If there was ever a time when the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau functioned as one team and mutual trust ruled the bureau, this team spirit was ultimately crushed after Yaroslav Strelchenok became chief of KNAB. During his reign, focus was put on administrative matters and demotivation of employees.
This is concluded in a report compiled by Society for openness – Delna and Providus think tank in regards to the work done by KNAB, which is based on results of a study performed by anti-corruption policy and good management expert Liga Stafecka ‘KNAB 2011-2016: period of internal turbulence’ and publicly available information and interviews with former KNAB employees. The goal of the study is turning attention of officials towards the necessity to strengthen the efficiency of the work performed by KNAB, corruption combating measures in Latvia and reduce losses associated with corruption, which cost Latvia around EUR 3.4 to EUR 5.1 billion every year, researchers say.
Strelchenok had reorganized KNAB’s structure for the first time in 2014 by liquidating the Corruption Prevention Department and forming the Policy Department and Secretariat. Both of those structures remain under Strelchenok’s direct authority. Two years ago, Strelchenok also terminated the Legal and Staff Management Department and created a new department with a similar name – the Legal Department. On 1 June 2016, as a result of reorganization, Strelchenok formed the Information Analysis Department that analyses work results and prepares different reviews. Both reorganizations had terminated approximately 50 jobs. Most former employees were offered jobs in other departments (usually below their previous posts). Many KNAB employees left, however. Continuing reorganization efforts in 2016, Strelchenok dismissed four lead employees. OECD also noted that there are many unfilled posts in KNAB. «This does lead to the question as to what was the goal behind Strelchenok’s reorganization – were they aimed at the development of KNAB’s corruption-combating capabilities or were they aimed at getting rid of employees?» the study asks.
A work group was founded in 2014 to enhance the bureau’s analytical capabilities. This group later concluded that a separate analytical bureau is necessary, and that forming separate departments would not do much. It is unknown why the Information Analysis Department was formed as a result of reorganization in 2016.
As a result of reorganization in 2016, employees with appropriate education and experience in corruption-prevention were fired from their jobs. The law states that investigators are required to have higher education, but Strelchenok decided to throw in a requirement for economic education. Initially Strelchenok explained his decision with OECD’s recommendation to develop economic crimes combating capabilities. He later commented on that, saying that ‘the OECD document makes no mention of a specific requirement for economic education’. KNAB provided no explanations as to how the decision was made and why economic education was put as requirement and not financial or construction education.
Among the people fired in 2016 was also the head of KNAB Operative Investigations Department Juriss Jurass, Strelchenok’s deputy Martins Lode and head of the Investigations Department Lienite Sikore. All three of them were in charge of criminal cases; there were no violations. At the same time, Strelchenok’s former course mate Janis Roze was approved ad deputy chief. He was approved in his post without any personnel selection procedures, similar to Jurca, Strelchenok’s former chief.
KNAB does not comply with GRECO recommendations to organize open selection processes for finding appropriate candidates for management posts, thereby creating a bad example for other state institutions, the report mentions.
The fact that Strelchenok hopes to form a team that would be loyal to him is shown by considerable debt of those selected by him and his permission for them to combine posts. Roze, for example worked as a driving instructor in parallel to her job in KNAB. Ieva Otomere, head of the Legal Affairs Department, also held weight-loss lessons. Her department has experienced the biggest turnover of workers in recent years. In 2015, Otomere declared debt worth EUR 182,649. Strelchenok declared debt worth EUR 109,007 in 2015.
In his everyday work, Strelchenok had abused his power and had breached KNAB Law in its then approved redaction, specifically the requirement to form an assessment committee in 2013. Instead he evaluated each employee personally. In October 2013, heads of five KNAB departments sent a letter to the Prime Minister, prosecutor general and Saeima Corruption Prevention sub-committee, detailing Strelchenok’s personnel policy.
KNAB employees complained in the letter about the lack of direct communication between the chief and employees, because the chief of KNAB mainly communicates with his assistants without engaging in staff management policy. Jurass as the head of the Operative Investigations Department had to book an individual meeting to resolve organizational matters: ‘And then I was declined multiple times, because there is only one hour a month is secured for that and that other employees had applied for it before me. They told me to come next month’.
Internal pressure in the bureau was only increased with disciplinary cases. 22 disciplinary cases had been initiated by April 2016. Such a number of disciplinary cases insecurity and create a sense of insecurity and fear of the possibility of disciplinary cases being launched against them. This pressure can seriously impact work efficiency. Dismissal and loss of employees continues threatening the bureau’s institutional memory and competence in the fight against corruption. This was also mentioned in OECD’s report.
Results of studies carried out by Latvijas fakti in 2012, 2014 and 2015 show that social trust in KNAB declined during Strelchenok’s reign. Results of a study carried out by SKDS in 2015 show that trust in KNAB is lower than trust in State Police, the prosecutor’s office and courts.
According to information from KNAB, the bureau has had a total of 15 court processes against its own employees throughout 2011-2016. It seems the court is the only remaining option for KNAB employees to defend their rights. KNAB lost the majority of those court processes.
In response to Strelchenok’s destructive management style and incompetence, KNAB employees have complained to the prime minister, the prosecutor general, the Saeima and the media. Three work groups have been formed to assess regulations that govern KNAB’s work. Two separate committees assessed Strelchenok’s work. Both committees gave Strelchenok a C (on an A-E scale). Neither Valdis Dombrovskis nor Laimdota Straujuma decided to assess Strelchenok’s ability to remain in his post.