With corruption in local and national governments on a rise, many countries and cities are calling for the creation and strengthening of independent anti-corruption agencies. As corruption grows more sophisticated in character and method, conventional law enforcement agencies are less able to detect and prosecute complex corruption cases. Furthermore, in a system in which corruption is endemic, standard law enforcement mechanisms may themselves harbour corrupt officials. Considering these limitations of conventional anti-corruption measures and systems, governments have sought to bolster detection efforts by introducing independent Anti-Corruption Agencies or Commissions.
Some countries combine such an Agency with the office of the Ombudsman (see also 2.23 Complaints and Ombudsman Office). Others would argue that there is a clear distinction between the two roles. The Ombudsman is there to promote administrative fairness, and that this is best achieved by winning the confidence of the bureaucracy, while an Agency or Commission which is also charged with the investigation and prosecution of public servants is more likely to be feared than trusted.
The objectives of establishing independent anti-corruption agencies at the local level are:
To serve as watchdog for local government entities.
To provide an effective vehicle to disseminate information regarding the ethics rules and regulations pertaining to government employment.
To study and draft good governance policies and to ensure that those in government who breach the public trust are held accountable for their actions.Linkage to Transparency
Corruption is one of the key manifestations of lack of transparency. Establishing an independent anti-corruption agency has two key implications for building transparency in local governance. First, it helps in evaluating cases of corruption and determining its root causes, which can then be systematically eliminated. Second, it sends a strong message to the local government officials and employees, as well as the local community, that corruption would not be tolerated. This helps in building confidence of stakeholders in the commitment of the local government to transparency in every aspect of its operations.
It must be kept in mind that anti-corruption measures (such as anti-corruption agencies, Ombudsman) and preventive tools (legislation, codes of ethics, public information and participation tools, etc.) are two sides of the same coin and must be used in conjunction to achieve the best results.
How it Works – The Key Elements
Although different kinds of anti-corruption agencies function in various capacities and with differing authorities, some key elements must be present in order to guarantee their effectiveness. These include:
Independent and non-partisan ethics commissioners. Independent and non-partisan ethics commissioners are necessary to ensure a high level of impartiality in investigating corruption cases. It is imperative that the influence of political affiliations and conflicts of interest be kept to an absolute minimum in such cases. Non-partisan individuals and organizations such as judges, universities/law schools and non-profit groups can thus form part of the anti-corruption agencies.
Strong education and training unit. Regular ethics education and training for government employees and elected and appointed officials is essential in maintaining a high ethical culture. As government grows and the bureaucracy becomes more complex, corruption also rises. Training provides a routine source for disseminating information about the new and changing laws and regulations, addressing ethics issues and reminding employees of the standards they must uphold. Essentially, strong training and education leaves little room for the "I didn’t know the rules" excuse.
Proactive community/grassroots outreach programme. It is difficult to restore public trust or engage the community in the fight against corruption , if the general public is not aware that anti-corruption agencies exist. Operating a proactive community and grassroots outreach programme, through a community affairs staff person, for example, is imperative in rebuilding community confidence in municipal government entities. Through such outreach programmes, effective collaborations can be made with community non-profit groups and business associations. These collaborations can increase citizen access to local government and encourage a wider network of individuals to share in municipal accountability measures.
Staff and Commission representative of the Community. Anti-corruption agencies and ethics commissions must reflect the ethnic and racial diversity of the communities they serve. In light of the prosecutorial and sensitive investigative nature of the work, such diversity deflects accusations of selective prosecution or insensitivity toward particular community groups or elected leadership, to name a few. Besides, such diversity expands an agency’s reach into a wider cross-section of the community and expands its capacity to obtain information about and expose government corruption .
Enforcement capabilities and resources. Directing appropriate level of financial resources towards the enforcement function of anti-corruption agencies and ethics commissions are crucial for weeding out and prosecuting corruption, fraud, mismanagement and violations of Conflict of Interest Laws by government employees and officials. Qualified investigative and legal staff as well as advanced technological support systems are costly but necessary tools in combating local government corruption. In addition to the financial resources, broad enforcement capabilities strengthen credibility. These capabilities include: subpoena and audit power, jurisdiction over financial disclosure and lobbying registration reports, the authority to self-initiate complaints based upon anonymous tips and the authority to make recommendations and issue letters of instruction. Without resources, an anti-corruption agency is in danger of being ineffective and quickly losing the confidence of the residents of the local jurisdiction.
Legal advisory unit. A legal advisory unit placed within an independent anti-corruption agency can offer guidance to both municipal employees/officials and to businesses seeking to contract with local government on government ethics and conflict of interest laws.
The success in operation of an independent agency is dependent on the quality and determination of its staff, and of the legal framework that facilitates their work, and very importantly, the concepts of both prevention and prosecution as its functions. Prevention through community education and awareness raising needs to a core activity of a commission/agency. It is also important from the outset, to assess whether such a new body is necessary, and in particular whether the costs of running a properly-funded organization can be assured.
Commission on Ethics and Public Trust and the Office of the Inspector-General, Miami-Dade County, Florida, United States
Directorate of Corruption and Economic Crime, Botswana
Further information and contacts
Miami-Dade County, USA
Staff Attorney, Miami-Dade County Commission on Ethics and Public Trust,
19 W Flagler ST, #207, Miami, FL 33130 USA.
The Director, Public Affairs,
Stephen P. Clark Center, 111 N.W. 1st Street,
29th Floor, Miami, Florida 33128, USA.
Tel: +1-305-375-5071; Fax: +1-305-375-3618
Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime, Botswana