"Slovakia is not the only country in the world with corruption nor is it the worst."
Ambassador Ric Todd
Ambassador Ric Todd.
photo: Courtesy British Embassy
The Oxford graduate, who has been with the British Foreign Office since he was 21, says his experiences with the Czech language in pre-revolution Czechoslovakia had given him a head start.
In his first ambassadorial posting, the 42-year-old father of three appears confident and relaxed. From 1980 to 1981 he worked at the Defence Department. Between 1981 to 1984 he was third, and later, second secretary at the British embassy in South Africa.
From 1987 to 1989 he was first secretary and consul in Prague. For the period from 1991 to 1995, he served at the British embassy in Bonn as first secretary for economic affairs. In the years from 1995 to 1997 he worked at the British treasury as the head of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) branch. For the last three years he has been head of the EU co-ordination and strategy team at the treasury.
Last week The Slovak Spectator spoke to the ambassador about Nato, corruption, investment and visas.
The Slovak Spectator: How do you think Slovakia's European Union and Nato ambitions are progressing?
Ric Todd: They've made enormous progress over the past three years in terms of the European Union and Nato. The work which Slovakia has done with its armed forces and the plans they've made are demanding. They will reduce the size of their armed forces, meaning officers will be laid off and they will need to find special equipment. The Nato programme is very demanding as well, but Slovakia is going about it just the right way. They'll also have to reduce the number of bases they have, and every one of those bases matters to the local economy, so that won't be easy either.
TSS: Would a return of former Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar following next year's general election influence Britain's working relationship with Slovakia?
RT: Britain has working relationships with many governments all over the world and it is not the case that a change of government in a democratic country would alter that relationship completely. However, a number of people have said that the election of a government led by Mečiar or containing Mečiar's party would give many people cause for concern about what Mečiar would do in office. We do judge people on their words, and we take their actions very seriously.
TSS: Is Britain's visa requirement for Slovaks likely to change?
RT: We are very sorry that there has to be a visa requirement for Great Britain. But the reason behind this is our asylum system, which is currently undergoing a review.
This asylum system is actually a very generous one, and we have a proud tradition of giving asylum to people who are fleeing political persecution. However, this system can be abused and has been abused. We know the system is unpopular but we in the embassy do everything we can to make it as easy and as pleasant as possible - 98% of Slovaks who apply for a visa get it on the same day.
TSS: How do British investors view Slovakia?
RT: While there have been some notable examples of British investment in Slovakia, such as Tesco, in general British investors have not taken an enormous interest in Slovakia. Part of this is because the government before 1998 was discouraging of foreign investment. However, in the last few years the reform and privatisation of banks and utilities has had an affect.
Slovakia is a relatively small but still a very interesting market. There are a lot of things happening and I do want to encourage firms to come here and invest and trade.
TSS: Slovakia is often perceived as a place were corruption is rife. How does the British embassy address this?
RT: Slovakia is not the only country in the world with corruption nor is it the worst. The most important thing is the government's attitude and that they demonstrate that they are against corruption and address the problem. There is no reason to think that Slovaks are inherently more corrupt than say the Germans or the Danes, but in order to strengthen what you might call the healthy and decent forces in society there needs to be a range of laws and these need to be seen to be implemented.
The Slovak government understands the situation it faces and realises that the effectiveness of public administration and the trustworthiness of the courts are all very important.
10. Dec 2001 at 0:00 | Deirdre Tynan