The tell-tale signs of public spending gone wrong are easy to spot: An airport that is many years behind schedule and billions of Euro over budget, or a highway leading to nowhere. In many cases, corruption is at the core of the problem. For too long, it has been hard to identify such core problems and it has been even harder for civil society to play a role in preventing corrupt practices in public sector spending. A project is about to help change this: five European research institutes, including two ANTICORRP consortium institutions have just won a new EU-funded research project, DIGIWHIST, aimed at empowering society to combat public sector corruption. The European Research Centre for Anti-Corruption and State-Building (ERCAS) and Corruption Research Center Budapest (CRCB) will be joined by University of Cambridge, Datlab, Prague, Czech Republic; Open Knowledge Foundation Deutschland, Berlin, Germany; and Transcrime (Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore) an organised crime research centre in Milan, Italy.
The project is “The Digital Whistleblower: Fiscal Transparency, Risk Assessment and Impact of Good Governance Policies Assessed” (DIGIWHIST), funded with three million Euro by the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme, will run for three years (March 2015 – February 2018).
The central objective of DIGIWHIST is to improve trust in governments and efficiency of public spending by empowering civil society, investigative journalists, and civil servants with the information and tools they need to increase transparency in public spending and thus accountability of public officials in Europe.
- national procurement portals and mobile apps allow users to: 1) making the database and documentation downloadable, 2) providing easy to use interactive analytic tools, and 3) making it possible for users to contribute to data and 4) allowing for anonymous whistleblower reports and freedom of information requests;
- a European transparency legislation observatory similar to the national procurement portals which allows users to access and understand existing legal frameworks related to public procurement;
- an easy-to-use risk assessment software for public authorities, which will be based on the indicators developed by DIGIWHIST, to assess corruption risks in their public procurement procedures.
Returning to the example of the airport, an investigative journalist who would like to understand more about the airport project could visit the DIGIWHIST platform and look up a construction firm involved in the process. The information on the platform would include if the firm has complied with public procurement laws or not, and whether or not the firm’s actions have posed a corruption risk. This journalist could then file a report with the appropriate government agency to get more information on the project or even file a whistleblowing report if they have evidence of corrupt actions.
“Our research has proved that only the combination of engaged civic actors plus legislative instruments work in fighting corruption,” said Professor Mungiu-Pippidi. “For example, Freedom of Information Acts (FOIAs) are more effective when civil society is empowered to use them and hold governments accountable for corrupt actions.”
DIGIWHIST builds extensively on the partners’ prior innovative work in this area, particularly EU FP7 ANTICORRP. “As part of our research on public procurement for the ANTICORRP project we have shown that EU funds are particularly susceptible to corruption – up to one-third more than national funds,” explained project coordinator Dr. Mihaly Fazekas. “With DIGIWHIST we will be able to build tools to empower civil society and investigative journalists to both pull back the curtain on irregular public spending and to report irregularities.”
Fazekas and his team at the CRCB have already analyzed data in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary and determined that EU funds (ie, Cohesion Funds) are at 33% higher risk of being distributed irregularly than national funds. Based on their analysis, they have developed three indicators of corruption including one on political corruption.
European civil society groups, investigative journalists and civil servants involved in or concerned about transparency in public spending are invited to contact the project for more information. Contact: Kerry Schorr, ANTICORRP Communications Officer, firstname.lastname@example.org, +49 (0)30-25-92-19-337