Municipalities 2020: How to strengthen the integrity of local public life?

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We are three days away from the first round of the municipal elections in France, marked by a political context punctuated by "business" and by the growing mistrust of citizens towards their leaders. In the context of these municipal elections, Transparency International France, the French section of the world's leading anti-corruption NGO, is proposing to the leading candidates to commit their lists to a series of measures that will help municipalities and intermunicipalities move towards greater transparency and integrity. Transparency International-France publishes a map of candidates committed to the integrity of local public life which, against all expectations, attests to the progress of the culture of transparency and ethics in the territories.

The French love their mayors: the municipal level indeed has a confidence rate of 60% (+6 points compared to the confidence rate of December 2018) according to the latest barometer of political confidence of the CEVIPOF. However, this municipal campaign was driven by "business" and marked by the mistrust of citizens vis-à-vis their elected officials. In this context, a few days before the first round, Transparency International France (TI-France) publishes the map of candidates for municipal elections who are committed to implementing 6 measures proposed by the NGO to advance the integrity of local public life.

Six proposals to strengthen the integrity of local public life

These six proposals are concrete and achievable measures if the political will is there. It is not TI-France's intention to judge or rate the candidates, but rather to rally volunteers who share the conviction that ethics and transparency are legitimate democratic requirements.
Over the last two months, TI-France has invited the 556 official candidate lists in the 71 largest cities in France to commit to implementing its six proposals. 

These proposals respond both to situations representing a real risk for elected officials and municipal agents, but also to "grey areas" that generate mistrust and fantasy among citizens. Transparency International France has chosen to limit itself to a limited number of proposals to facilitate the commitment of candidates and the monitoring of their implementation. Moreover, these six proposals address the main risks of criminal conviction of the local elected official.

While only a tiny proportion of local elected representatives and local public officials (0.056 % and 0.007 % respectively) have been convicted of breach of probity during the 2014-2020 term of office, according to estimates by the SMACL observatory, each conviction reflects on all elected representatives and contributes to fuelling citizens' mistrust.

Offences of illegal taking of interest are always the first ground for conviction among the various offences against probity. This offence could be avoided to a greater extent by raising the awareness of local elected representatives, an objective that should be pursued through this commitment collection exercise.

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" During the previous term, only one local elected official in a thousand was criminally charged with offences of breach of probity (corruption, illegal taking of interests, influence peddling, etc.). This is a tiny minority, but each case, whether or not it leads to a conviction, contributes to the opprobrium not only of all the mayors of France, but also of all elected officials. Applied, our proposals could prevent the majority of these situations from occurring, or would make it possible to identify them early enough. "says Bernard Soulage, Director of Transparency International France.

Put in place a corruption prevention plan
The "Sapin 2" law of 2016 only obliges companies to apply such a plan, even though local authorities and their groupings are exposed to the same risks of corruption and must be even more exemplary towards their citizens. However, too few large local authorities have so far implemented comprehensive corruption prevention measures. However, it is essential to adopt a pro-active, rather than merely reactive, approach to the risks of corruption and breaches of probity. This protects the community from potential scandal and the resulting damage to its image, the effectiveness of its public policies and the confidence of citizens in it.

How do you do it?
Have the legislative body adopt a comprehensive corruption prevention plan with the seven components provided for by the Sapin 2 law, adapted to local authorities: code of conduct, disciplinary system, system for collecting alerts from whistleblowers, risk mapping, third party evaluation, accounting control, training of elected officials and managers on the risk of corruption.

Publish the meetings of local public decision-makers with lobbyists as an open agenda.
From 2021 onwards, lobbyists will have to declare their actions of influence on local public decision-makers in the directory of the High Authority for the Transparency of Public Life (HATVP). Publishing the meetings with these interest representatives now will make it possible to prepare for this implementation in advance.

In addition, the Open Agenda is a tool for local public decision-makers, elected officials and key community leaders to ensure a balance in the consultation of stakeholders and equity of access to public decision-making.
Above all, lobbying is a subject on which attention is growing and the local level is no exception. Publishing meetings with lobbyists is therefore a sign of trust towards citizens.

How do you do it?

  • Publish a document mentioning, for each decision-maker concerned: the date of the meeting, the local public decision-makers present (elected officials and executives), the local public decision concerned and the interest representative met (organisation and its representatives).
  • Use an open data format, accessible online, with an easily usable standard.

Better control the use of hospitality expenses of local executive officers and ensure transparency.
While it is normal that the elected representatives benefit from the necessary means to carry out their mandate in good conditions, the representation expenses made available to the head of the local executive must be used in an exemplary manner. However, the law does not provide sufficient guarantees of control, which can leave room for abuses. While Parliament has made progress on this point since 2017, a similar movement must be undertaken at the territorial level. For example, there is no reference system for authorised expenditure on representation expenses, which leaves local elected representatives uncertain about authorised uses.

How do you do it?

Have the legislative body adopt a three-part framework:

  • Establishment of a benchmark of authorized expenditures ;
  • Formalization of the system for justifying the costs incurred ;
  • Publication of the expenses incurred.

Implement a public register of deportations
The local elected representatives have not yet sufficiently appropriated the ethical obligation of deportation to be taken in the event of conflicts of interest. The implementation of a public register of deportations is an effective means of dissemination and enables elected representatives to protect themselves from the criminal risk of illegal taking of interests. Moreover, publicly retracing deportation decisions allows citizens to see that the new ethical obligations of elected officials are leading to concrete actions to prevent conflicts of interest.

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How do you do it?

Set up an accessible register mentioning: the elected representative who was deported, the public decision concerned by the deportation, the dates and types of meetings (municipal council, commission, etc.) in which the elected representative abstained from participating, and use an open data format, accessible online, with an easily usable standard.

Publish citizen-readable data sets and administrative documents in "open data".
The transparency of data and administrative documents towards citizens is a legal obligation, but still too few local and regional authorities comply with it today. Yet this is the best way to ensure that local governance is accountable to citizens.

How do you do it?

  • Have the community publish in an open format that is intelligible to the general public the essential datasets in areas sensitive to corruption, going beyond the legal thresholds for publication: public procurement, accounting and budgetary data, subsidies, etc.
  • Also publish the allocation decisions and/or their associated criteria, particularly in the following areas: places in municipal crèches, allocation of social housing, requests for urban planning instructions, etc.

Publish the cumulative amount of all allowances received by elected officials.
Local elected officials may hold several mandates, elective or not, in different local authorities and/or within the governing bodies of so-called "satellite" organisations that revolve around them (local public companies, public establishments, etc.). In this respect, they may be required to combine different allowances, the exact sum of which is difficult to establish. However, these allowances are a source of mistrust and preconceived ideas to which a publication could respond.

How do you do it?

  • Have the commune or inter-community centralize the various allowances received by each of its elected officials and publish, in a single document, the total amount of the allowances received, specifying: the elected official, the origin of the allowance, the amount of the allowance and its payment terms (directors' fees, monthly, annual, etc.).
  • Use an open data format, accessible online, with an easily usable standard.

The progress of the legal framework for ethics and transparency during the last term of office

In recent years, several laws have made significant progress in preventing corruption among local elected officials and public officials by making it mandatory to use tools long promoted by TI-France:

  • Law of 2013 relating to the transparency of public life: legal definition of conflict of interest, formalization of the obligation to deport a local elected official if there is a risk of conflict of interest, creation of the High Authority for the Transparency of Public Life (HATVP) and obligations to declare interests and assets for local elected officials. (1) and their director/chief of staff.
  • Law of 2015 to facilitate the exercise of their mandate by local elected officials: charter of the local elected official to be presented to the elected officials at the first session of the municipal/community council ;
  • Law of 2016 on the ethics, rights and obligations of civil servants: competent ethics referent for civil servants in communities, declaration of interests and assets of certain local public officials.
  • Law of 2016 for a Digital Republic: open data by default in local authorities (2) .
  • Law of 2016 on transparency, the fight against corruption and the modernisation of economic life: creation of the French Anti-Corruption Agency (AFA), corruption prevention plans, mandatory ethics alert referent in local authorities. (3) ;
  • The 2017 Political Confidence Act: banning family jobs in communities ;
  • Public Service Transformation Act of 2019: merging the Public Service Ethics Commission with the HATVP, tighter control of slippage on at-risk jobs and accountability of local supervisors and ethics officers, creation of a back-slippage control.

What is at stake today is that elected representatives and officials take ownership of all these measures during the coming term of office. The six proposals made to the candidates are fully in line with this legal framework.

Towards more transparency and ethics?

The result of this initiative, published in the form of accessible mapping on the TI-France websiteIn fact, in 2014, 17% of the lists presented in the 42 cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants were committed to these proposals. Only 59 lists out of 340 had made commitments. For this campaign, 25% will do so this year, i.e. 97 lists of cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants out of 382. This represents an increase of 8 points, or 63 % compared to 2014.
This gap reflects the growing culture of ethics and transparency in local public life. The candidates understood that this was an inescapable civic requirement and an indispensable prerequisite for the implementation of their programme.

This development is to be credited in particular:
- New legal obligations for local authorities and their elected representatives (presented above);
- Leading municipalities in terms of transparency and integrity such as Paris, Toulouse, Grenoble, Rennes, Limoges, Cannes... who implement best practices that go beyond their strict legal obligations;
- The "cases" that have made their mark on public opinion and thus on the ever-increasing mobilization of civil society. This is evidenced by the charters, commitments, suggestions for good practices or recommendations on integrity and transparency at the local level proposed by bodies such as the Public Ethics Observatory, Médiacités, Anticor, SMACL, Démocratie Ouverte and Open Data France. (4),

This dissemination of the culture of transparency transcends partisan divisions, since candidates from all political orientations have committed themselves to the proposals presented. While no political tendency has a monopoly of commitment to local integrity, left-wing lists account for 45 % of the total number of committed lists (Left and "extreme left" combined). In 2014, 10 candidates were elected out of the 59 who committed themselves to these proposals. This year, will they be in a position to do much better?

If for you, politics must rhyme with transparency and ethics, this mapping shows you which municipal candidates are committed to acting for the integrity of local public life if elected.
If your city's candidates are not listed, you can download in three clicks, a citizen's kit with e-mails, Facebook publication and a tweet type to propose to them to publicly commit to advancing the culture of transparency and ethics in the territories!

100% of France's largest cities have at least one candidate who has committed

Paris : 3 lists engaged out of 9 :

  • From tomorrow, Paris in common / Union gauche / Anne Hidalgo
  • Ecology for Paris / EELV / David Belliard
  • Let's decide Paris / LFI / Danielle Simonnet 

Metropolitan Lyon: 4 out of 8 lists engaged

  • Now the Metropolis for us / EELV / Bruno Bernard
  • One step ahead / Union Centre / Gérard Collomb
  • The Metropolis of Common Sense / RN / Andrea Kotarac
  • C'est la gauche unie / Union Gauche / Renaud Payre 

Marseille: 1 list engaged out of 5

  • Printemps marseillais / Union Gauche / Michèle Rubirola 

Toulouse: 4 lists committed out of 11

  • For cohesion - the other choice / Miscellaneous left / Pierre Cohen
  • Aimer Toulouse / Miscellaneous right / Jean-Luc Moudenc
  • Citizen Archipelago / Miscellaneous left / Antoine Maurice
  • Debout Toulouse / Debout La France / Francis Manaud

Nice : 2 lists engaged out of 8

  • Nice Écologique, supported by Europe Écologie-Les Verts and the Alliance Ecologiste Indépendante / Other ecologist / Jean-Marc Governatori
  • Find Nice / RN / Philippe Vardon

Strasbourg: 4 lists engaged out of 8

  • MAKING TOGETHER STRASBOURG / PS / Catherine Trautmann
  • 100 % STRASBOURG / Union Centre / Alain Fontanel
  • RALLY FOR STRASBOURG / RN / Hombeline du Parc
  • Concerned citizens / Miscellaneous / Chantal Cutajar 

Nantes: 3 lists engaged out of 9

  • Nantes in common / Miscellaneous left / Margot Medkour
  • Nantes in confidence / Union gauche / Johanna Rolland
  • Nantes together / EELV / Julia Laernoes

Bordeaux 1 list engaged out of 5

  • Bordeaux breathes / Left Union / Pierre Hurmic

Lille: 2 lists committed out of 9

  • Lille en commun, Lille en confiance / Union gauche/ Martine Aubry
  • Decide for Lille / LFI / Julien Poix

Rennes: 5 lists committed out of 9

  • Choosing ecology for Rennes / EELV / Matthieu Theurier
  • For Rennes / union gauche / Nathalie Appéré
  • Libres d'agir pour Rennes / various rights / Charles Compagnon
  • Revealing Rennes / LREM / Carole Gandon Rennes in common / LFI / Enora Le Pape

(Source: TI-France)

(1) Mayors of municipalities with more than 20,000 inhabitants, their directors, deputy directors and chiefs of staff and deputy mayors of municipalities with more than 100,000 inhabitants holding a delegation of signature or function
(2) In local and regional authorities with more than 3,500 inhabitants and employing more than 50 staff. 
(3) In municipalities with more than 10,000 inhabitants (and related EPCIs with own tax), departments and regions
(4) Manifesto for real local democracy of Mediacides, White Paper for Local Democracy of the Public Ethics Observatory, For a more open local democracy of Open Democracy, Charter of the local elected representative : instructions for use and good practices by SMACL

Header photo : Town hall of Saint-Sulpice-la-Pointe (Tarn)

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