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On-line register lifts corporate veil

In an effort to speed up the work of courts and improve access to business information in Slovakia, the Justice Ministry January 1 made available on the Internet the full database of the Commercial Register of Slovak companies.
The Register allows every Internet user to find information on Slovak companies registered in the Commercial Register, literally in seconds, removing the hassle of going to courts in person and asking for a copy - a process which often takes several hours.


Important company data can now be accessed at the touch of a button.
photo: Ján Svrček

In an effort to speed up the work of courts and improve access to business information in Slovakia, the Justice Ministry January 1 made available on the Internet the full database of the Commercial Register of Slovak companies.

The Register allows every Internet user to find information on Slovak companies registered in the Commercial Register, literally in seconds, removing the hassle of going to courts in person and asking for a copy - a process which often takes several hours.

The step has earned plaudits from other ministries, which say that the register's Internet accessibility will increase the level of transparency in the corporate sector and help individual businesses to find information about Slovak companies quickly and easily.

"Everybody can now easily and speedily find out who his business partner is, and, combined with changes which are going to be made in the Commercial Code, transparency in the corporate sector will be increased," said Juraj Renčko, an advisor to the Finance Ministry.

He stressed that by making the register available on the Internet (www.orsk.sk) a company's activities, the duties of its statutory representatives, and other issues surrounding corporate governance would be made clearer and therefore would dramatically cut into the volume of asset stripping in Slovakia.

According to Ján Tóth, an analyst with ING Barings the move is an important impulse for the corporate sector. "It will be welcomed by both domestic and foreign businesses," he said.

Contained on the Internet version of the Commercial Register are copies of companies' business licences including all relevant information regarding companies' foundations their identification numbers, their line of business, the name and address of their statutory representatives, the volume of representatives' investment into companies, and any changes made regarding company structures and their representatives.

Internet copies cannot be used for legal purposes, however.

The search allows a user to find information on a company either through entering a company name or the name of a company representative or company's identification number (IČO) or company address or number under which it is registered in the Commercial Register.

Before January this year, the only way to get a copy of a firm's business licence was to go to one of eight register courts where a fee of 100 crowns per page was paid for the copy. The number of requests was also creating additional work for an already overworked court staff and creating backlogs in tasks such as changing business licences.

The move also brings Slovakia up to speed with its regional neighbours. The Commercial Register is available on the Internet in other transition countries like the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland. The Slovak Justice Ministry, when preparing the electronic version of the register followed the Czech Republic's example with the two registers now almost identical in the categories of information they carry.

Corporate sector gain

In many predictions for the micro-economy in 2001, analysts urged the government to improve the country's legal framework and help speed the work of courts to improve the shape of the corporate sector. They added that long and complicated procedures for some business matters in courts have discouraged some foreign investors from coming to Slovakia.

Daniel Lipšic, general secretary at the Justice Ministry, said that by creating the electronic register the workload of the registry courts would drop and they could work more effectively.

"It took several months to make a change in a company's business licence. It will now only be a question of days. In short, staff at these register courts will now have time to work on other important issues which in the past took a much longer time to get done," Lipšic said.

Lipšic added that in its new form the register gives businesses the opportunity to check on their potential business partners and clients quickly before they decide to sign a contract or any document on co-operation.

"More than ever before, the register being available on the Internet and accessible for almost everybody gives people the opportunity to check who represents companies," Lipšic said.

"But not only that, it also allows people to check on politicians, how clean they are, whether they have their fingers in some businesses and so on," he added.

The corporate sector itself welcomed the Justice Ministry's initiative and agreed with Lipšic, saying that with the register on the Internet, they could dig out information about their would-be clients any time, and could save precious working which would have been spent getting that information from register courts.

"Now, we can find out whether our potential client is trustworthy any time. It saves us time and money because in the past just to get a copy of a business licence, we had to go to court and pay for it. Now, it will be much faster," said Peter Pančík, general director of AGS Bratislava, moving and shipping company.

Despite all the praise, some have said that the register had one very significant flaw - that it can only be used for information purposes. A director with s Bratislava-based company collecting claims for other companies, who asked not to be named, explained that a copy of a company's business register was one of the obligatory documents when a company was sued for non-payment of claims.

"However, a copy of a business licence which I want to bring to the court has to be stamped and confirmed by one of the register courts. It cannot be printed only from the Internet," the firm's manager said.

He added, though: "But the good thing about the register being on the Internet is that when I want to write a proposal for a payment order for my client and send it to court, I can use the information from the electronic register. I don't need an officially stamped and approved copy of a debtor's business licence."

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