TI-Estonia reviewed public procurements and corruption in local governments

TI-Estonia reviewed public procurement in local government bodies at a round table late last month, aimed at raising awareness of corruption risks. The biggest potential for corruption lies in the procurements in the IT sector and in construction, according to Tom Annikve, member of the board of Public Procurements Centre NGO. "Municipalities in Estonia have different experience in organizing procurements," said Annikve. "Larger municipalities usually have good competence as smaller ones tend to lack knowledge." He pointed out Tallinn as the local government unit with the best competence in arranging public procurement. The round table on January 28 was attended by representatives from local government bodies, law enforcement agencies, national governement institutions and state procurement agencies. The prosecutor's office explained its rationale of handling corruption investigations of local government officials. There has been some criticism that law enforcement agencies are too keen to publicise the launch of an investigation, thus hampering the work of local government bodies. Law enforcement authorities don't initiate investigations on corruption cases easily as there is high burden of proof to cross, leading public prosecutor Lavly Lepp told the round table. "The decision to start proceedings is made by several people after thorough considerations, and the disclosure of proceedings is postponed as much as possible to protect the presumption of innocence and avoid early labeling of suspects in the media," said Lepp. TI-Estonia believes that on the one hand, the doubled number of corruption related investigations may reflect the effectiveness of law enforcement bodies. On the other hand, when it comes to the violation of public procurement rules, lack of skill and incompetence might also be the problem. "In many cases the law is infringed due to lack of knowledge, because in some local municipalities the knowledge of legal regulations is insufficient,"said Asso Prii, board member of TI-Estonia. "To avoid corrupt acts in local municipalities, the initiative must come from municipalities itself," Prii added. "In order to prevent corruption-related links, higher awareness of local municipalities is needed." The significant growth in EU structural funds allocated to Estonia, compared with the previous years, will entail more public procurements in local municipalities, TI-Estonia said. "The big sums of money are likely to increase the corruption risk and entail flaws when organizing public procurements in local municipalities," Prii said. "To reduce risks, local municipalities need to improve their skills in organizing procurements and stand against corruption temptations." TI-Estonia is a recipient of a grant from Open Estonia Foundation. Additional information: Asso Prii, member of the board of TI-Estonia, tel +372 55 64 6371; +372 6 844 074, info@transparency.ee www.transparency.ee