Latvia faces more corruption criticism

  • 2001-12-06
  • Nick Coleman, RIGA
Corruption is an obstacle to European Union accession Latvia is not facing up to, the departing head of the EU's first anti-corruption project in a candidate country told business people Nov. 22.

Following the expiration of a two-year EU-funded program entitled "Anti-Corruption Training, Legislation and Public Information," Dave Wallis, its head, said the government had ignored many of his guidelines on the establishment of a new anti-corruption office, which is due to start work next May but has yet to be approved by Parliament.

"People with not much experience are trying to deliver a product they don't particularly want to deliver," said Wallis, formerly a United Kingdom police officer and member of Hong Kong's widely imitated Independent Commission Against Corruption.

By putting the bureau under the ministers of justice and interior and the prime minister, the principle of independence from political control had been "entirely destroyed," Wallis told Finnish business people gathered at Riga's Stockholm School of Economics.

"Combating corruption is being driven by the EU. But how many people in the government want a strong investigative body?" he asked.

He applauded several recent high-profile detentions of police officers and officials, including that of a deputy head of the economic police and the head of the state-run environmental inspectorate in November.

But he questioned how such cases can be effectively investigated. "There are 59 separate institutions involved in corruption prevention, six of which have investigative powers. They don't cooperate, and they pass on to others complaints they don't want to deal with.

"The case of the deputy head of the economic police is being investigated by a body on the same level - the organized crime office. So how is that going to work?"

Latvia's corruption problem was highlighted in the European Commission's latest annual report on the progress of candidates toward accession.

"Corruption is not measurable, but even if the perceived level of corruption was higher than the actual level, it would still be too much, and there is a lot of work to do," commented the head of the EC's delegation to Latvia, Gunter Weiss, following the report's release last month.

In its recently published guide to corruption levels around the world the corruption watchdog Transparency International rated Latvia the second most corrupt of all the candidates for EU membership after Romania.

Wallis called for an renewal of the program he headed, which may act as a model for similar projects in other EU candidates.