The global coronavirus outbreak is conducive to corruption crimes in different spheres of public administration:
- public procurement – the risk of contracts being illegally awarded to associated persons increases, especially in the context of an emergency and lack of transparency of procurement procedures;
- provision of health services – citizens resort to bribery more often in order to be given priority access to services; officials can abuse their functions in distributing these services; the risks of falsification of medical products increase;
- research and development of medical products – investments in medical research and development of a COVID-19 vaccine and drugs is vulnerable to conflicts of interest and illegal lobbying;
- development of measures to support business and population – the emergency measures adopted by the government may give rise to illegal preferential treatment of certain groups, companies, businesses or sectors;
- distribution of funds – the probability of embezzlement or misappropriation of donations from citizens or special funds, established by the government, companies or public-private partnerships, increases;
- corruption in the private sector – the probability of bribery by legal persons aimed at overcoming the business slowdown caused by pandemic restrictions increases along with the rising falsification of documents necessary to get government support and to obtain licenses and authorizations.
In response to the existing corruption risks leading international organisations put forward recommendations that States could follow in order to mitigate those risks. We have already written about the guidelines issued by GRECO; similar documents have been released by other organisations.
The United Nations
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) issued a Guidance Note on Transparency, Accountability and Anti-Corruption Service Offer for COVID-19 Response and Recovery. The document provides an overview of key corruption risks posed by the pandemic, the measures proposed by UNDP to mitigate them in the short and long terms, and examples of the steps taken by specific countries to implement such measures.
1. Enhance monitoring and oversight of service delivery in the health sector:
- put in place effective internal and external oversight and accountability mechanisms for emergency delivery of health services;
- strengthen social accountability mechanisms primarily at the community level;
- engage civil society in monitoring the distribution of medical products and equipment;
- promote open data related to COVID-19.
In South Korea, a system to process whistleblower reports in relation to threats to public health and safety, consumer interests and fair competition was established. In the first two months of its functioning over 50,000 complaints were analysed.
2. Ensure transparent procurement process:
- strengthen transparency in emergency procurement and supply management of goods, works and services at all their stages;
- provide guidance on quality assurance of procured and supplied health products;
- support transparent contracting processes to prevent price gouging.
Portugal introduced measures to deter price-gouging also by creating an open dataset on the national open data portal to publish all public contract awards.
3. Strengthen transparency and accountability in the management of funds:
- establish transparency and accountability measures to monitor the disbursement, receipt and use of funds and donations;
- promote budget monitoring by civil society.
Tunisia, with support from UNDP, set up a central task force to receive and manage donations and contributions to respond to COVID-19 in a transparent and accountable manner.
4. Promote overall transparency, accountability and integrity of governance institutions:
- support anti-corruption, oversight and audit institutions to ensure accountability in overall crisis management;
- promote a whole-of-government approach by bringing together anti-corruption, oversight and audit institutions with other line ministries;
- strengthen access to information using technology to enable effective monitoring and tackle misinformation, and others.
In Thailand, the government engages the public in monitoring corruption and detecting corruption risks during the pandemic through the “Corruption Risk Mapping in the COVID-19 Crisis” project.
In Singapore, the mechanisms for formulating evidence-based response to the risks induced by the pandemic and its implementation implied the engagement of the public in preliminary analysis and subsequent monitoring.
UNDP experts outline the following short and long term measures:
1. Strengthen institutions to integrate anti-corruption in sectors:
- provide technical support to institutions to conduct corruption risk assessments and integrate corruption risk mitigation measures across sectors, and provide policy and advisory support to mitigate corruption risks that arise from the socio-economic impact of COVID-19;
- integrate anti-corruption in the national, sectoral and local development plans;
- conduct country-level impact assessments of COVID-19 on corruption and fraud risks, and others.
In the Arab States, UNDP developed a corruption risk management approach to tackle corruption at the sectoral level and a respective conceptual framework on how to adapt it to specific spheres of the economy.
2. Use technology and innovation to promote transparency, accountability and integrity in sectors:
- leverage the benefits of e-governance for service delivery and supply chain management;
- put in place digital platforms for monitoring services and handling complaints;
- put in place e-procurement and e-contracting systems.
Ukraine’s ProZorro is an e-procurement platform that allows government bodies to conduct procurement deals electronically and provides citizens with open access to these contracts. At the same time a project entitled DoZorro was launched. This is a tool to identify corruption risks, where citizens can report violations across the procurement cycle.
3. Promote business integrity:
- support compliance and due diligence processes carried out by the private sector;
- promote transparency and openness in procurement, including participation in public tenders;
- support businesses through digital platforms to facilitate business processes and streamline administrative procedures, and others.
In Armenia, UNDP and the Coca Cola Foundation have collaborated to supply emergency medical equipment in the context of COVID-19.
4. Support social accountability and participation of civil society:
- set up complaint handling platforms;
- set up open information sharing to promote transparency, and others.
In Papua New Guinea, UNDP supported the Phones Against Corruption initiative, a safe and anonymous messaging platform for reporting corruption.
In particular, the OECD has issued an analytical note entitled Policy measures to avoid corruption and bribery in the COVID-19 response and recovery, which outlines major principles to prevent corruption risks in the context of the pandemic:
- respect the rule of law, international anti-corruption standards and anti-bribery obligations;
- address immediate risks in emergency procurement;
- adopt accountability and control of the economic recovery measures;
- promote business ethics, internal controls, and compliance in entities, and ensure a risk-based approach to good governance;
- ensure investigation and enforcement of corruption and bribery cases.
Besides that, the OECD has published a document Public integrity for an effective COVID-19 response and recovery, which provides an overview of major corruption risks emerging in the public sector in the context of the pandemic and specific recommendations for mitigating them. The measures identified by the authors of the paper fall into three areas:
1. Integrity challenges in public procurement:
- maintaining and retaining documentation of procurement process;
- developing guidelines on procurement under a crisis;
- ensuring maximum openness of procurement information, including open data;
- setting up a central price and supplier tracking system for key products and services;
- allowing remote access by auditors and oversight bodies to all procurement records;
- creating digital and easily accessible tools to allow the public to track all emergency purchases, and others.
2. Accountability, control and oversight of the economic stimulus packages:
- ensuring that audit functions have the resources they need;
- establishing or leveraging existing oversight legislative committees;
- ensuring that the appropriate integrity risk assessments are carried out;
- ensuring that adequate procedures are in place to design, review and approve stimulus programmes urgently, and others.
3. Integrity violations in public organisations:
- strengthen existing public integrity systems in public organisations;
- leveraging and improving digital tools to promote integrity and accountability;
- establishing employee counseling or financial assistance programmes to support employees in addressing economic pressures;
- raising awareness of integrity standards among employees, and others.
The OAS Joint Summit Working Group in cooperation with a number of Inter-American and international organisations has adopted a declaration Addressing Corruption, Integrity and Democratic Governance Risks Associated with COVID-19. In this document, the JSWG members reaffirm their commitment to continuing joint efforts in providing assistance to the countries of the Western Hemisphere in mitigating corruption risks related to the pandemic and to further strengthening their cooperation also in exchanging experience and sharing information, facilitating interaction among national law enforcement authorities and promoting the use of digital technologies to enhance transparency and accountability.
The G20 Anti-Corruption Working Group is drafting a set of recommendations for countering corruption as related to COVID-19, based on a questionnaire on major risks and measures to mitigate them previously circulated to the member States.