Transparency International Ireland (TI Ireland) has called on all local government representatives to decline the offer of any corporate gift or hospitality at this year’s Ryder Cup which may lead to a real or perceived conflict of interest.
The personal integrity of the recipients of corporate gifts is not in question. Nonetheless public perceptions, rightly or wrongly, that gifts and hospitality may influence official decisions on planning or on any other issue in the future, should be taken very seriously. This is particularly the case where gifts or hospitality are offered by private sector interests with a direct or potential stake in future decisions taken by local government.
For three years running, political parties have been viewed as the most corrupt sector by the Irish public according to TI’s Global Corruption Barometer. Public perceptions matter in a democracy. Public representatives (both local and national) should therefore be mindful of how their actions impact not just on their own personal reputations, but on the integrity of their office and the legitimacy and credibility of government in Ireland.
Public tribunals into corruption, gifts and payments to politicians have cost the State some €100 million since 1997. Moreover, they have done the State service by leading to greater public awareness of the risks of corruption in the planning process and the need for politicians to meet higher standards in office.
These standards are enshrined in legislation and in codes of conduct. Local government representatives should observe the spirit and letter of these codes, particularly as they relate to the receipt of gifts and hospitality.*
The tribunals have also had a direct impact on international perceptions on levels of corruption in Ireland. In 1995 Ireland was ranked the 11 th least corrupt country in the world; by 2002 it had dropped to 23 rd place according to TI’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). It is no coincidence that Ireland’s ranking dropped so dramatically on foot of the tribunals’ findings into planning corruption over this period.
The CPI is recognised as having a bearing on international investor confidence and expert assessments on political risk and competitiveness in individual countries. When this risk is combined with the threat posed to public confidence in democracy at home, the need for public representatives to avoid the perception of conflict of interest is clearly paramount.
*Paragraph 5.3 of the Code of Conduct for Councillors 2004 states that offers of gifts should be declined other than “‘official gifts or tokens exchanged or given as part of protocol (where for instance a councillor receives a visiting dignitary, or is a speaker at a conference etc.,)” or “infrequent items such as diaries, calendars, pens or other infrequent tokens of modest intrinsic value.”
* Paragraph 6.1 states that “every care must be taken by councillors to ensure that any acceptance of hospitality does not influence them, and could not reasonably be seen to influence them, in discharging their official functions.”
TI Ireland’s first National Integrity System study on legal and institutional safeguards against corruption and abuse of power in Ireland will be published this November.