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Elements for a speech by Evgeni Kirilov, Chair of the Committee on Economic Affairs and Development, at the Parliamentary Troika conference on "The fight against organised crime in South Eastern Europe" (Sofia, 11-12 November 2004)

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Chairperson, ladies and gentlemen, colleagues,

Corruption, or the use and abuse of public power for personal gains, is endemic in many countries in South-East Europe. It is doing much harm, given the fragility that our societies have inherited from a decade of severe traumas, whether through war or political, economic and social tensions arising from reforms undertaken to transform our centrally-planned, communistic societies into pluralist democracies and market economies.

I have listened carefully to my colleagues’ contributions and discussions and cannot but agree with the conclusion that organised economic crime – in which I also include human trafficking, drug smuggling and money laundering – have had devastating effects on overall reform. Corruption and organised crime are two ills that have contributed the most to slowing down overall economic development of the region. That is why we need to fight them resolutely.

I come from Bulgaria, and having travelled extensively throughout South-East Europe as a member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and as Chairman of its Committee on Economic Affairs and Development, I have also witnessed commendable progress in the fight against these ills. So the picture is not altogether bleak.

This in particular in the years since the majority of our countries have formed part of the Council of Europe, the OSCE, the EBRD, the World Bank and other standard-setting international institutions. However, corruption continues to form an obstruction and much more needs to be done in preparation for membership into the European Union.

In this parliamentary gathering, I would like to share with you my belief in the primary role that parliaments can and must play in the fight against corruption. A parliament is a country's central democratic institution and parliamentarians should play a leading role in adopting, reviewing, overseeing, monitoring, controlling or influencing national legislation.

We all are aware of the crucial role of parliament in controlling government and approving our countries’ budgets. We decide on behalf of our citizens on budgetary priorities, the level of public expenditure and the level of taxation. Consequently, we are under the particular obligation to guarantee the proper use of public resources; to first and foremost ensure that the financial burden imposed on our citizens is used to pay for the goods and services that our communities need, and that taxpayer money does not end up in the pockets of organised crime and corrupted persons.

As parliamentarians we also have to set an example through our personal behaviour and through the legislation we adopt - not only on corruption strictly speaking, but also as regards institutions and laws and policies in all fields. Parliamentarians should be fearless, accountable and transparent enough to withstand and expose any occurrence of corruption.

It is our duty to adopt strict codes of conduct for elected representatives and public officials. We have to have a proper declaration of our sources of income and potential conflicts of interest. We also have to draw up clear and fair laws for the funding of political parties and election campaigns and make sure that there is true separation of powers between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary - with independent and free media allowed to investigate and report to the public.

It is our duty and obligation to ensure efficient public supervision of those laws and promote and adopt common principles at European level to give guidance. One example is the Model Code elaborated under the auspices of the Council of Europe’s Multidisciplinary Group on Corruption.

I should also mention the promising cooperation which the Committee I chair in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe – the Economic Committee – is starting with the process called GOPAC, the Global Organisation of Parliamentarians Against Corruption. It is a Canadian parliamentary initiative which wants to enrol parliamentarians worldwide in for that laudable purpose.

I also believe that we as parliamentarians can play a crucial role in getting both governments and citizens involved, and thus ensure and increase support for the effective implementation of laws against corruption. In this context, we need to develop a true, active working relationship between our parliaments and the citizens that have voted us into office, and whose daily well-being depends on how corruption-free our societies are.

Ordinary people should be encouraged to see and participate in the legislative process from the 'inside'. Not only will such involvement ensure transparency, but it would also allow them to better understand the objectives, goals, constraints, concerns, and challenges as we see them from our parliamentary perspective.

Parliamentarians should ensure that all public expenditure, public procurement and revenue collection are checked by an independent auditing body or, where state security is involved, a parliamentary instance. Colleagues, I consider such controls of the utmost importance in our efforts to curb corruption which originates with companies and enterprises that sometimes pay astronomic sums of money in bribes in order to gain contracts for public works that are expected to generate vast profits.

Bribery enables such companies to win contracts or concessions which they would not otherwise have won, resulting in an economic loss to society since the best honest proposal did not make it. This is true not only for the region in question but to a smaller or greater extent for all countries in around the world. Transparency International estimates that the amount lost due to bribery in government procurement is at least US$ 400 billion per year worldwide.

Much corruption which hampers reform and progress in general arises from too many and too complex laws, regulations, permits and administrative procedures. To put it simply, whenever someone can put up a bureaucratic hindrance to a procedure, it is a temptation to offer a bribe to him or her. So the fewer the steps are in a procedure, the less opportunity for corruption there is.

This holds in particular for public tender procedures. Tenders should have clear award criteria and be open to public scrutiny. Limited bidding and direct contracting are particularly prone to corruption. Therefore exceptions should be kept to a minimum and be subject to scrutiny by parliament and independent bodies. This is something which the World Trade Organisation is also looking into, in order to facilitate trade. It is therefore our duty as parliamentarians to make laws as clear and simple as possible.

Public subsidies frequently provide ground for corruption and bribery. It is therefore the duty of parliamentarians to ensure transparency in decision-making procedures concerning subsidies and it is the parliament that should scrutinize the management of public projects. We must fight against monopolies or oligopolies that paralyse free initiative and entrepreneurship.

It is our duty to be more active and supportive of the work carried out by the Pact, the Council of Europe, the European Union and other international organisations in their struggle against corruption. The Council of Europe has done a lot over the last few years to promote a concerted effort against corruption among our countries. We must now ensure that the Council’s Guiding Principles for the Fight Against Corruption are effectively implemented at national level.

We should also seek a speedy ratification and implementation of the Criminal and Civil Law Conventions on Corruption, in order to co-ordinate the criminalisation of corruption, to find quicker ways of co-operating internationally, and to punish offenders and compensate victims.

We should also make sure that our countries are fully involved in the international monitoring procedures under the so-called GRECO Agreement. The same holds for the OECD's Convention on Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions and the European Union's Convention on Corruption by officials.

Chairperson, ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for your attention and I look forward to our further debate.

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