A complex survey on attitudes towards corruption around the world, published by the Transparency International watchdog group on June 27, suggested that Slovakia had made only slight improvement in dealing with corruption over the past year.
The findings were released in the form of a Corruption Perception Index for 2001, in which countries around the world were ranked on a scale of 0 to 10, according to how corrupt business people, analysts and the general public thought their state sectors were. The data were assembled from surveys done by what Transparency International claimed were seven "renowned, international and independent" polling agencies.
Slovakia's corruption perception rating - with 10 being the lowest level of perceived corruption, and 0 being the worst - improved from 3.5 last year to 3.7, putting the country 51 out of 91 world nations in the survey. Slovakia was last year ranked 52nd.
In terms of perception of corruption, Slovakia still lags behind neighbouring countries from the Visegrad group, including Hungary (with a 5.3 index), Poland (4.1) and the Czech Republic (3.9).
Transparency International representatives, as well as economic analysts, criticised the Slovak government for being slow to approve programmes and laws designed to reduce corruption.
Bringing down corruption in Slovakia is seen as vital by institutions like the World Bank to attracting more foreign investment and helping consolidate the corporate sector.
"Levels of corruption in the country are important for every investor. Corruption causes delays in investments. And these delays have to be compensated. The higher the corruption level is, the higher an investor's profits have to be [to compensate for these delays]. Sometimes, an investor turns away from Slovakia because with such high levels of corruption he cannot reach projected profits," reasoned Ján Tóth, an analyst with ING Bank.
Transparency International Slovakia President Emília Sičáková said after the release of the figures that the situation for businesses with regards to corruption hadn't changed over the last year, even though the government in November 2000 had launched its National Fight Against Corruption programme, promising more transparency in business in Slovakia.
"Implementing laws to reduce corruption is taking a very long time, and about 50% of the tasks included in the government's corruption programme haven't yet been carried out," Sičáková said.
"Many documents reducing corruption have [yet] to be approved to make the Slovak business environment more transparent," she added.
The government has already approved several laws designed to help fight corruption in the courts - perceived as one of the most corrupt institutions - including a key revision to the bankruptcy law. Until the amendment to the law, which came into force earlier this year, it was believed that by bribing judges, many failing companies had managed to draw out bankruptcy proceedings, making it impossible for creditors to get back investments by selling off company assets.
Under the new law, the bankruptcy process is much faster, and creditors can more easily seize company assets.
But other important documents remaining to be approved, according to Sičáková, include reducing the numbers of licences, permissions and certificates which investors need before they can start operations. It is believed that the length of time involved in obtaining certificates often results in businessmen bribing officials to speed up their issue.
"We are preparing a list of all necessary licences for businesses in Slovakia, cutting them to those that are necessary, helping to reduce corruption. But the process has taken nine months. It's not possible to have everything overnight," said Vladimír Tvarožka, advisor to Deputy Prime Minister for Economy Ivan Mikloš.
6. Jul 2001 at 0:00 | Peter Barecz