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Corruption as a chronic conditionEDITORIAL
9 Dec 2013 Beata Balogová Opinion
SLOVAKIA has been living with corruption the way some people live with chronic diseases. Even if those unfortunates do not succumb to their disease in a short time, their quality of life is undeniably harmed. Many citizens of nations crippled by corruption seemingly fail to realise that cronyism, tailor-made tenders, petty or even hefty bribes, hurt not only them, but their children as well.
In terms of corruption perception Slovakia ranks the fifth worst in the European Union, trailing only Italy, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece. According to the recently released World Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International, it ranks 61st out of the 177 countries assessed.
Transparency International Slovensko (TIS), a political ethics watchdog, noted that 2013 will pass again leaving Slovakia in the group of one of the few countries where not a single top public official has been convicted of corruption. This is certainly not because Slovakia’s public life is pure and senior state officials have never been involved in wrongdoing, but rather because the country’s judiciary is broken. These two problems are very much intertwined.
Corruption is mentioned year after year as one of the country’s ills in most surveys of the business environment, and while it is obvious that this information will always put serious international investors minimally on alert, it does not seem to be pushing the issue of corruption high on the agendas of governments.
Even if politicians make some corruption-related promises, they do so with the hope that these will be forgotten long before the electorate can record it in its long-term memory – or at least until the next election campaign. It seems that the corruption-related memory of Slovakia’s voters is strictly short term.
As TIS noted, parliamentary parties have failed to meet their pre-election promises about financing of their political activities despite having signed a written pledge that they would modify the rules for party financing before April 2013. Needless to say that deadline passed without any specific action.
Even if politicians have the power to decide about the fate of public funds, which come from the pockets of taxpayers, when it comes to their own husbandry, they send the public the ‘this is none of your business’ message. Certain groups of voters do not seem to be bothered much by this approach as they continue to support parties with murky financial backgrounds.
Unfortunately, as the story goes, even if the more politically-mature parts of the electorate punish their previously preferred parties for non-transparent behaviour, more than half of the country seems willing to forgive outright cases of corruption and nonetheless support the very party that was behind such incidents.
Perhaps it is timely to recall a statement that Prime Minister Robert Fico made at a press conference back in 2008 during his first government: “We will not consider it unacceptable if, in the case of two equal projects of the same quality and the same final effect, a minister gives preference to a [village or town] mayor who supports the ruling coalition.”
Sadly, Slovaks seem to have gotten used to living with the feeling that their politicians give preferential treatment to their cousins and sponsors, while some judges silently fortify their empire through a cobweb of family ties.
Though there are some great efforts to award the whistleblowers, namely through the White Crow award, granted since 2008 by the political ethics watchdog Fair-Play Alliance and the Via Iuris legal think-tank, the country still does not have sufficient legislation to protect these true heroes of the day.
More often than not even serious findings of cronyism are simply downplayed. In a country with genuine sensitivity to cronyism some public officials in the Fico government would be out of a job. Agriculture Minister Ľubomír Jahnátek is perhaps the most obvious example. Despite having employed an amazingly disproportionate number of relatives and compatriots from his native village of Komjatice in high ministry positions, he faces no punishment and it is unlikely he ever will.
Politicians in functional democracies step down for much smaller shortcomings. Failings like Jahnátek’s are only considered small in relation to Slovakia’s continued inexplicable tolerance for corruption.
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