Standards in Public Office Commission should be given supervisory role of standards in local government
Dublin, 27 June 2012
The sentencing today of the former town councillor Fred Forsey Jnr for corruption highlights the urgent need for comprehensive efforts to stamp out corruption in local government according to Transparency International Ireland (TI Ireland). Mr Forsey was convicted for receiving corrupt payments totalling €80,000 from a property developer who was seeking to get lands rezoned in Co Waterford. He is believed to be the first public representative in the history of the State to be convicted for corruption.
‘This landmark case highlights the on-going and pressing need for stronger safeguards against the bribery of local government members and officials, including full disclosure of officials' interests, whistleblower and ethics programmes, and the introduction and implementation of robust fraud and anti-corruption contingency plans in every local authority’, said TI Ireland’s Advocacy and Research Manager, Nuala Haughey.
Forsey’s conviction follows the publication last week of proposals for a new anti-corruption law that would allow a court to remove corrupt officials from office and allow for a presumption of guilt where an official or public representative has received donations, gifts or unexplained wealth in excess of what they have declared to the Standards in Public Office Commission (SIPO).
In addition, TI Ireland calls on the Government to introduce a range of measures aimed at preventing further corruption in local government including:
• SIPO should have a supervisory role over monitoring and enforcing conflicts of interest provisions at local authority level (this is currently done by local authorities themselves).
• Local authorities should ensure that all members’ declarations of interest and expense & allowance claims are put online in a prominent and accessible area of every local authority website.
• Each local authority should be required to include information on the application and enforcement of the conflicts of interest measures in its annual report.
• Fraud and anti-corruption alert plans should be implemented and placed on line with periodic progress reports. A Department of the Environment’s audit in 2010 found that only 23 out of 34 local authorities had such plans in place.
‘Fred Forsey Jnr is not the first local authority member to have accepted bribes, and he won’t be the last. The least we can do is make it harder for corrupt officials to profit from public office,’ added Ms Haughey.
Note - The final report of the Mahon Tribunal, which focused on corrupt transactions within the planning system in county Dublin in the decade up to the late 1990s,made findings of corruption against 11 councillors. The Tribunal noted that while gaps in transparency and accountability in planning and development at local level have been reduced in recent years, they have not been eliminated. Its recommendations include the establishment of a Planning Regulator with powers to investigate possible systemic problems, including those raising corruption risks.
For comment, please contact Nuala Haughey, Advocacy & Research Manager: 087-2867510