From top: Tanaiste Joan Burton launching a ‘dole cheat’ helpline in 2012 and Dr Julien Mercille
The coalition’s agenda:
Tough on welfare fraud.
Soft on corporate crime.
Dr Julien Mercille writes:
Last week confirmed once again that in Ireland, the government always finds the resources to control ordinary people, while the establishment gets away with it. Indeed, a lot of energy has been put into tackling welfare fraud while corporate crime is left undisturbed.
Transparency International released a report ranking OECD countries for their efforts to reduce corporate bribery and corruption. Among 41 countries, Ireland comes near the bottom, meaning that our government has one of the worst records of all. This is not the first time that international organisations have warned of the lack of progress on fighting corruption in Ireland.
The report investigates the extent to which action has been taken against Irish companies and individuals who bribe public officials abroad to obtain contracts, licences and concessions.
Only four countries are classified as having adopted an “active enforcement” stance, which is good. Six others are deemed to have “moderate enforcement”, and nine “limited enforcement”. Then, 20 countries conduct “little or no enforcement” to ensure their firms do not spread corruption around the world. Ireland, you guessed correctly, is in this last category.
Incidentally, Greece, which has been demonised in the media for its corrupt practices, comes out better than us, in the third category.
Transparency International stated that Ireland pledged to tackle bribery when it ratified the OECD anti-bribery convention 12 years ago. But since then, “there has not been a single prosecution and there are no signs that the law will be enforced”. This contrasts sharply with the top four countries (Germany, Switzerland, the UK and the US), which have completed over 215 prosecution cases in total.
The conclusion: “Precious few resources are invested in tackling corruption or white collar crime in Ireland and it appears that helping fighting international bribery is not a government priority either”.
Now, compare this to our government’s energetic efforts to fight social welfare fraud.
To get an idea of the problem, consider that the Department of Social Protection spends about €20 billion annually in social welfare payments. Fraud amounts to about €40 million a year, or a rather small 0.2% of total spending. Sure, fraud is a problem, but it’s not as if the system is in disarray.
Nevertheless, Joan Burton’s department is conducting a full-scale assault on fraudsters.
Last week, reports came out again that since December 2014, 20 police officers have been assigned to a Special Investigation Unit (SIU) to assist Joan to catch those who commit welfare fraud. The Gardaí are stationed throughout the country.
But this is not all. The Department’s Compliance and Anti-Fraud Strategy proudly lists a number of cutting-edge measures it is now taking, including:
– Over 1 million reviews of welfare claimants conducted in 2014.
– Over 900 staff working on fraud in the department and in communities throughout the country.
– 600 cases now before the courts, and there is even a target to submit 300 fraud cases for prosecution in 2015.
– Inspections at airports, construction sites and road checkpoints.
– Predictive Analytics Modeling: analytical techniques to identify claims that are more likely to be fraudulent.
– Legislation enacted in 2012 now allows for up to 15% of a person’s social welfare entitlement to be deducted without his or her agreement when there has been overpayment in the past.
It is understandable that some steps be taken to reduce welfare fraud. But the problem is that the policy is once again directed at ordinary people, while elites get away with it.
First, as stated above, no significant steps have been undertaken to tackle corruption and white collar crime.
Second, if unemployment was lower, we’d save a lot on welfare payments. Therefore, the austerity implemented since 2009 by Labour, Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael politicians accounts for a significant chunk of welfare expenses since it has raised unemployment and lowered people’s incomes.
Third, corporate welfare is huge in this country. Think of our ultra-low 12.5% corporate tax rate. Think of the €64 billion we injected in the banks to bail them out. Or the €365 billion bank guarantee we provided to banks. When is the police going to investigate that with the same amount of detail as for welfare claimants?
Now imagine the following:
900 staff dedicated to catching white collar crime. Over 1 million reviews this year alone of government and corporate officials’ expenses. 600 cases of bankers brought before the courts and prosecuted for the reckless moves they made that triggered the crisis. Gardaí units investigating the IFSC (International Financial Services Centre) and interviewing bankers.
Predictive Analytics Modeling to spot which bankers are more likely to cause trouble in the future. Inspections in Parliament offices to find out which politicians exactly had the brilliant idea of implementing austerity since 2009. Legislation to take money straight out of those guys’ salaries when fraudulent practices are detected.
Those kinds of policies should be on political platforms in the upcoming elections. It would gather quite a few votes.
Julien Mercille is a lecturer at UCD. His new book, Deepening Neoliberalism, Austerity, and Crisis: Europe’s Treasure Ireland (Palgrave) is out. Twitter: @JulienMercille