CE to Estimate Azerbaijan’s Successes in Corruption Fighting

Azerbaijan, Baku, 10 April / corr Trend K.Ramazanova / Trend ' exclusive interview with Wolfgang Rau, the executive secretary of the CE GRECO

Question: How do you see the situation on corruption in Azerbaijan and which fields are most affected by corruption?

Answer: I should emphasise that GRECO itself does not monitor the extent of corruption or the perception of corruption in a country. It does not classify its members according to the extent to which they are affected by corruption, but instead evaluates each of them on their own merits, focusing on the nature and effectiveness of measures taken by a country to fight corruption. It is my strong belief that this approach is more productive than entering into discussions on how corrupt a country is.

In assessing the measures taken by Azerbaijan to address corruption, GRECO concluded in its evaluation report of 2006 that Azerbaijan was making substantial efforts to address the problem, but nevertheless still appeared to be extensively affected by corruption, at all levels of society. However, at the time of the evaluation the authorities were not in a position to indicate which fields were most problematic. Therefore, GRECO recommended the authorities of Azerbaijan to carry out a comprehensive study, in order to gain a clearer insight into the extent of corruption and the sectors most affected by it. Such a study would no doubt contribute to a more effective anti-corruption policy, as it would permit identification of areas that are perhaps not covered by the existing State Programme and would in general create a better understanding by all those concerned of the level, causes and forms of corruption in the country and the measures required to deal with it effectively.

In October 2008, GRECO will assess the measures taken by Azerbaijan to implement the recommendations addressed to its authorities. In this so-called compliance procedure, it will also examine whether the authorities have carried out the aforementioned study, and it will hopefully become clearer, not only to GRECO, which sectors of society are most affected by corruption, what the particular features of corruption in Azerbaijan are, and - most importantly - what could and should be done to act on the results of this study.

Question: Within Azerbaijan citizens complain about the court, human rights protective bodies, municipalities and some measures have been taken but what reforms do you think should be made to prevent corruption? Some foreign experts advise a census of the property of judges: what do you think about this?

Answer: Indeed, prevention is a very important tool in fighting corruption. Therefore, in its report of June 2006, GRECO recommended that Azerbaijan take a number of measures to prevent corruption. These measures relate to conflicts of interest, the right of citizens to obtain information (as transparency of public administration is an important tool in preventing corruption), the legal provisions on the acceptance of gifts by public officials (these can easily give rise to suspicions of corruption), codes of ethics in public administration, including at municipal level, anti-corruption and ethics training for public officials (so that there is a good understanding of what kind of behaviour is expected from them), reporting of corruption and whistleblower protection. I am looking forward to hearing from the authorities of Azerbaijan which of these reforms have been successfully implemented.

In this regard, I should also like to mention that in its evaluation report GRECO commented on the existing mechanism for checking the property declarations which public officials - including judges - were required to submit. GRECO recognises that such a system can be useful under certain circumstances. However, if the declarations by public officials on their property cannot be checked in any way, as appears to be the case in Azerbaijan, the system defeats the purpose and is nothing more than a paper tiger. For this reason, GRECO recommended ensuring that these financial declarations be verified in an effective manner. In October 2008, GRECO will also assess the progress made by Azerbaijan in this area.

Question: What about the legislative basis, does it conform with international standards? What problems exist?

Answer: As Azerbaijan is a relatively recent member of GRECO, the Group focused its attention on a Joint First and Second Round Evaluation. It is only in the Third Evaluation Round, which started last year, that GRECO will look into the corruption provisions in the Criminal Code of its member States, including Azerbaijan, in greater detail, to examine whether they are in line with the Council of Europe's Criminal Law Convention on Corruption (ETS 173) and its Additional Protocol (ETS 191). At the time of the Joint First and Second Round Evaluation of Azerbaijan, amendments to the Criminal Code had only just come into force and practical experience with the new provisions was understandably rather limited. It therefore makes sense that the Third Round Evaluation Visit to Azerbaijan will only take place when more use of these provisions has been made in practice.

Question: What do you think about strengthening punishments for corruption crimes? Could the implementation of penalties be of benefit?

Answer: Sanctions for corruption crimes must be effective, proportionate and dissuasive, as is stipulated by the Council of Europe Criminal Law Convention on Corruption. What is 'effective, proportionate and dissuasive' very much depends on the circumstances of the country in question and can vary widely from one country to the next. In general, while increasing the sanctions for corruption offences sends a clear signal that corruption is taken seriously, it usually does not automatically lead to less people committing corruption offences. Sanctions for corruption offences are only one, however important, element in the fight against corruption and must be complemented with effective law enforcement strategies and preventive policies. Punishments alone will not solve the problem of corruption.

Question: How does Azerbaijan compare with neighbouring countries in the struggle against corruption? Do you think there are any differences between South Caucasus countries?

Answer: As already indicated, GRECO evaluates each country on its own merits. I will not, therefore, enter into a comparison of Azerbaijan with its neighbouring countries as regards the fight against corruption. The circumstances in each country are unique and each country has its own set of problems in combating corruption. Comparisons are very hard to make and often counter-productive as they shift attention away from what should be done in one's own country.

In conclusion, I am looking forward to GRECO's debate in October 2008 when it will have to assess how much progress Azerbaijan has made in combating corruption.

The correspondent can be contacted at [email protected]

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