Year 2007 was significant in the history of the Bureau in at least three ways: first, as a result of control of political parties’ finances, serious violations were disclosed in pre-election campaigning of two political parties, which caused great reaction in the society, second, within the framework of corruption combating activities, corruptive criminal offences commited by officials of law enforcement customs and border control institutions were detected, that, hopefully, will allow the institutions to improve their performance considerably in the future; third – the Director of the Bureau was temporarily suspended from his duties, that received protests among the society, and as a result the Director was restored in his position.
Research and examinations made by the officials of the Bureau in 2007 confirm that the spread of administrative corruption in Latvia is diminishing every year, and it is largely the effect of successful work of the Bureau in corruption combating and prevention. On the one hand, the control of activities of public officials has become more efficient by strengthening the inevitability of punishment. On the other hand, according to the initiative of the Bureau, government and local government authorities have started introduction of their own internal organisational anticorruption measures. Thus, the impact of arbitrariness and misuse of authority by officials on the administrative decision making process becomes less possible, demanding of bribes – one of the most dangerous types of corruptive act – becomes less occasional or is not that open and direct. Studies show that the situation with corruption of top level public officials has not improved and the desire to acquire wealth at the expense of public resources in the act of individual officials is still remaining however implemented in more hidden way.
Due to increasing professionalism of investigators of the Bureau and the capacity of the investigation branch, more and more complicated criminal offences are detected in the public service. The number of detected criminal offences increases where top level public officials are involved. These crimes are characterised by high consipiracy level, sophisticated bribery schemes with various intermediaries who are well acquainted among themselves for a long time. Individuals with high level of education and professional skills are involved in planning and committing of such crimes, which makes the detection of a criminal offence utmost difficult. More often, several episodes of criminal offences committed by the same individuals are established and detected. Criminal cases investigated by the Bureau are of large scope and demand great time and human resources for gathering and fixing the base of evidences.
In 2007, the Investigation Division of the Bureau started 30 criminal proceedings. For initiation of prosecution, 18 criminal cases against 46 individuals were sent to the prosecutor’s office, 14 criminal proceedings were terminated. 5 criminal cases were sent to other investigation authorities according to their competence. 6 criminal cases were received from other investigation authorities. 56 decisions as resolutions were made on rejection to initiate criminal proceedings. Majority of the criminal offences were related to bribery, receiving of a bribe and misappropriation of bribes.
One of the largest fields of operation of the Bureau is the control of activities of public officials and prevention of conflict of interest. Identifying of corruptive administrative violations is very complicated. In order to detect it a voluminous analysis of documents must be made by studying the process of decision making. At the same time quality of administrative decision making performed by the Bureau is confirmed by the fact that approximately 90% of decisions made remain valid in the process of appeal to the Director of the Bureau.
In general, the number of complaints and applications received since 2005 is decreasing. At the same time the number of individuals hold administratively liable has remained in the previous level.
During 2007, the Bureau has made 691 examinations in relation to conflict of interest situations. 131 administrative examination cases were started in 2007 for violation of the restrictions set to public officials under Law “On Prevention of Conflict of Interest in Activities of Public Officials”. 91 public officials were hold administratively liable by applying fines for a total amount of 7,756 lats.
In general, the Division of Control of Public Officials Activities of the Bureau detected 154 administrative violations in 2007. From those, 71% or in 109 cases (66% in the last year), administrative violation was related to violation of restrictions and prohibitions imposed on public officials. The second most common type of administrative violations is non-reporting by public officials about being in situation of conflict of interest.
Considerable burden in daily work of the Bureau is the still unsolved division of competences between the Bureau and the State Revenue Service (SRS) in the matter related to examination of declarations submitted by officials. The SRS must verify the authenticity of submitted declarations but the Bureau must examine whether the details provided therein do not give evidence about conflict of interest. However, the SRS does not support such a position.
Violations by some political parties in the pre-election period, which have been established by the Bureau, have contributed to dissatisfaction of representatives of such political parties with the work of the Bureau. However, the Bureau is persistent in continuation of its duty: to follow scrupulously the observance of law in activities of all political parties regardless of their size or participation in the government. The society appreciates it: the population poll at the end of 2007 showed that the society had a positive opinion about the Bureau (45% of the respondents expressed trust in its activities).
Due to the effect of financial audits performed by the Bureau, accounting of political parties is mainly organized according to the provisions of law, however – since the regulations do not provide several important aspects in detail – the Bureau must take into account that political parties will appeal against decisions made by the Bureau in cases of administrative violations and thus more resources must be invested in gathering of evidences.
The results of control of political parties’ finances by the Bureau during the accounting period showed voluminous violations in pre-election expenditure of some political parties. 17 administrative decisions were made regarding such established violations in the reporting period, by applying the maximum administrative penalty of LVL 5,000 to two political parties. In 2007, political parties were instructed to repay any funding which had been received in contrary to the Law on Financing of Political Organisations (Political Parties), totally LVL 30,223.72. 390 reports on gifts (donations) received by political parties were examined in 2007.
Stricter parliamentary supervision of internal anti-corruption measures in institutions has promoted the strengthening of corruption prevention capacities of many public administration bodies. However, in general, anti-corruption measures receive insufficient political support and the legislation initiatives submitted by the Bureau and directed to decreasing or exclusion of the corruption risk are not supported in many cases.
Unfortunately, corruption risk mitigation with new regulations has not been particularly successfully. Amendments to regulations, which have been suggested by the Bureau, often remain in the Cabinet of Ministers or the Saeima without further progress. For instance, amendments to the Criminal Law and the Administrative Violations Code of Latvia (AVCL), which were proposed by the Bureau in relation to financing of political parties were submitted to the government at the same time however only the AVCL have had some progress so far. There are still some fields where there is no regulation at all or it has been insufficient: leasing out of the state and municipal property, criminal liability for serious violations in financing of political parties, protection of individuals who report about conflicts of interest or corruptive criminal offences, control of income of inhabitants, etc.
Social factors like distrust of population to the state administration, disloyal attitude towards adopted laws, comparatively high tolerance to corruption and to non paying tax strengthens the assurance among a part of the society that bribery can solve all the matters in the state administration. Important factor is also lack of knowledge about the negative outcome of corruption and liability for corruptive activities, as well as public official’s being in conflict of interest situation. The self-interested action and readiness to abuse the authority by public officials is also influenced by the economic situation in the state and inflation, which decreases the value of legally earned income. Thus, informing and educating of the society and public officials is of special importance. In 2007 for the first time the Bureau addressed the general public by implementing a striking social advertisement campaign. The aim of this campaign was to raise the society’s legal awareness and to explain that corruption diminishes the opportunities for inhabitants to participate in policy making and the state administration on fair and legal grounds to a minimum, thus it also threatens the right of citizens to enforce their political will. For the purpose of drawing attention with the available modest resources, parallels were made between corruption and another type of amoral action – prostitution, in associative and unusual way.
By taking into account the great interest of the society about detected corruptive violations, the Bureau ensures provision of information to the press and provides the link with the society by involving representatives from the non-governmental sector and by organizing various discussions. In order to prevent violations falling under competence of the Bureau, training seminars are organized for various target audiences of public officials. In 2007, about 1,400 public officials were trained in general.
Officials of the Bureau have improved their professional qualification in several fields and according to their work duties: legal matters, management, communication, information technologies, finance and accounting, internal audit, quality management, foreign languages (English and French). Several officials of the Bureau are continuing their studies in higher education establishments in Master’s and Doctor’s programmes.
Forecast about the eventual developments in the area of anti-corruption
It is not expected that the implemented educational activities would have comprehensive long-term effect in prevention of corruption unless training about anti-corruption measures in institutions, the ethics of public administration and prevention of conflict of interest is not introduced as obligatory and systematic discipline in the whole state administration.
When preparing the next strategic document for the state policy in the field of corruption prevention and combating, the awareness must be raised that efficient state administration is not possible if costs caused by corruption are not decreased.
Corruptive practice on administrative level of the state administration will diminish however it will also remain in some areas. Due to the recent case law, public officials have lost the feeling of legal indemnity; institutions are more often implementing various mechanisms of internal control in order to prevent illegal action.
At the same time, there are areas where the corruption risk will be still considerable, for instance, public procurements, operations with government and local government property and funds, in the field of law enforcement and supervision of activities of entrepreneurs. Mass media plays certainly an important role in corruption prevention by reporting about detected offences and thus preventing public officials from admitting similar violations. However, simultaneously with such publicity, investigation activities and evidence gathering methods of the Bureau are made public. Together with development of modern technologies, it certainly affects the possibilities of detection of crimes. Also the Bureau must improve its capacities by each newly detected case. Investigators must improve their skills and have the necessary capacities in order to meet the future challenges in successfully investigating criminal offences.
Thanks to the great trust and support from the society, the Bureau accumulates more and more information each year. However, due to this increase of the data, the question about the capacity of the Bureau’s officials is also becoming urgent. By taking into account the high requirements and certain deficiencies in provision of social guarantees (term of service, salary), the Bureau meets more difficulties in recruiting sufficiently qualified staff.