In Latvia, the function of investigating criminal offences has been assigned to 11 investigative authorities and the structure of investigative authorities may seem fragmented, therefore the State Audit Office has assessed during a performance audit whether changes in the system are possible and necessary so that the investigation of criminal offences can be carried out more effectively.
“In general, the study conducted in the audit dispels the myth that a large number of investigative authorities is a primary cause of problems in the investigative field. However, judging from various legal and practical aspects, one can conclude that changes can and should be made in the system of investigative authorities in Latvia so that criminal offences can be investigated more effectively. Also, the results of the audit confirm that changes must be made, which the responsible institutions have known about for years - due to potential or very probable conflict of interest, it is not permissible for colleagues to investigate criminal offences committed by colleagues,” explains the audit conclusions Maija Āboliņa, Member of the Council of the State Audit Office.
- Decentralized model of investigative authorities has developed historically in Latvia and is not unique in the European Union. This is not ineffective in itself, however, changes in the system of investigative authorities are possible and necessary for more effective investigation of criminal offences.
- Although all investigative authorities perform the same function – investigation – they belong to different sectors institutionally. As a result, they are managed differently, including creating situations where institutions compete with each other to attract qualified staff.
- The “internal” investigation of criminal offences should be re-evaluated by eliminating the potential conflict of interest that arises when colleagues investigate crimes committed by colleagues.
- Systemic changes must be made to ensure equal remuneration for similarly qualified investigators.
- The auditors bring up the issue of service pensions repeatedly (previously in 2017) their policy does not correspond to the essence of the state pension policy and the initially set goals do not correspond to today’s situation.
- Uniform accounting, evaluation, and control of investigative work should be ensured to plan human resources and identify the actual consumption of resources. In addition, uniform criteria should be established by which one can assess and compare the effectiveness of investigative work of investigative authorities.
The “internal” investigation of criminal offences should be reassessed by eliminating potential conflict of interest that arises when investigating a criminal offence of colleagues. There are currently five investigative authorities in Latvia that are entitled to investigate criminal offences committed by officials of their institutions: Internal Security Bureau (ISB), State Border Guard (SBG), Prisons Administration (PA), Internal Security Administration of the State Revenue Service (SRS ISA), and Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (CPCB).
“Informal personal or collegial ties, which are formed in a working team and which an investigator himself or herself does not want to reveal, are difficult and, most likely, impossible to detect. In order to avoid possible conflicts of interest or even suspicions of them and thus to promote public trust in investigative authorities, “internal” investigations are not allowed in any of them. Otherwise, conflict of interest in the investigative authorities will exist as long as investigators investigate criminal offences committed by their colleagues,” emphasizes M.Āboliņa.
The European Court of Human Rights has also stated, “in order for an investigation to be considered unbiased, an investigator must be independent from the persons whose criminal offences are being investigated. If an investigation is carried out by direct colleagues or representatives of the same institution and there are informal links between them that are not identified during the investigation, this may be a reason to doubt the impartiality of investigation”.
Capacity to investigate corruption offences overlaps. Although it was initially planned that the CPCB would be a comprehensive specialized institution that would investigate corruption crimes in both the public and private sectors, such crimes are still investigated not only by the CPCB, but also by five other investigative authorities, namely, State Police (SP), ISB, SBG, PA and SRS ISA. Every year, an average of 190 criminal proceedings are initiated in which corruption criminal offences are investigated, and only 16% of them have been initiated by the CPCB according to the results of the data analysis performed in the audit.
Although the auditors doubt in general that the CPCB has the ability to investigate all criminal proceedings for corruption criminal offences in the records of investigative authorities currently, the auditors consider that a number of investigative authorities that have such capacity can be reduced. In addition, all relevant investigative authorities (except the SP) have the right to investigate corruption criminal offences committed by their colleagues. Hence, resolving the issue of potential conflict of interest in the investigation of “internal” criminal offences would also reduce the risks related to decentralized jurisdiction of corruption criminal offences.
One should mention that starting with the approval of the Guidelines for the Prevention and Combating of Corruption for 2015-2020, the CPCB has been repeatedly tasked with dealing with the issue of taking over the investigation of all corruption criminal offences since 2015 but it has not been implemented so far.
According to the auditors’ estimates, if the CPCB investigated all corruption criminal offences, there would be an additional 160 criminal proceedings on average every year (97% for corruption criminal offences committed in the public sector and 3% committed in the private sector). Thus, the number of criminal proceedings initiated by the CPCB would increase five times per year. However, most of these criminal proceedings are likely not large-scale and legally complicated, so the investigation could be conducted faster and with less resources consumed.
The auditors point to unequal remuneration for investigators and call for systemic changes to ensure equal remuneration for similarly qualified investigators. Remuneration of investigators consists of salary, as well as social guarantees and annual leaves. In its turn, salary consists of a monthly salary and a variable part (premiums, bonuses and cash prizes). The currently established remuneration system is unequal and creates conditions for mutual competition among investigative authorities in attracting qualified human resources. One of the main reasons is that positions of investigators are classified and the remuneration is determined by different laws and regulations resulting in differing levels of the positions of investigators, the groups and amount of monthly salaries applicable to them, as well as the components of the variable part.
“We invite to consider increasing the proportion of monthly salary and reducing the proportion of the variable part, thus making the remuneration system simpler, more transparent, and understandable. We also call for an equalization of the remuneration funds of investigative authorities to ensure equal conditions of salaries and social guarantees for those performing an equivalent position in all investigative authorities,” explained M.Āboliņa.
The most significant differences in remuneration can be found among the top-level investigators of investigative authorities, namely, the highest monthly salary is set in the ISB, while the lowest monthly salary is found in the SRS ISA with the difference reaching almost 40%. The monthly salary of the top-level investigators of the other investigative authorities is also up to 33% lower than that of the ISB. Similar trends were found regarding the annual total remuneration. In addition, one should indicate that actual monthly salary of the lower-level investigators of the State Police (whose share is 57% in the SP) is very small (1,231 euros as of 1 January 2022), which, according to the auditors, is one of the most significant limitations to attract and retain qualified staff.
Both in 2017 and this audit, the auditors reiterate the issue of service pensions. The audit has confirmed that the current service pension policy does not motivate qualified staff to continue working in a current investigative authority and also allows the possibility of continuing the same work in another investigative authority by receiving both remuneration and service pension. The auditors point out once again that the service pension policy does not correspond to the essence of the state pension policy (to interest the population of working age to continue working as long as possible) and that the initially set goals (to guarantee social security for workers in those professions, positions and services who cannot continue working professionally after a certain period of time due to loss of skills or social danger) does not correspond to today’s ever-changing environment in which every person must be flexible enough to be able to retrain.
Uniform criteria for the workload of investigators should be defined so that it can be measured. Investigative authorities should ensure a unified accounting, evaluation and control of investigative work, which would allow both mutual comparison and measurement of the results of investigator’s work and identification of problematic issues related to the workload, including overload. For instance, 1,260 positions of investigators were approved in 7 investigative authorities included in the audit scope as of 1 January 2022, but only 926 positions or 73% were actually filled. The auditors did not find clear evidence that the number of positions was determined reasonably, and accordingly, could not claim that the determined number was optimal for the effective and high-quality performance of the investigative function in each authority. Although no authority has evaluated and determined the amount of work that can be done by one investigator, the information obtained from the audit shows that the workload of investigators is likely to vary among investigative authorities.
Uniform criteria must be established to evaluate and compare the effectiveness of investigative work. Quantitative indicators related to the investigation of criminal offences are defined in the planning documents of all investigative authorities, except for the PA, and they are regularly evaluated. Nevertheless, results presented mostly do not show how effectively the investigation of criminal offences is carried out, for example, a specific number of detected criminal offences is determined with a constant trend over the years. In addition, different results are determined and evaluated in each investigative authority. The auditors call for the creation of a unified system to assess the effectiveness of investigative work that would allow comprehensive assessment of results and improvements, as well as identification of common issues to be resolved.
The initial requirements for the professional qualification of investigators are formal and unequal, and further professional development is not systemic and sufficiently focused. Raising the professional qualifications of investigators is not based currently on the evaluation of the knowledge and skills required by a specific investigator based on which personalized training needs would be determined. However, continuous improvement of professional qualifications in the field of investigation is critically important to ensure high quality and effective investigation. At the same time, the actual situation cannot be assessed as critical, since 98% of the top-level investigators included in the audit sample have a second-level higher education, and 76% of them have a law degree; likewise, 77% of the SP investigators included in the audit sample have a second-level higher education and 72% of them have a law degree.
SAO’s recommendations #PēcRevīzijas
Based on the audit conclusions, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Finance and the investigative authorities have been given five recommendations by calling for more and more effective investigation of criminal proceedings as a result of cooperation (by inviting industry experts if necessary). The deadline for implementing the recommendations will be November 2024.
In Latvia, the function of investigating criminal offences is assigned to 11 investigative authorities: State Police, Internal Security Bureau, State Border Guard, Prisons Administration, Tax and Customs Police and Internal Security Administration of the State Revenue Service, Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau, State Security Service, and Military Police as well as such special subjects as captains of sea vessels on long-distance voyages and commanders of units of the Latvian National Armed Forces located in the territory of a foreign country.
This audit is a successor to performance audit “The effectiveness of investigations and trials of the criminal offences in the economic and financial area”, within the framework of which the State Audit Office cooperated with the experts of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
- Audit report, recommendation implementation timeframe, etc.
- Audit report (2017) “Effectiveness of the state policy in ensuring sustainability of the pension system”, where auditors indicated significant irregularities in the established service pension system.
- The status/progress of the key recommendations issued by the State Audit Office will be available at information tool (Infogr.am platform).
Mrs Signe Znotiņa-Znota
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