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23. maí 2018 DómsmálaráðuneytiðSigríður Á. Andersen 2016-2017

Ræða dómsmálaráðherra á nefndarfundi laga- og mannréttindanefndar Evrópuþingsins í Hörpu 23. maí 2018

Dómsmálaráðherra flutti ræðu þar sem hún rakti þýðingu gegnsæis fyrir samfélagið og þær áskoranir sem Ísland hefði staðið frammi fyrir í kjölfar hrunsins. Vísaði hún til almennra hegningarlaga sem hafa lagt refsingu við mútugreiðslum í yfir 150 ár sem eru hið eiginlega viðfangsefni Evrópusáttmálans um spillingu og raunar væri trúlega ekki mikil fjárhagsleg spilling hér á landi miðað við víða annars staðar. Einnig var farið yfir það hvað hefði verið gert með fjórðu skýrslu GRECO en hún hefði lagt sérstaka áherslu á þingmenn, dómstóla og ákæruvald. Í máli ráðherra kom fram að í kjölfar hennar hefði verið stofnaður samráðshópur innan stjórnarráðsins og viðkomandi stofnana til að bregðast við ábendingum. Dómsmálaráðherra hefði ekki vald yfir Alþingi sem hefði sett sér nýjar reglur í ályktun sína um siðareglur. Þingið taldi þetta fullnægjandi ráðstafanir en niðurstaða fimmtu skýrslu GRECO hafði þó haft frekari ábendingar sem væru til skoðunar og sitt sýndist hverjum. Dómsmálaráðherra lagði til mögulegar leiðir til úrbóta og lagði áherslu á að gegnsæi væri mikilvægt því spilling væri almennt ógn við lýðræði og lífskjör. Hún myndi gera það sem í hennar valdi stæði til að tryggja að Ísland haldist sem ríkt, stolt og gott samfélag sem fólk sækist eftir því að búa í.

Distinguished guests.

People enter into politics for various reasons. For those of us who have decided to devote our life for the benefit of our society the fundamental question should then arise how could we serve it best?

There is much difference between many states in this world. Some seem, unfortunately, to be an utter failure for their citizens while other prosper. The failed states are often like they are for reasons that seem obvious to most of us, even if the most failed states seem to have their apologists. Other states are, on the other hand, desirable to live in and many of those states do also have something in common that has to do with how they are governed.

The choices made by us, the politicians, are therefore fundamental for the wellbeing of the people in our countries. This might be the crux of the political dispute to many of us.

Politicians have argued about policy for millennia and in the last century or two a heated debate ravaged about which way to go - Socialism, or, market economy. The conclusion of that dispute seems settled, one would suggest.

Economist have tried to figure out what divides a successful state from a failed one. This academic inquiry has been going on for some time without clear answers, however, I believe there are several hallmarks to prosperous economies. There is also something most failed states have in common.

Academics have suggested that important feature to most prosperous states is the respect for the protection of property. Researches also suggest that the trust in the integrity in the institutions of that country is essential to success. This is what academics call consensually strong states. A fundamental underpinning of trust in society is the integrity of its leaders.

I stumbled upon an example of this, given by Daron Acemoglu (MIT), an example which is relevant to our high tax type of government we have here in Europe.

What’s the difference between a 50% marginal tax rate on income vs. 50% expropriation by a kleptocratic ruler or corrupt officials? Some models might suggest that they are the same, though their “legitimacy” seems to be very different. Despite some grumbling, most citizens of Western democracies are happy with marginal tax rates around 50% or sometimes above, but few businessmen in sub-Saharan Africa or South Asia can be found to sing the praises of similar rates of expropriation or corruption. Why?

The concept of consensually strong states suggests one possible answer. High tax rates that emerge from the democratic process are viewed more positively because citizens consent to them with the expectation that the proceeds will be used for spending what they value. The taxes we observe, according to this perspective, are legitimate while corruption and expropriation isn’t because taxes collected by the consensually strong state will, with some slippage, be used for what the citizens support, and of course, the money that goes into the pockets of a kleptocrat or corrupt officials or a crony elite will not be.

Integrity is, therefore, not only something we have to strive for because of our personal wellbeing, it has also a direct bearing on the wellbeing of the countries we govern.

The challenge in Iceland

Iceland is one of the least corrupt state in the world according to all objective standards.

However, perhaps because of the financial crisis of 2008, suspicion has undermined trust. The 2008 economic crash affected the public debate to a level never seen before and came as a great shock to many Icelanders. We are still battling the psychological effect of this crisis even if the recession has turned out to be relatively mild on all objective economic standards compared to other European states and that the country has now fully recovered financially.

Unfortunately, we are seeing similar trend around the world and this mistrust in politicians and politics seems to be a part of an international crisis our democratic societies have found themselves in, lately. Part of this mistrust might be the perception that political elites are losing touch with the people.

This challenge may have been aggravated by suspicion of that certain foreign governments have been promoting subversive campaigns to attack our liberal democracies with fake news and sophisticated cyber-attacks with the aim to sway the public opinion and to saw mistrust in democracy.

This crisis has affected the political system of most Western states and we have seen the formation of new political parties that feed on mistrust and suspicion. Some of these parties might have a legitimate role in pointing out deficiencies in our government and help to improve its standards but when such accusations are based on misunderstanding or political expediency it is not.

The law and international cooperation

The 1940 penal code and its predecessor of 1867 have prohibited embezzlement and bribes to public officials and financial corruption has never been a serious problem in Iceland as most reasonable people would acknowledge.

However, because of our participation in the Council of Europe we have undertaken to establish comparable legal standards to the rest of Europe and are visited on a regular basis by several international organizations which have the role to fight corruption, money laundering etc. One of these groups is the Group of States against Corruption, GRECO.

Iceland has undertaken to have regular inspections by GRECO which has visited Iceland on several occasions and produced five reports to date.

Its fourth report on Iceland since 2013 is the topic of the agenda item we are discussing here, in particular in relation to members of parliament.

It is my ministry that coordinates this work towards GRECO, however, as it comes to implementing its recommendations towards the parliament that is not within its powers.

GRECO’s Fourth Evaluation Round dealt with “Corruption Prevention in respect of members of parliament, judges and prosecutors”. 

Icelandic authorities regard this subject as an important one and have therefore taken several measures in light of the recommendations from GRECO.

In June 2015, the Minister of the Interior appointed an Inter-Ministerial Steering Group on Implementing International Agreements against Corruption and Bribery. The Steering Group had an advisory role for the Icelandic government in this field and communicates with international institutions such as GRECO. The Steering Group had six representatives, from three ministries, law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies and the judicial branch. The representatives were appointed by the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Finance and Economic Affairs, Ministry of Industries and Innovation, the District Prosecutor, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Judicial Council. Members of the group are re-appointed on a one year basis.

Iceland´s experience of preventing corruption in respect of members of parliament

Iceland has made progress in implementing GRECO’s recommendations through new legislation and ethical guidelines for key groups, in addition to awareness-raising and continuous education. All these measures address corruption prevention in respect of members of parliament, judges and prosecutors – the focus of GRECO’s fourth evaluation round.

On 16 March 2016, the parliament amended its Code of Conduct for parliamentarians to include the duty to notify potential conflict of interests by adopting new Articles 8 and 9 to the Code. These amendments were considered sufficient to accommodate the concerns of the fourth GRECO report.

The office of Althingi supervises the registration of interests for MPs and Ministers. The MP’s and Ministers are themselves responsible for providing correct and up-to date information.

GRECO has just recently published its 5th report on Iceland which confirms progress but suggests several minor recommendations. First, it should be pointed out that the report acknowledges that even if there seems to be a perception of corruption in some quarters it has turned out to be difficult to find any of that by established objective standards. There does, therefore, seem to be some perception problem in Iceland that is not grounded in reality as the report confirms.

The 5th report identifies certain deficiencies in the implementation of recommendations by Alþingi. The parliament might, therefore, have to look back into this matter. The Speakers Committee of Parliament is currently looking into the rules on registered interests as to whether they need some  amendments. Opinions on that are quite divided.

A room for improvement - de lege ferenda

As I have pointed out Iceland is one of the least corrupt countries in the World according to most objective standards and is now ranked the 13 least corrupt country of the world according to Transparency International. Bribes to public officials are all but unheard of and bribes and embezzlement has been a criminal offence for more than 150 years, at least. The parliament, as other sections of Government, have been working to improve transparency by introducing notification requirements, whereby, it is mandatory to notify of conflict of interest.

Even if the situation is relatively good, that does not mean that there is no room for improvement.

Following the 2008 many Icelanders saw an abrupt increase in their debt, and no reason to assume the case was any different for many politicians.

This raises the question whether it would not be sensible to make sure a better account should be kept of personal debt when notifying potential conflict of interest but such notifications are now more or less outside the scope of these rules.

Closing remarks

Increased transparency in government is a good thing and something we should all strive for. As was so brilliantly said by justice Louis Brandeis:

“sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants”

The Council of Europe exists to uphold and further pluralist democracy, human rights and the rule of law and has taken a lead in fighting corruption as it poses a threat to the very foundations of these core values. As it is emphasized in the Criminal Law Convention, corruption threatens the rule of law, democracy and human rights, undermines good governance, fairness and social justice, distorts competition, hinders economic development and endangers the stability of democratic institutions and the moral foundations of society.

My ministry is taking active role in implementing these policies so that Iceland can remain a prosperous, proud and pluralist democracy and a place enjoyable to live in.

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