The Regional Anti-Corruption Initiative (RAI) Summer School for Junior Anti-corruption Practitioners in South-East Europe (SEE) was originally initiated in 2005 as a way to build and strengthen the capacities of anti-corruption bodies in the region and to provide a platform for young practitioners to learn new practices and to exchange experiences. The School was subsequently launched in 2006 as a forum for the exchange of ideas and practices among young judges, prosecutors, and investigators.
With the new reality brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s RAI School was organised online, for the very first time and it consisted of four thematic webinars held between October 5 and 15, 2020.
The 15th Edition of the RAI School for Junior Anti-Corruption Practitioners from South-East Europe was opened with the webinar dedicated to Corruption Preventive Tools and Asset Disclosure, held October 5, 2020.
While this year’s School is organised in an online format, it maintains RAI’s tradition of partnering with national authorities from the RAI member states and international organisations. This edition of RAI School was organised in cooperation with the Judicial Academy of Croatia and the UNODC – Global Judicial Integrity Network, and it was supported by the Central European Initiative (CEI).
The opening remarks were given by Mr. Vladan Joksimovic, Head of RAI Secretariat, Ms. Andrea Posavec Franic, Director of the Judicial Academy of Croatia, and Ms. Roberta Solis, Team Leader of the Judicial Integrity Component, UNODC – Secretariat of the Global Judicial Integrity Network.
The first webinar of the school entailed presentations on corruption prevention tools – namely corruption proofing of legislation and corruption risk assessment, as well as the Asset Disclosure. Mr. Jovan Nicic had a comprehensive presentation on principles of the corruption risk assessment and corruption proofing of legislation, as well as the experience with the implementation of integrity plans in the Serbian judiciary. Ms. Azra Kalabic presented the experience with the application of the integrity plans and the digitisation of the process in the judiciary of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Mr. Vladan Joksimovic presented RAI’s efforts on the development and negotiations of the International Treaty on Exchange of Data for the Verification of Asset Declarations. He introduced participants to the abundance of RAI’ publications and handbooks on various aspects of anti-corruption, available from RAI’s website.
The second webinar of 15th Edition of the RAI School for Junior Anti-Corruption Practitioners from South-East Europe, held on October 8, 2020, was devoted to two distinct, but interdependent and interconnected anticorruption tools – conflict of interest and whistleblowing.
The participants of the webinar from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Georgia, Kosovo*, Moldova, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Romania Slovenia, and Serbia were able to hear about good laws, practices, and outcomes, including international standards, on the two topics.
‘Conflicts of interest are a fact of life, and one has to know how to identify and manage them because the public interest always comes first’ said Ms. Laura Stefan, the RAI Chairperson, during her presentation.
‘Whistleblowing is the most dangerous form of freedom of speech’ pointed out Mr. Tom Devine, a renowned advocate of whistleblower protection, but the benefits it brings to integrity, justice, and democracy are numerous. All participants of the Webinar agreed that ‘whistleblowers are brave people, who protect the public from wrongdoing and therefore deserve our recognition and protection’.
Finally, Ms. Natasa Novakovic presented on the experience of the Republic of Croatia in preventing and managing conflicts of interest through its designated State Commission, Ms. Elmerina Ahmetaj Hrelja presented on minimum standards for whistleblower protection as stipulated in the EU Directive on the protection of persons who report breaches of the EU law and Mr. Mark Worth presented on whistleblowing laws and practices in SEE.
The third webinar focused on the recent developments and practice in the field of criminal investigation and prosecution of corruption cases, with a special emphasis on the asset recovery aspect of the investigations. Case studies from Austria and Croatia were presented by practitioners by the Austrian Federal Bureau of Anti-corruption (BAK) and the Croatian State Prosecutor’s Office for the Suppression of Organized Crime and Corruption (USKOK). The most recent activities of RAI in the field of asset recovery, and in particular the importance of regional cooperation and networking among the judicial practitioners were also presented and provoked interest among the participants. The junior magistrates from SEE demonstrated their interest in the topic by posing questions to the guest speakers.
Panellists at the fourth webinar presented the international framework and comparative practices related to the integrity of judges, disclosure of conflict of interests and asset declarations, and the possible corruption risks and promoting integrity in the criminal procedure.
“There is no perfect system of asset declaration, but if introduced, this system should be covered by clear legal norms: to be transparent and balanced with the other protected rights and freedoms of judges and prosecutors, to be efficient, so to enable in-depth verification of the correctness of the declarations and credible enough so that the public can have confidence in its reliability” emphasized Justice Mrcela.
“There is no definition for Integrity, you have it or not, there are no degrees of integrity, it is absolute. It is difficult to define, in line with the Value Three of the Bangalore Principles, integrity is essential to the proper discharge of judicial office, its elements are rectitude and righteousness, honesty, and judicial morality” said Justice Sessa in his massage to the young anti-corruption practitioners.
Ms. Aneta Arnaudovska identified the possible internal and external corruption risks in the decision- making process in the criminal procedures on corruption cases. “Integrity management system as a holistic approach accompanied by adequate mitigating policies should be developed in the judiciary, in close cooperation with the anti-corruption agencies” said Ms. Arnaudovska.
During the tour-de-table session, one participant from each of the jurisdictions represented at the School presented the national practices of the anti-corruption policies in the public sector and in the judiciary.
In his closing remarks, Mr. Vladan Joksimovic, the Head of RAI Secretariat expressed his gratitude to the Croatian authorities and to the UNODC-GJIN, to the panellists for their valuable contributions and to the participants for their active involvement in the discussions. He invited the participants to stay in touch, as the RAI School serves as a platform for boosting the social connectivity among the young practitioners.