HSE University Anti-Corruption Portal
OECD Issues Handbook on Public Integrity

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has issued the Public Integrity Handbook.

This is a practical toolkit for the implementation of the OECD Recommendation on Public Integrity (published also in Russian). The Recommendation is targeted at policymakers and contains 13 rules whose respect will ensure “consistent alignment of, and adherence to, shared ethical values, principles and norms for upholding and prioritizing the public interest over private interests” in the public sector.

The Handbook is divided into 13 chapters, by number of the rules outlined in the OECD Recommendation. Each of them contains more detailed pieces of advice on how to follow the rules.

1. Commitment means high-level commitment to enhancing public integrity and reducing corruption.

In order to ensure the adherence to the principle of commitment the Handbook suggests, in the first place, formulating a clear common definition of “integrity”. The next step is to clearly state within the legislative and institutional frameworks the responsibility for managing integrity. In the Republic of Korea for example, article 3 of the Act on the Prevention of Corruption and Establishment and Management of the Anti-Corruption and Civil Rights Commission requires all public organizations to take active efforts to prevent corruption and establish a culture of social ethics, whilst in the Czech Republic the current anti-corruption plan identifies the role of each individual ministry, while also identifying a government council to co-ordinate the country’s anti-corruption and public integrity. In addition, the respective responsibilities can be assigned to the public officials rather than to the public bodies, as is done in Australia (Public Service Act No. 147, 1999) and Slovakia (Law on Public Service No. 55/2017).

2. Responsibilities mean assigning responsibility to individuals/institutions for defining and enforcing integrity policies.

This principle implies the establishment of a clear system of division of responsibilities for defining, enforcing, supporting and controlling standards and instruments for the individuals engaged in the implementation of integrity policies in the public sector. A country can assign these responsibilities to a competent authority, such as the National Transparency Authority in Greece or the High Authority for Transparency in Public Life (Haute Autorité pour la Transparence de la Vie Publique, HATVP) in France, distribute them among different bodies or opt for a model according to which some functions are delegated to a competent anti-corruption body while the others are assigned to other public bodies. Each option might have its advantages and disadvantages. Besides that, the competent individuals/bodies should be provided with appropriate resources and capacities, including human resources, to fulfill their responsibilities and have the possibility to cooperate with other competent individuals in this area. In Canada for instance, the Treasury Board Secretariat, hosts as the central agency the meetings of the Interdepartmental Values and Ethics Network and the Senior Officers for Internal Disclosure Group (whistleblowing). In addition, the meetings of the Canadian Conflict of Interest Network, which comprises representatives of the federal government, commissioners from provinces and local self-government level, are held. In Austria there is the Network of Integrity Officers (Integritätsbeauftragten-Netzwerk) and in Sweden there is the Network against Corruption (Myndighetsnätverket mot korruption) that brings together the representatives of State agencies in the Swedish Agency for Public Management.

3. Strategy means setting objectives and priorities for the public integrity system and developing benchmarks and indicators to assess its effectiveness.

This principle implies the development of a clear strategy, the definition of objectives and means to achieve them, proceeding from preliminary risk assessment. This is the case of the development of the UK Anti-Corruption Strategy 2017 to 2022. Cross-government groups can be engaged in the development of the anti-corruption strategy: in Finland for example, such cross-government group included police, local government and civil society organizations. For each stage of the implementation of the strategy there should be indicators to validate the progress and to subsequently monitor the quality of implementation of anti-corruption efforts. For example, the Republic of Korea annually uses two complementary assessment frameworks: standardized surveys, in which staff from organizations, citizens and other stakeholders are asked about their experience with and perception of corruption, and performance reports, submitted by public agencies, whose information is subsequently verified by the anti-corruption body.

4. Standards mean the enforcement of standards of public officials’ behaviour.

Countries should embed in their legal systems standards of conduct, including criminalization of corruption, civil law regulation (also providing for the possibility to receive compensation for damages), administrative regulation (the rights and duties of public administrations in their relations with the public), adoption of codes of conduct (the Handbook recommends to introduce in such codes seven (plus or minus two) elements, as is done in Australia and Denmark). In addition, there should be mechanisms for the diffusion of standards and a clear system of sanctions in case of violation.

5. Whole-of-society means ensuring integrity in the organizations of the private sector and civil society.

In order to comply with this principle the States should:

  • establish public integrity standards in companies, which can be achieved by adopting legislation requiring companies to establish compliance programmes, as is the case of the United Kingdom and France, and/or requiring companies to submit reports on the fulfillment of integrity standards, and/or monitoring their interaction with the public sector (in Spain for instance, companies that have hired any person breaching the prohibition on providing services in private companies directly related to the competencies of the position held during the two-year cooling-off period are prohibited from contracting with any public administration);
  • establish integrity standards for civil society organizations;
  • establish and ensure the acceptance as a shared responsibility of public integrity standards by individuals by raising awareness about corruption and cultivating culture of intolerance towards corruption (for example, the anti-corruption body in Peru launched the campaign #PeruviansForReal (#Peruanosdeverdad), which filmed a YouTube video about the violation of integrity principles;
  • engage relevant stakeholders in developing, updating and implementing the public integrity system (for instance, in Mexico in early 2020 the National Anticorruption Policy was developed through a participative process involving civil society, business, public institutions, academia and experts from all over the country).

6. Leadership means raising awareness among public managers about integrity standards and introducing respective functions in their duties.

Both top and other managers in institutions and organizations should demonstrate their adherence to the principles of integrity. In order to do so, they should regularly participate in relevant training: in Germany for instance, the Federal Academy of Public Administration has established a coaching centre for training public leaders; the Flemish region of Belgium has set up a joint training programme with the Netherlands, whereby top managers are trained in coaching colleagues, which favours the exchange of practical experience.

7. Merit means a system where employment and appraisal of officials are based on their personal and professional qualities.

Qualification and performance criteria for positions, open application processes and oversight and recourse mechanisms should be established to this end. In the United States for instance, the Merit Systems Protection Board, an independent, quasi-judicial agency, is empowered to set and update the standards of employment and appraisal of personnel, hear complaints and decide on corrective or disciplinary action when an agency is alleged to have committed a prohibited personnel practice.

8. Capacity building means raising awareness, building knowledge and skills and providing guidance and advice also on how to adhere to the principles of integrity.

For this principle to be respected it is necessary to ensure that:

  • information about integrity policies, rules and administrative procedures is up-to-date and available. For example, in Mexico the Ministry of Public Administration (Secretaría de la Función Pública) diffuses posters, explaining what each specific public service value, outlined in articles 7-11 of the Code of Ethics for the Federal Government Officials of Mexico, means (legality, honesty, loyalty, impartiality and efficiency);
  • on-the-job integrity training and other activities take place regularly to raise awareness. For instance, in Lithuania all new public officials are required to take part in mandatory induction training. In the United States, in addition to the mandatory induction training, certain categories of employees are required by the Code of Federal Regulation to follow additional annual ethics training (see §2638.307 and §2638.308 of Title V of the Code of Federal Regulations);
  • guidance and consultation mechanisms for consistently applying integrity standards in public officials’ daily work are in place, well known and accessible. In France for example, the HATVP provides individual confidential advice upon request to the highest ranking public officials and in Poland integrity advisors are appointed in government administration offices.

9. Openness means encouraging an open culture in the public sector where any public integrity concerns can be discussed freely, and ensuring that clear rules, procedures and channels are in place to report suspected violations.

The establishment of mechanisms for the protection of whistleblowers is particularly critical for the fulfillment of this principle: direct prohibition of reprisals against whistleblowers and sanctions against retaliation, legal protection mechanisms (return to employment after unfair termination, compensatory damages), clear investigative procedures and timely responses to reports,  publishing the number and nature of cases, etc. In addition, it is important to create appropriate institutional environment: in Canada for example, the Office of the Public Sector Integrity Commissioner, in charge of investigation and resolution of complaints, is an independent body reporting to Parliament only.

10. Risk Management means conducting risk assessments, developing risk-management systems and adopting measures to minimize risks and ensuring internal control mechanisms for responding to suspicions of violations of laws and regulations.

As corruption risks vary by sectors and bodies/organizations a “tailored approach” is an important element of the system of risk management and assessing integrity risks. The Government can also provide guidance support to bodies/organizations in developing risk assessment mechanisms, as is the case of Canada, or advice, as, for example, in France. In addition, risk assessment systems require systematic monitoring and evaluation of their effectiveness and respective amendments in the event that the functions/structure of a body/organization have/has undergone substantial changes. For instance, in the United Kingdom, HM Revenue and Customs uses its monthly Performance Report to measure progress against objectives and to identify areas of performance requiring further action. In the Netherlands the Office for the Promotion of Public Sector Integrity (Bureau Integriteitsbevordering Openbare Sector), the Integrity Office of the Municipality of Amsterdam (Bureau Integriteit de gemeente Amsterdam), and the Netherlands Court of Audit (Algemene Rekenkamer) jointly developed the IntoSAINT. This integrity self-assessment tool enables public sector organizations to evaluate their vulnerability and resilience to integrity violations, and provides recommendations on how to improve integrity management.

11. Enforcement means enforcing proceedings in line with the principles of fairness, objectivity and timeliness in case of violations, enhancing transparency of enforcement mechanisms and ensuring accountability.

A comprehensive integrity system should provide for a fair, objective and timely enforcement of criminal, civil and/or disciplinary penalties for violations, mechanisms for oversight, co-ordination, co-operation and exchange of information between relevant entities in the context of application of these penalties and development of tools for ensuring transparency of enforcement mechanisms, while respecting privacy and confidentiality.

12. Oversight means reinforcing the role of external oversight and control within the public integrity system.

External oversight and control mechanisms can include ombudsmen, supreme audit institutions (SAI), administrative courts and courts of general jurisdiction and regulatory enforcement agencies. The division of control functions depends on the country: for example, in Austria the Court of Audit (Rechnungshof Österreich) is a major player in the integrity system, which assesses if existing mechanisms are suitable to prevent corruption within public organizations, and publishes the recommendations to increase transparency as well as public scrutiny and awareness of these issues. At the same time it is fundamental to ensure that these bodies are independent: Canada and Norway have developed policies and standards for the managers of regulatory agencies regarding the revolving door situations.

13. Participation means promoting transparency of public bodies, granting citizens access in the development of public policies and encouraging a society that includes “watchdog” entities.

This principle provides for:

  • ensuring the transparency and openness of public bodies, in particular, by guaranteeing timely response to requests for access to information (for example, a response is due within 5 days in Estonia, 10 in Portugal, and 15 in Finland and Poland) and providing access to open data;
  • involving stakeholders in the policy-making process through focus groups, expert panels, surveys and public consultations;
  • encourage public scrutiny of conflict-of interest situations, asset and interest disclosures (publication of interest declarations, as in France, Latvia and Mexico or summaries of declarations of assets, as in Spain), lobbying activities (through an open online register, as is the case in Canada, France and Ireland) and financing of political parties and electoral campaigns.

The Handbook is complemented by the OECD Public Integrity Maturity Models, an instrument for self-assessment of the “degree of maturity” of the adopted public integrity measures. It allows countries to assess where they are situated in relation to the implementation of each of the 13 OECD principles through answering a set of questions. As a follow-up, the Organization also intends to issue the OECD Public Integrity Indicators and the Public Integrity Toolkit.

Corruption whistleblowers
Education and enlightenment
Asset disclosure
Standards of conduct
Anti-corruption authorities
Civil society

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