Creating Islands of Integrity around the Black Sea
05 Sep 2017 by Magdalena Nowakowska, Communications specialist, UNDP Georgia
Islands have been emerging recently around Eastern and Central Europe. But they’re not common islands at all - they are actually cities.
We see these cities standing out as “island” enclaves of accountability and transparency in not-so-crystal-clear waters: systems of governance polluted by corruption.
Post-communist countries, like Ukraine and Moldova, still struggle to filter malicious practices out of their systems. It’s difficult to get rid of the infamous soviet legacy, where public servants were largely serving their own pockets, rather than public interest.
Georgia, known as the Black Sea region’s top reformer, made a significant leap 10 years ago. It substantially decreased corruption levels in the public sector by conducting a thorough reform of administration and implementing institutional methods to ensure transparency.
But has this change been sustainable? And what are the next steps in a journey to decreasing corruption throughout the region?
Islands of Integrity is an innovative anti-corruption methodology, implemented in the last ten years in more than 30 cities across Eastern and Central Europe and Turkey.
The methodology, created by Ana Vasilache and Ronald MacLean Abaroa, replicated Abaroa’s successful anti-corruption campaign as Mayor of La Paz, Bolivia. It is a practical tool for public leaders and managers to identify and change public policies and organizational systems prone to corruption through a strategic and participatory process.
Authorities of 30 cities in the region, supported by skilled anti-corruption practitioners, looked at their own organizations, local laws and procedures to find out where the holes in the ship are and identify the best remedies.
It is not easy to step up and challenge the status quo when the environment is not supportive. Let’s look at the Black Sea region: In 2016, Ukraine was ranked 131st, Moldova 123rd and Turkey 75th in the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index, among the 176 countries included.
But Georgia’s case proves the challenge can pay off. Although a decade ago it was ranked 99th in the Corruption Perception Index, today Georgia is listed at a prominent 44th place.
Georgia has won its major fight with low and mid-level corruption and believes its success can inspire others.
Kutaisi is the first Georgian municipal entity that joined the network of cities that implemented the methodology. Specialists working with Kutaisi authorities saw that even though transparency regulations in Georgia are quite strict, there may still be loopholes in the system. They noted special attention should be paid to staff recruitment, permits and procurement procedures - the areas currently most prone to corruption. The municipality also needs to make sure that citizens have full and open access to public information.
Kutaisi recently hosted an annual gathering of the Black Sea Anti-Corruption Professionals Network – a vibrant group of mayors, practitioners, tutors and experts on the methodology – all discussing their experience and sharing their real-life stories fighting local corruption.
Sharing experience is a key factor of the Islands of Integrity Network, created to promote peer-to-peer support to advocate and implement anti-corruption initiatives. During the Kutaisi gathering, the hottest topics were how to multiply the methodology in the Black Sea region and the possibilities of expanding the network.
The number of institutions, cities and people involved in building the archipelago of Island of Integrity is constantly growing. Since 2015, UNDP been working to train local civil servants, exchange anti-corruption practices and implement the methodology in the cities across the Black Sea region.
We’ve seen the changes in Georgia. And we do hope to see this archipelago turn into a solid land one day.