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Integrity Experts Network (IEN)

Organization(s)

Regional Anticorruption Initiative (RAI) Secretariat

Country (ies) and institutions

Participants: High Inspectorate of Declaration and Audit of Assets (Albania), Central Election Commission (Bosnia and Herzegovina), National Audit Office (Bulgaria), Commission for Conflict of Interest in the Exercise of Public Office (Croatia), State Commission for Prevention of Corruption (FYR Macedonia), Center for Combating Economic Crimes and Corruption (Moldova), Commission for Prevention of Conflict of Interest (Montenegro), National Integrity Agency (Romania), Anticorruption Agency (Serbia), Commission for the Prevention of Corruption (Slovenia), Antifraud Office of Catalonia (Spain). Support: RAI Secretariat; Regional Cooperation Council (RCC) Secretariat. Donor: US State Department through RCC Secretariat.

Overview

This case story focuses on one of the priority areas of work for Regional Anticorruption Initiative – Conflict of Interest and Declaration of Assets and the establishment of South-East European Network of experts in integrity issues as an effective tool for knowledge exchange and further development of this specific field in the region. Set up in 2000, RAI was designated to carry out the fight against corruption in South-Eastern Europe as part of international efforts to support the resurrection of the Balkans after years of civil wars and instability. By initiating IEN Network RAI Secretariat wanted to use its 10 years of experience and to concentrate on concrete area on the anticorruption field, leaving political background aside, providing ground to practitioners to share their knowledge among each other and to self-improve.

Background and set-up

The IEN was set-up following a precise assessments of regional needs and requests made by RAI Secretariat. RAI was initially adopted in 2000 under the former Stability Pact for South-Eastern Europe with the only purpose to lead the fight against corruption in the region. It had passed through difficult times before the member states (Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Romania and Serbia) signed Memorandum of Understanding in 2007 by which they took care of the financing and leadership of the Initiative, thus providing ground for more intensive fight against corruption in the Balkans. Currently, RAI Secretariat is the only center in South-Eastern Europe dealing solely with anticorruption issues. After almost 10 years of experince through numerous discussions with anticorruption experts in the region, it was identified that a new approach towards fighting corruption was needed. The local experts expressed their opinion that their international partners should re-orient their approach from being present in the countries and trying to apply to internal systems certain policies, identified usually in Western societies as good ones, to providing ground, platforms or possibilities to local experts for frequent meetings, where they could discuss, share their experience specific for the region, identify the best solutions applicable in the different areas and fasten the regional cooperation in adressing the issues of mutual interest. It was assessed that those aims could be reached by setting up professional networks of practitioners. As a summary of the discussions two major areas of common interest were identified: asset recovery and conflict of interest. Being aware of the resources at our disposal RAI Secretariat was focused on setting-up of a profiled network of experts dealing with conflict of interest and declaration of assets (so called ''integrity issues''). The idea was shared for the first time in May 2008 during a twinning type activity of sharing experience among the Albanian High Inspectorate of Declaration and Audit of Assets (HIDAA), at that time already a well-experienced body, and the Romanian newly established National Integrity Agency. It was later on discussed in November 2009 in Kosovo at an anticorruption workshop that gathered experts from some of the integrity agencies in the Balkans. After the idea had been generally adopted RAI Secretariat started to search for a sustainable local partner, which will support the efforts for setting up of such network. It was a follow-up of our estimation that we should facilitate, but leave the initiative to the experts themselves in building up and taking advantage of the network. RAI Secretariat found as a reliable partner HIDAA and launched the Integrity Experts Network on 3rd of May, 2010, at a conference held in Tirana, Albania. Since the beginning IEN is envisaged to serve as a platform for policy making, exchange of information, experience and best practices between the practitioners in the area on focus. In that regard, the represented institutions adopted Declaration of the Network foundation and Statute about its functioning. It was agreed that the IEN Secretariat functions will be managed by RAI Secretariat in close cooperation with the institution having the Chairmanship-in-Office of the Network. HIDAA took the first Chairmanship-in-Office of the newly set up Network in the period May 2010 – May 2011, while the State Commission for Prevention of Corruption of Republic of Macedonia will take the second one in the period June 2011- May 2012. Finally, the integrity experts identified as first follow-up steps to the Conference the designation of national focal points, the setting up of the Steering Board of the Network and the elaboration of a working agenda for attracting the interest of the donor community.

The partnership

During the first year of its establishment 3 workshops have been organize in the framework of IEN. Following the Chairmanshipin- Office, the events took place in Tirana, Albania. The initial idea was through thematic workshops to overcome the traditional lack of trust and communication among people from the Balkans, thus creating good working atmosphere and opportunities for further development of professional relations among participants. The agenda of each event was prepared by HIDAA after consultations with all member institutions. It was agreed that selected topics should be of mutual interest, while under special request of member institution certain topic could be proposed and approved for more detailed discussions. Among the discussed topics were a general overview of the conflict of interest legislation in place with focus on its object, scope of aplication and recent amendments in regard to sanction of new forms of corruption; functional incompatibilities and relevant sanctions stressing on the functions that frequently fall into a conflict of interest situation, as well as on the most used preventive measures; related persons and applicable restrictions; domestic cooperation and collaboration with public and private entities – legal ways for ensuring information from public institutions and private entities, protection of personal data policies and experience; conflict of interest case by case detection, management and resolution – verification of relevant data declared by public officials, prohibition or restrictions of certain activities or private interests, applicable sanctions and enforcement experience. The past events were coorganized by HIDAA (the institution holding the Chairmanship-in-Office) and RAI Secretariat (performing the constant Secretariat functions). After request made by member institutions, RAI Secretariat eleborated and currently maintains the web site of IEN (www.integrity-experts.net), which is envisaged to serve as an on-line Resource Center about legislation, publications and inovations in the area of conflict of interest and declaration of assets. The launch of IEN and the workshops within its framework met huge interest by the high-rank state officials of the hosting country, as well as by the representatives of the leading international stakeholders in the area and civil society. The integrity experts have been welcomed twice by the President of Albania Prof. Dr. Bamir Topi and by the speaker of Albanian Parliament Mrs. Jozefina Coba Topalli. On the other hand the workshops were attended by representatives of diplomatic corpus in Tirana (US Embassy & EU Delegation), international organizations (UNODC, OSCE, CoE) and civil society (Institute for Contemporary Studies).

Lessons learned

After the first year of existing of IEN several findings could be underlined. The most important one is that the problems in South-Estern Europe (in general and particularly in the area of conflict of interest and declaration of assets) are specific for the region and of mutual interest, so they should be tackled not only on national, but most of all on regional level, if experts would like to achieve more effectiveness and better results. The best approach is the direct one – to explore and share variuos practical solutions to each separate issue and to apply the one that fits most. That was manifested during the second day of the last IEN workshop, when the integrity experts visited the ''Open Day Activity'' – a random selection process organized annually by HIDAA with the presence of all media in Albania aiming at identifying of 4% of all public officials in the country, who will pass a full audit of their declarations of private interest. At the end of the activity the experts from some of the IEN member institutions declared that they will use the Albanian experience and to apply the same procedure in their respective countries. The fact that in IEN as members there are brand-new bodies (Serbian Anticorruption Agency) and well experienced ones (HIDAA), institutions with broad competences (National Audit Office of Bulgaria) and with specific competences (Croatian Commission for Conflict of Interest in the Exercise of Public Office), bodies coming from Western Europe (Catalonia, Spain), provides the experts with the unique opportunity to enrich their knowledge by comparing a variety of different approaches and solutions. The next identified step is to put together that rich experience and expertize in integrity manuals, that will be elaborated by RAI Secretariat with the support of IEN member institutions, thus making the knowledge accessible to a large group of interested persons. The final step will be the creation of a mechanism for direct exchange of operational data, which will facilitate a lot the daily work of integrity experts. It was estimated as very important regarding the close relations among people in South-Eastern Europe, whose private interests very often spread over the territory of more than two neighbouring states. Last, but not least, IEN proved that experts meeting are fruitful and are not influenced by the political background. It was the first forum, where people from Serbia and Kosovo sat around the same table and discussed common challenges regardless of the current relations between the governments of the two entities. However, there are still a lot of challenges on the anticorruption field in South-Eastern Europe, particularly in the area of conflict of interest and declaration of assets, that need to be tackled in near future. Among the most important are the continuing reform of public administration, the negative perception in the society about the effectiveness of the national integrity instituions and systems, the understaffed integrity bodies and low salaries, and finally, the underestimated role of the prevention, while the repression is seen as the only feasible solution.

Complementarity with North-South cooperation

The Integrity Experts Network was initiated and launched by RAI Secretariat with the support of the local partners. In the beginning all costs were covered by the budget of the Secretariat. After the establishment of the Network RAI Secretariat eleborated the project ''Strengthening the Integrity System in South-Eastern Europe'', whose purpose was to attract donors' support for further development of IEN. The project was adopted by US State Department and received financing (75 000$) for the period September 2010 – September 2011. The submitted funds were diseminated through Regional Cooperation Council, set up to streamline the common efforts for improvement in the region. The Chairmanship-in-Office of IEN will be officially transferred from Albanian HIDAA to the State Commission for Prevention of Corruption of Republic of Macedonia in July 2011. The Macedonian experts have already contacted the local donor community looking for support for the upcoming one year period. So far, readiness to contribute financially for achieving the aims of IEN have expressed the Embassies of Norway, Germany and Great Britain in Skopje, Macedonia.

How to share

After the first initial step of building mutual trust among the integrity experts, it became visible the desire to share their knowledge and success, as well as the difficulties they meet in their daily work, to learn about new solutions applicable to their needs. During the informal discussions following the official meetings the experts stressed on the possibility of organizing twinning type training activities, which represent a two-leg forums with return visits for exchange of practical ideas, good practices and knowledge between the homologue bodies in the area of conflict of interest and declaration of assets. The elaboration of integrity manuals was also debated by the IEN members. They expressed opinion that the manuals should be translated in the national languages of South-East European countries in order to provide access to the knowledge shared in the framework of IEN to the maximum broad scope of experts and interested persons. The need of experts to achieve visible results following their meetings and discussions defined as a further step the establishment of a mechanism for exchange of operational information. It would be based on the Declaration for setting up IEN and the bilateral agreements for cooperation between the national integrity institutions signed before that. However, it will require additional efforts to overcome internal rules regarding restrictions in various aspects such as protection of personal data on natinal level.

Duration

2010-05-03

Budget

The budget of IEN for the first year of its existence was 100 000 $. US State Department donated 75 000 $, while the rest 25 000 $ were secured by RAI Secretariat budget for programmatic activities.

Name of Primary Contact Person/s

Mr. Stanislav Dimitrov Aleksandrov

Title of Primary Contact Person/s

Anticorruption Expert in RAI Secretariat, Bachelor of Law and International Relations

City and country

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Contact Email/s

saleksandrov@rai-see.org
stalexandrov2004@abv.bg

Telephone/s

+387 62 507 533
+387 33 258 990

Key players

RAI Secretariat (executing IEN Secretariart services as well): Mr. Edmond Dunga - Head of the Office (edunga@rai-see.org), Mr. Stanislav Aleksandrov - Anticorruption Expert (saleksandrov@rai-see.org) High Inspectorate for Declaration and Audit of Assets of Republic of Albania: Mr. Adriatik Llalla - General Inspector (allalla@hidaa.gov.al), Mrs. Rozarta Rrgallina - Advisor of General Inspector (rozarta@hidaa.gov.al), Mrs. Fjorida Kallco - Expert in Law Office (fkallco@hidaa.gov.al)