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October 11, 2013

Our IT Admin/Project Officer recently attended the International Ombudsman Institute Anti-  Corruption Training Course in Laxenburg, Austria (16th-18th September 2013).The custom-  designed training course was hosted by the International Ombudsman Institute and delivered  by the International Anti-Corruption Academy (IACA). 

Thirty participants from 21 different countries from all over the globe including Austria, Sweden, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Norway, Switzerland, Italy, Nigeria, Thailand and South Africa attended the training course. The programme focused on the work of ombudsman institutes throughout the world, and offered innovative tools for developing sound anti-corruption strategies. The cultural diversity and wealth of knowledge amongst the institutions represented, provided the opportunity to share invaluable experiences and enhance competences in identifying and evaluating procedures and measures on anti-corruption. The three-day programme course which included 11 sessions with a variety of different topics on anti-corruption was co-ordinated by Suzanne Hayden (IACA). There were 9 different speakers, including Mr Martin Kreutner (Dean IACA), and Mr Alex Brenninkmeijer (National Ombudsman of the Netherlands). 
                     All the delegates from global Ombudsmen jurisdictions that participated in the anti-corruption course 
Corruption  “The misuse of entrusted power for private gain”
Mr Martin Kreutner first addressed the participants describing the different types of corruption that usually occur in government entities. Some of these are fraud, extortion, nepotism (favouring family members for jobs and contracts), embezzlement and bribery (due to lack of integrity). He further explained that corruption exists in different forms, for example, high level or “grand” corruption refers not so much to the amount of money involved as to the level in which it takes place: grand corruption is at the top levels of the public sphere. Political corruption is any transaction between private and public sector actors through which collective goods are illegitimately converted into private-regarding payoffs, distinguished from bureaucratic or petty corruption because it involves political decision-makers. On the other hand, small scale, bureaucratic or petty corruption is the everyday corruption that takes place at the implementation end of politics, where the public officials meet the public. Petty corruption is bribery in connection with the implementation of existing laws, rules and regulations, and thus different from “grand” or political corruption.
We also had representatives from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) who explained their roles and responsibilities on anti-corruption within their own institutions and also raised awareness issues that they face with the incessant fight against corruption. 
       Mr Martin Kreutner (Dean IACA) welcoming all the participants     Mr Lex Takkenberg from the UNRWA on Whistleblower Protection 
Whistleblower Protection
There was also a very interesting lecture on whistleblowing by Mr Lex Takkenberg from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). We learnt that Whisteblowing is another feasible source to unravel corruption, fraud or other misconducts, be it in a government entity or private company. The session was primarily focused on protecting the reporter against adverse consequences or retaliation because of having made a report disclosing wrongdoings at work. It is important that the identity of the Whisteblower to be kept confidential. Sources of protection include dedicated Legislation on Whisteblower Protection, Criminal codes, Sectoral laws such as Anti-corruption laws, Laws regulating public servants and Public Service codes of ethics and conduct.
Steffan particularly commented “Whistleblower protection is fundamental to encourage reporting of fraud and corruption but awareness-raising to address cultural obstacles in Whistleblowing is as important. The term Whistleblower is often associated with being an informant or traitor when in fact the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) describes the term Whistleblower as any person who reports in good faith and on reasonable grounds to the competent authorities any facts concerning offences.” 
Public Procurement
Vulnerabilities and best practices on public procurement was also another topic that was addressed in the anti-corruption course by Mr. Johannes Schnitzer. Public procurement is highly prone to corruption and studies suggest that up to 20% to 25% of the public contracts’ value may be lost to corruption. (EU Commissioner Ms Malmstrom on 5 March 2013 at Anti-Corruption Seminar in Goteborg, Sweden) Vulnerable sectors are Public Works Contracts such as motorways, tunnels, airports and Pharmaceuticals and medical devices. Mr Schnitzer explained that sound procurement systems should be based on certain fundamental principles such as transparency, competition, non-discrimination, objectivity efficiency, etc. He also added that whistle-blowing by individuals directly involved in the procurement process is particularly important as these individuals usually have access to procurement documents and thus have the highest potential knowledge of corrupt behaviour within the workplace. 
Complaint Management
Last but not least, Mr Alex Brenninkmeijer, the National Ombudsman of the Netherlands gave his presentation talk on the evaluation and handling of complaints. He described how in his office he has copy of the collected works of Franz Kafka and its presence there provokes many interesting conversations about bureaucracy. The word ‘Kafkaesque’ is used to describe a situation that is incomprehensibly complex, nightmarish and illogical and applies particularly to an advanced and dehumanised society in which the individual, lost in the toils of the state, is unable to control his life. Mr Brenninkmeijer explains he sees many cases that seem Kafkaesque and centre on the loss of autonomy experienced by the citizen who finds himself in the toils of some enormous and inconceivable bureaucratic power. Essentially, proper government action is being open and clear, respectful, caring and solution focused and fair and reliable, these are the guidelines on proper conduct. 
Steffan has commented ‘All participants must have surely benefited from this course delivered by the International Anti-Corruption Academy who was outstanding throughout. Abundant information and knowledge has been extracted from all the lectures delivered at the course which will no doubt prove to be of instrumental benefit and significance to our office, especially when we review and evaluate our anti-corruption policies/procedures, and develop new anti-corruption strategies.” 
         Steffan together with some of the participants from the course.    Steffan collecting his anti-corruption attendance certificate (IACA)
Special thanks to the International Ombudsman Institute since this training course was designed upon their request and would not have been possible without them, and also to Ms Ursula Bachler and supporting staff who were wonderful hosts during our stay.