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DESPITE LEGISLATIVE EFFORTS TO INTRODUCE TRANSPARENCY MEASURES, PEOPLE SEE NO CHANGE

Corruption keeps drinking society's blood

THE PEOPLE feel that corruption in Slovakia has not been slashed during the last three years, as recent allegations of corruption in top politics cause major concern among the public.
New figures on the public perception of corruption show that the introduction of several laws to cut down bribery and cronyism in this postcommunist state has made no difference in real life.
Cabinet efforts to fight corruption through introducing new legislation and amending existing laws are missing their target; the positive results of approved laws are yet to come.

THE PEOPLE feel that corruption in Slovakia has not been slashed during the last three years, as recent allegations of corruption in top politics cause major concern among the public.

New figures on the public perception of corruption show that the introduction of several laws to cut down bribery and cronyism in this postcommunist state has made no difference in real life.

Cabinet efforts to fight corruption through introducing new legislation and amending existing laws are missing their target; the positive results of approved laws are yet to come.

Current allegations of corrupt behaviour and clientelism in top state posts, including accusations against Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda, are meanwhile discrediting reform efforts aimed at rooting out corruption, thus leaving people unconvinced that their official representatives in cabinet and parliament really mean their anti-corruption rhetoric.

In an annual update, transparency watchdog Transparency International Slovakia (TIS), released figures for 2003 on the so-called corruption perception index (CPI), which indicates how much corruption is seen as a problem in selected countries.

A total of 133 countries were listed this year. On a 0 - 10 scale, with 10 suggesting a corruption free society, Slovakia ranked 59th, along with countries such as Columbia and Peru, with a 3.7 index, which it has scored for the third year in a row.

At the same time, Slovakia ranked second to last before Poland of the region's transforming postcommunist democracies known as V4 countries, which also include the Czech Republic, and Hungary.

Daniela Zemanovičová, program director with TIS, said that the fact that Slovakia's index has not changed for three years in a row does not necessarily mean that the state's legislators were ignoring the problem of corruption.

"The respondents in the survey are analysts, businessmen, and regular citizens and the reason why the figure hasn't changed may be that measures that were adopted to fight corruption still haven't brought results in real life," she said.

While approved laws may inevitably require some time to bring results, the public is often confused about politicians' dedication to address corruption.

Pavel Nechala, an analyst with TIS, said that politicians often talk about the need for anti-corruption laws, but once drafts come to parliament, MPs do not support them.

"It often happens that a law is introduced with fanfare [to parliament], and it passes the first reading. [In a formal process, drafts are voted on three times to give MPs a chance to fix the original draft]. Then suddenly, a group of MPs emerges and they say that they have factual objections towards the legislation, although they never said a word during previous parliamentary discussion. As a result, the law is not passed," Nechala said.

According to Ján Hrubala, head of the cabinet's anticorruption unit, corruption is not easy to get rid of, and a series of steps are needed to cut down the problem.

"There is no single cure for corruption. Fighting it requires a series of steps," Hrubala said.

Determined to behave transparently and push forward honest practices, dozens of local businessmen recently signed a so-called anti-corruption charter, in a move initiated by Transparency International. The document binds its members to behave transparently in their business activities.

PM Mikuláš Dzurinda, who participated in the signing of the document, said that he was "not so completely naive as to think that there can be a world 100 percent free of corruption".

"But the quality of this phenomenon can either be very unpleasant or it can be so that it does not endanger society. I would be very glad if the latter was the case for Slovakia," Dzurinda said.

Ironically, Dzurinda himself is now facing allegations of cronyism. Recently, the sacked head of the National Security Office (NBÚ), Ján Mojžiš, said that in 2001, Dzurinda tried to persuade him to change the NBÚ's decision to deny security clearance to the firm KISS. As a result of the decision, the firm lost an Sk800 million (€1.9 million) tender that was part of the state information system Govnet project.

Dzurinda has denied these claims. If such allegations remain unsolved, TIS officials said, it harms the country's morale and reassures common people that politicians do not genuinely try to address the issue of corruption.

"For a common citizen, solving corruption cases and allegations relating to top positions would be a signal that there is a genuine will to address the issue," said Zemanovičová.

Among problematic issues concerning the legislators and top officials, issues such as changing the law on the financing of political parties, the law on conflict of interest, and a law reducing the immunity of MPs have remained on the agenda for years, despite promises to address them.

"Scandals, as we are seeing them now, however, can also have a positive impact because they can create public pressure for systematic changes. So far, however, almost nothing is happening [to fix the laws] in big politics," Zemanovičová said.

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