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Officials misusing power not exempted from accountability even in state of emergency, says head of anti-corruption commission

Officials in state of emergency gain more power, which increases the risks of intentional mistakes being made. However, the Criminal Code doesn't in any circumstance - even state of emergency - exempt officials from being held accountable if they have misused their powers, Biljana Ivanovska, Head of the State Commission for the Prevention of Corruption, says in an interview with MIA.

Skopje, 20 April 2020 (MIA) – Officials in state of emergency gain more power, which increases the risks of intentional mistakes being made. However, the Criminal Code doesn’t in any circumstance – even state of emergency – exempt officials from being held accountable if they have misused their powers, Biljana Ivanovska, Head of the State Commission for the Prevention of Corruption, says in an interview with MIA.

The State Commission for the Prevention of Corruption last week said the risk of corruption is growing amid crisis situations. What did you mean by that exactly?

Having in mind the state our country is in as a result of the worldwide pandemic and the fight against the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, the State Commission for the Prevention of Corruption, which has joined forces with the Platform of Civil Organizations for the Fight against Corruption, has assessed that there are rising risks of unintentional or intentional mistakes by office holders while performing their duties in state bodies, especially in processes requiring urgent public procurement and use of donations. Thus, steps are taken to monitor processes, the way they are conducted, the transparency and accountability of the persons in charge, as well as to monitor how decrees with the force of law are implemented alongside the measures adopted by the government and the institutions during the state of emergency, mainly those that involve how taxpayers’ money are spend and donations are used for the purpose of protecting public health and the economic well-being of the country.

What kind of anti-corruption mechanisms should the institutions use when implementing decrees with the force of law, such as public procurement, state aid distribution, etc?

First and foremost, it’s important that procedures conducted in line with the decrees are fully transparent and designed in a way that they make sure that the principles of equality, namely fair participation of interested economic operators, are respected. Also, it should be ensured that the officials also abide by the principles of integrity, ethical norms and professional standards when doing their duties. It goes without saying that control and accountability mechanisms should be also introduced.

Does the power of officials increase or decrease during a state of emergency?

It increases, which allows for rising risks of intentional mistakes.

How the implementation of the decrees with the force of law and the measures taken in extraordinary circumstances can be monitored? How can corruption or misuse of powers be identified on time?

The decrees with the force of law are monitored, especially those accompanied by a manual or rulebook on how they should be implemented. This is followed by an evaluation of risks to detect any possibility of equivocal interpretation and to check if the duty and the responsibility are separated in order to minimize the risk of concentrated power. Finally, alignment tests are used to see how provisions in the decrees, manuals and rulebooks are functioning.

What happens if corruption or abuse of power is detected? What can be done in the midst of a state of emergency?

Under the Criminal Code, officials who have misused their power and broken the rules are in no way exempted from being held accountable even during a state of emergency.

The anti-corruption commission has joined forces with the Platform of Civil Organizations for Fight against Corruption amid the COVID-19 pandemic and state of emergency. What joint actions are in the pipeline?

The Commission has always cooperated with the Platform. After the Commission was set up, which has been adhering to the principles of public, transparency and accountability, its cooperation with the Platform aims at building a joint front to fight against corruption. In the meantime, we have been holding video meetings and have been agreeing activities on how to direct the resources rationally.

How can the citizens join the fight against corruption in state of emergency?

The citizens are always welcome to join the fight against corruption. Higher awareness is what we need to terminate the dangerous spiral of corruption if they find themselves in such an unfortunate position. Also, they shouldn’t act as silent observers of corruption thinking it isn’t affecting them. It should be clear that the consequences from corruption affects everybody in different forms. We  shouldn’t be taken by surprise by the catastrophic messages sent to us by nature, which is suffering merciless destruction, by corruption amongst many things. The laws of nature know no amendments.

The council for audit promotion and supervision has asked the government to postpone the deadline for conducting audits by September 30, 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic. How will it affect the financial operations of the institutions?

The request was sent by the council to the government in order to avoid risks of spreading the new virus because of how the auditors work – they go to inspect those being audited and to get information firsthand. It shouldn’t affect the financial operations of the companies. Audits are part of financial reports for the year prior. Current activities will be recorded in this year’s financial reports, which are up for audit next year. In other words, it doesn’t matter when companies are subject of audits, because it doesn’t make them any less accountable.

But, even in a bad situation, there’s always a positive side. Distant working and electronic connection are the main positive lessons we can learn from this unfortunate situation. In terms of auditing, it means working with software audit programs linked with the companies’ databases.

Aleksandar Atanasov

 

 

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