HSE University Anti-Corruption Portal
GRECO Releases an Annual Report

The Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) has published its annual report on the current 5th evaluation round in Europe and the United States.

According to the report, a total of 21 5th round evaluations had been carried out by the end of 2020. This round focuses on corruption prevention in central governments, including persons entrusted with top executive functions (PTEFs), and law enforcement. GRECO explains that the top executive functions may include those of: 

  • heads of state;
  • heads of central government;
  • members of central government (e.g. ministers);
  • deputy ministers;
  • state secretaries;
  • heads/members of a minister’s private office;
  • senior political officials;
  • political advisors.

Concerning law enforcement agencies, the evaluation focuses on police services at national level (or similar bodies) which may include agencies responsible for border control.

The recommendations made by GRECO within the 5th evaluation round with respect to the PTEFs were related to the following major topics: 

1. Anticorruption and integrity policy, regulatory and institutional framework

Most of the countries evaluated so far were asked to adopt codes of conduct for PTEFs or to revise them to include relevant categories of officials in a general system of existing integrity policies. In some of the countries evaluated, the scope of PTEFs had to be broadened to include, for instance, political advisers or senior civil servants appointed to political positions.

In addition, countries were advised to adopt or consolidate in a single document policies or standards, providing clear guidance on conflicts of interest and other integrity related matters.

2. Transparency and oversight

Despite the numerous recommendations to ensure access to information that countries received in the past, the 5th evaluation round showed that not all countries duly implemented them.

Against this backdrop, GRECO reiterated that any exceptions to the rule of public disclosure should be limited to a minimum and conditions for public scrutiny also with respect to public procurement, in particular concerning large public contracts, should be created.

Besides that, the evaluations demonstrated that many countries did not have rules on how PTEFs should engage with lobbyists or third parties seeking to influence the public decision-making process. As a result, these countries were advised to require disclosure of such contacts.

GRECO also stresses that some countries still have a broad margin of discretion for determining what is in the public domain, often unreasonably preferring to apply “exceptions” in order to withhold certain information throughout the legislative procedure. In this regard, GRECO reminded countries of Committee of Ministers recommendation Rec(2002)2 on access to official documents, which inter aliaprovides that limitations to the right of access to official documents should only be applied if there is not an overriding interest in disclosure. GRECO also encouraged its member states to ratify the Council of Europe Convention on Access to Official Documents which includes similar provisions. 

3. Conflicts of interest

For a majority of the countries evaluated thus far, GRECO recommended improving the management of conflicts of interest arising throughout the PTEFs activities. Countries were, in particular, advised to:

  • clearly define the rules and procedures that apply;
  • introduce the requirement of ad hoc disclosure in respect of PTEFs in situations of conflict of interest;
  • ensure that rules about conflicts of interest also cover political advisors, non-remunerated “supernumerary advisory employees” and unpaid advisors in central government.

In addition, GRECO recommended that provisions and guidance regarding the requirement upon PTEFs to disclose conflicts ad hoc and other related responsibilities are in place, as well as procedures and deadlines for solving situations of conflict of interest.

4. Prohibition or restriction of certain activities

In the 5th evaluation round, GRECO asked many countries to review their existing rules on secondary activities exercised by the PTEFs and spell out in greater detail the activities that can be exercised and those which should be excluded, as well as to regulate the process for notification/asking permission.

GRECO also reiterated the importance of strict limitations on gifts and “favours”, especially between politicians and the business community.

Many of the countries reviewed were also advised to adopt better regulation of the “revolving-doors” with regard to the PTEFs, in particular, by developing general guidelines to address the conflicts of interest that can arise from former private activities when an individual comes into government service as a top executive official and when a PTEF is negotiating for a new position outside of government service.

5. Declaration of assets, income, liabilities and interests

GRECO stresses the common challenges for all member states in the organisation of anti-corruption declaration systems, such as an insufficiently narrow scope of persons covered by the disclosure requirement, the timely publication of declarations and their scope and independent and systematic monitoring.

In this regard, GRECO recommends that:

  • state secretaries and political advisers are subject to the same disclosure requirements as ministers;
  • the scope of declarations of interests is widened to include information on spouses and dependent family members, including children;
  • a formal system for review of the declarations is established;
  • enforceable sanctions are enacted for failing to file or knowingly making false statements in the disclosure reports;
  • the reports filed are used for counseling purposes regarding the application of the rules dealing with disqualification (in the event that there is a conflict of interest), outside activities, and gifts. 

6. Accountability and enforcement mechanisms

GRECO stressed that codes of conduct for PTEFs would benefit from a robust mechanism of supervision and enforcement. In this context, it also pointed out that the outcome of procedures undertaken in respect of PTEFs should be made known to the public, and that in some instances law enforcement should be more proactive in dealing with suspected offences by PTEFs and start investigations on the basis of reasonable suspicion rather than irrefutable evidence.

Besides that, GRECO reiterated that it is crucial to respect the standard laid down in Resolution (97)24 on the Twenty Guiding Principles for the Fight against Corruption stipulating that immunities should be limited to the extent necessary so as not to hamper the investigation, prosecution or adjudication of corruption offences. In spite of the fact that subject of immunities was dealt within GRECO’s 1st evaluation round more than fifteen years ago, GRECO has still issued recommendations in the 5th evaluation round to some countries, stressing the need to limit the privileges with respect to prosecution enjoyed by PTEFs for acts performed outside their official capacity and the importance of objective and fair criteria for lifting immunities.

The recommendations regarding law enforcement agencies issued by GRECO to member states in the 5th evaluation round were focused on the following issues:

1. Anti-corruption and integrity policy

In a number of countries evaluated, GRECO recommended adopting a coordinated corruption prevention and integrity policy for the police, based on the systematic and comprehensive review of risk prone areas.

In countries which had well-developed national anti-corruption strategies, codes of conduct and overall policy guidelines, several were asked to complement them, in particular, with provisions on gifts and ad hoc conflict of interest, as well as to supervise and enforce relevant norms also by introducing the possibility to apply sanctions.

In addition, GRECO recommended having regular anti-corruption training for police staff, particularly including their superiors. GRECO also pointed out that all preventive tools should be explained to the public so as to gain trust and support.

2. Organisation and accountability

GRECO stressed that to be able to perform effectively, adequate resources and sufficient operational independence from the political level for law enforcement are necessary. Furthermore, the authorities need to ensure appropriate and adequate remuneration for their police officers. Also, pertinent measures should be taken in order to ensure that individual police officers comply in practice with the duty to implement the existing rules on integrity and impartiality in order to carry out their functions in a politically neutral manner.

3. Recruitment, career, and conditions of service

GRECO recommended that the management of law enforcement careers should be driven by the principles of transparent and merit-based recruitment, promotion and dismissal, offering an objective appeal procedure, having clear criteria for motivating staff and striving for gender balance. 

A few countries were recommended advertising vacancies rather than “hand-picking” candidates by means of transfers from the civil service. GRECO also pointed out that selection should be based on clear and objective criteria as opposed to subjective preferences, that no one should unduly influence the process and that the highest superiors should not be above this rule.

Moreover, GRECO stressed the importance of security checks at regular intervals throughout the careers of law enforcement staff as their personal circumstances are likely to change over time and, on occasion, might make them more vulnerable to corruption risks (financial problems arising for example as a result of a mortgage or consumer loan, divorce, the illness of a relative, the bankruptcy of a spouse, etc.).

4. Conflict of interest

GRECO recommended having a more streamlined approach to the management of conflict-of-interest situations in law enforcement bodies with oversight of its implementation, as well as ensuring that law enforcement personnel is proactive in dealing with their own conflicts of interest.

5. Prohibition or restriction of certain activities

GRECO highlighted that the rules are more stringent in some countries than in others in prohibiting law enforcement staff from performing any activity other than their work functions. A few explicitly prohibit law enforcement officials from performing activities which could be to the detriment of their service in the police.

In some cases, GRECO recommended a streamlined system for authorisation of secondary employment. In other instances, GRECO advised to study the issue carefully to be better placed to decide if additional measures are needed to limit such activity and if so, to establish clear criteria for granting permission.

In some cases, GRECO recommended introducing specific mechanisms for preventing and managing conflicts of interests after law enforcement officers leave their force, including examination of the practice more thoroughly in order to limit unrestricted permissions with regard to post-employment.

6. Declaration of assets, income, liabilities, and interests

GRECO recommended introducing a robust, effective and regular system of declaration, including for top management, ensuring information is publicly accessible and considering extending declaration requirements to spouses and dependent family members.

7. Oversight and enforcement

This topic attracted the highest level of attention from GRECO. The recommendations in this realm regarded such matters as:

  • developing of stronger risk management systems, making sure that these risks are addressed, and that oversight is in place;
  • countering the so-called “blue code”, i.e. the informal rule among law enforcement officers not to report their colleagues’ offences;
  • improving the protection of whistleblowers in law enforcement agencies (particularly relevant because of the “blue code).

Besides the consolidated recommendations issued by GRECO to its member states in the framework of the 5th evaluation round, the report provides selected good practices of some countries.

In 2018, France set up a public register listing areas where ministers are removed from the decision-making process for reasons of a risk of conflict of interest.

In Germany, a directive requires all federal agencies (953 agencies and offices in total) to identify at regular intervals corruption risks and to report back on this to the Federal Ministry of the Interior, Building and Community.

In Denmark, there is an authority, independent from the police, prosecution service and Ministry of Justice, which investigates ex officio or following a complaint criminal offences committed by police staff, using the same investigative tools as in ordinary criminal investigations.

Tags
Asset disclosure
Corruption whistleblowers
Conflict of interest
Education
Standards of conduct
Transparency

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