalists to further analysis.
2. Announcement of donors and donations amount
List of donors, amounts of all donations, as well as the recipients of donations, should be published to avoid situations of reputation risk and distrust. The public does not know who is the mysterious sheikh or what is the value of the IT companies’ donation that built the e-pass platform and the digital assistant Andrija.
3. Publishing the members of working groups
As of March 18, the Government has submitted 39 acts in the urgent procedure, 36 of which have already entered into force and are largely related to the budgetary measures to assist the economy. To avoid the Lex Agrokor scenario, whose authors were later engaged in Agrokor as managers, the public needs to know who are the members of the law-making working groups. This is essential for identifying and timely reacting to potential conflicts of interest – whether it is health care or the reconstruction of Zagreb.
4. Information on PR agencies
This government has lifted the ban on hiring PR agencies to state and public bodies and companies. The public has the right to know who helps in crisis communication with the Government, The Civil Protection Headquarters, ministries and other public authorities, and whether PR advisers are paid or work pro bono? The public should know how much it costs to hire a communications company that maintains the koronavirus.hr page and official social networks.
5. List of employers using the COVID-19 measures
The public needs to know who are employers using the government billions of kunas worth a safety net for the preservation of jobs at the time of the pandemic. Gong urged the Croatian Government to publish a monthly list of beneficiaries of the COVID-19 measure, the total amounts of aid and the number of workers employed in those companies temporarily receiving minimum wage compensation. We believe that such a level of transparency is the best safeguard against the possible misuse of the state budget.
6. Real-time public spending
The crisis is an opportunity for the state and local authorities to commit themselves to greater transparency by displaying real-time spending of state and local budgets. Therefore citizens could track all budget transfers, i.e., amounts paid to employees, suppliers, social benefits, donations, local and public companies, sports clubs, and associations …
As all citizens are required to make certain sacrifices respecting the restrictions in response to the health crisis – transparency, openness, and accountability of the authorities are crucial to maintaining this trust.
Gong is a Centre of Knowledge in the area of Civil Activism and the Building of Democratic Institutions within the framework of Development Cooperation with the National Foundation for Civil Society Development.
Gong is a user of the Operating grants – Structural support for European think-do-tanks of the Europe for Citizen programme, strand Democratic and Civic Participation.