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Webinar: Corruption risks in COVID-19 vaccination process

Anti-corruption experts from more than 15 countries discussed corruption risks in COVID-19 vaccination process

On 14 May 2021, the Special Investigation Service of the Republic of Lithuania (STT) and EPAC/EACN, i.e. the two networks of the European anti-corruption and police oversight bodies, jointly organized the webinar "COVID-19 vaccination and managing corruption risks". More than 70 experts from the law enforcement, corruption prevention and healthcare sectors from various European countries (Spain, Portugal, Romania, Poland, Moldova, Finland, Czechia, Cyprus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Austria, etc.) attended this online event.

The webinar was dedicated to discussing potential corruption risks related to the vaccination process and other measures in response to COVID-19, as well as tools to address these risks.

Representatives of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Europol’s European Financial and Economic Crime Centre (EFECC), the Polish Central Anti-Corruption Bureau, the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Lithuania, and the Lithuanian Special Investigation Service (STT) presented their analyses and insights into national, regional and international developments.

The STT Director, Mr Žydrūnas Bartkus, stressed that lack of trust in public integrity and in the ability of public authorities to combat the pandemic were like vitamins for corruption to grow. In a state of emergency, it was more than ever important to talk about transparency and integrity in providing healthcare and other essential services to citizens in order to restore trust in public governance.

The EFECC representative, Mr Frédéric Pierson, agreed with him in saying that the conditions were optimal for the emergence of corruption, and shared data about dramatic differences in purchase prices of protective equipment in public procurement processes within European countries.

„It is important to ensure that the vaccination process is transparent. Corruption risk management measures must correspond to the objective pursued and not create unnecessary administrative burdens”, Ms Jurgita Grebenkovienė, Chancellor of the Lithuanian Ministry of Health, underlined.

Mr Tim Steele, expert from the UNODC Corruption and Economic Crime Branch, mentioned that in order to oversee the vaccine administration process, anti-corruption authorities as well as citizens had to be able to access certain personal data of those vaccinated. “Countries must balance data protection and the social interest in access to all information necessary to oversee the process", the UNODC representative stressed.

“The use of analytical tools is an effective measure to increase transparency and improve corruption risk management in the COVID-19 vaccination process”, Ms Laura Ūselė, head of an STT analysis division, emphasized.

“Conflicts of interest are another underestimated threat on the pharmaceutical market”, the healthcare expert from the Polish Central Anti-Corruption Bureau said.

The European Partners against Corruption (EPAC) and the European contact-point network against corruption (EACN) are independent forums for practitioners united in the common goal of preventing and combating corruption.

EPAC is composed of anti-corruption authorities and police oversight bodies from Council of Europe Member Countries. EACN, a more formal network established by a European Council decision, brings together anti-corruption authorities from European Union Member States. The two networks mostly work together as one, given their equal mission and goals.

The Lithuanian STT, like most European anti-corruption authorities, is a member of both networks. Its representative, Ms Rūta Kaziliūnaitė, is currently Deputy Vice-President of EPAC/EACN.