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Corruption, “the great evil” that undermines democracy and economic systems. Esposito (Greco): “We need strong prevention measures”

"Corruption is virtually present everywhere, wherever human greed takes over the interests of the community”, said Gianluca Esposito, Executive Secretary of the Group of States against corruption, organ of the Council of Europe. A cancer that worms its way through the folds of political systems, in businesses, in the ganglions of society. “Prevention is of the essence”; said the jurist, recalling the known tweet of Pope Francis…

An across-the-board battle. Corruption has no borders, it has no scruples, it undermines democratic societies, destabilizes economic systems, demeans human rights and equality among people. Yet it exists, and it’s insidious, it does not back down. It’s present in the daily news reports of media outlets worldwide, even now. This battle was upheld by the Council of Europe since the mid 1990s, which led to the establishment of the Group of States Against Corruption (GRECO) in 1999, whose purpose is to strengthen the capacity of States to fight corruption. In recent years the Council of Europe has adopted a set of legal instruments to deal with this phenomenon. Since 2010 all 47 CoE Member Countries, along with the United States and Belarus, form part of Greco – https://www.coe.int/en/web/greco. It includes a bureau and a Secretariat with head office in Strasbourg, where, indeed, there is no shortage of work… In fact the GRECO Plenary meeting is currently under way (March 19-23). We contacted Gianluca Esposito, Executive Secretary of the CoE body, long-standing jurist with a vast experience at international level, to get a full picture of the corruption-problem. He was previously at the International Monetary Fund and carried out several missions throughout world Countries.

Countering corruption requires first of all its detection. Beneath which surface does it lurk in Europe and which “shapes” does it take? The phenomenon of corruption must first be subjected to comprehensive prevention activity. It should be prevented in those same places where it is most likely to operate. Political corruption is certainly a major concern owing to its negative impact on the performance of our democracies, the respect of the Rule of the Law and the protection of human rights, as well as on economic growth and in the area of employment. In general terms, political corruption is not only confined to bribery. It may derive from malfeasance, from non-compliance with ethical norms, from illicit or non-transparent financing of political parties, from the exchange of favours or gifts, from poorly transparent interactions with lobbyists, from opaque positions in public administration, from incestuous ties to organized crime.

Does corruption occur only in the public sector? Unfortunately not. Ever more often corruption enters the folds of the private economic sector, causing the failure of the principle of free competition. Corruption in the sport sector (that becomes evident, inter alia, in rigged fixed matches, doping, and the like) is a major concern that ought to be addressed with determination. Finally, there is what we call the “great corruption”, that poisons States performance starting with its leaders, thereby undermining the founding principles of our democracies.

On the basis of the work carried out by GRECO, corruption appears to be an overarching threat: it upsets the markets, undermines democracies from within, demeans social justice and civil rights. You previously mentioned prevention: are there effective, concrete measures that can prevent it? At which level should they be implemented? Prevention is of the essence for the successful fight on corruption. When an act of corruption takes shape, the system as a whole has failed its prevention role. Unfortunately there is an increasing tendency by States to adopt repressive methods to combat corruption, thereby overlooking the crucial role of prevention, which in many cases consist in ineffective or non-existing measures. Prevention measures involve the transparency of the legislative process, the development of ethical codes of conduct for all those called to exercise a public role (regardless of whether that role is the result of an election) the management of possible conflicts of interest and the elimination of gifts (material and non-material alike), the management of incompatibilities, of relations with lobbyists, end-of-term restrictions, the abusive use of confidential information and public resources, the publication of declarations of assets, income, liabilities and interests.

Do the 49 GRECO member Countries include national situations that are more or less implicated? And conversely, are there Countries that managed to react with greater determination to counter corruption at various levels? 
If we look beyond our perceptions and stereotypes and we clearly see the reality of our 49 member Countries, I think we will find it hard to make a ranking of the most corrupted Countries. The truth is that corruption exists virtually everywhere, wherever human greed takes over the interests of the community. It comes in different shapes, with different degrees in various areas of society. In some countries, transparency in the financing of political parties is a problematic issue. In others, the theme of transparency in the judicial system or in the relationship between the political and judicial realms is deemed important.  In certain countries, the management of conflicts of interest on behalf of members of parliament should be addressed with greater determination. In some States (fortunately only few), criminal laws still fail to comply with international standards. Moreover, in many States we identified the existence of legislation that is poorly put into practice, or not implemented at all. Finally, we noticed with concern that some States not only fail to advance but tend to regress in the fight on corruption.

Could you mention some positive cases? Some of GRECO’s achievements? Slovenia and Estonia are two Countries that until now have managed to have the upper hand on corruption. Even though in these two countries, like in many others, there is still room for improvements, both have managed to internalize the need to prevent and decisively combat corruption. This activity of prevention and contrast was not carried out as a result of external imposition, but was initiated within the same countries, from the public sector to civil society. The example was given by the highest State echelons. This positive example has permeated the performance of public institutions as a whole which resulted in a perfectly successful democratic transition and sustained economic growth.

“We must fight corruption with determination. It is an evil based on the worship of money and it offends human dignity”, declared Pope Francis in a tweet past December 9, on the occasion of the International Day against corruption. With a neologism, he said that “corruption stinks”. How did you react to these words? I answered Pope Francis – on Twitter – by fully sharing his words, inviting him to ensure that the Church may set the example and be fully committed, within her own institutions, in the prevention and fight on corruption. Such a commitment could also take the shape of a dialogue with GRECO on the existence and enforcement of regulations in the area of prevention and fight on corruption within the Vatican City State.

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