In a report published yesterday by the Council of Europe, the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) criticised Iceland for not making a big enough effort to fight corruption in politics.
In 2015, the same year the infamous Panama Papers were leaked to the public, GRECO had already called Iceland’s compliance with the ten recommendations contained in their Fourth Round Evaluation Report “globally unsatisfactory.”
About three years later, after the implementation of a new code of conduct for politicians and an anti-corruption steering group, GRECO still thinks that Icelandic governments have not taken enough responsibility to make a concrete impact on politicians’ behaviour. Specifically, the report stresses, the government needs to focus on managing conflicts of interest that might effectively hinder democracy, for instance “taking into account risks that assets be deliberately registered under someone else’s name (spouse, for instance).”
“The Icelandic government can learn a lot from this report, but I also think that a lot has changed since I first started working in Parliament,” Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir told RÚV.
“We now have rules about registering conflicts of interest, and we have an ethical code that we didn’t have before the 2008 crash. However, I still think we must do better.”
The report further encourages the government to review and strengthen simple ethical rules such as not accepting personal gifts like free trips from third parties, avoiding the misuse of public resources (especially in an electoral period), as well as engaging in any non-permitted, remunerated jobs that go beyond their political position. Furthermore, the government needs to address the sore lack of legislation when it comes to lobbyists and the risk they represent, in addition to ensuring the independence of the police force from any political or governmental pressure.
Nevertheless, the report underlines that it’s not enough to provide a set of rules regulating politicians’ behaviours.
Rather, it’s necessary to actually enforce this set of rules and implement sanctions when the regulations are not adhered to—a concept that has not been a popular subject of discussion in Iceland so far.
“I have followed the debate amongst Icelandic ethicists regarding this matter, but it’s never been discussed whether or not sanctions are actually appropriate when it comes to ethical rules,” Katrín explained. Nevertheless, the Prime Minister also agrees that strengthening the rules about conflicts of interest are necessary in a country like Iceland, especially when it comes to ensuring that the registers are properly updated and regularly monitored.