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POLICE ARE IMPROVING THEIR IMAGE, BUT POLITICIANS ARE STILL NOT TRUSTED

Cabinet looks weak on corruption

THE REPUTATION of Mikuláš Dzurinda's government for handling corruption has been corroding in the eyes of the public over the past five years, according to a recent survey by the Focus polling agency for the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International Slovakia.
While in 1999 only 10 percent of those polled thought that corruption was a serious problem, four years later that number jumped to 18 percent. Compared to a poll from 2003, however, when 24 percent said corruption was a major dilemma, the number has since dropped, according to the daily SME.

THE REPUTATION of Mikuláš Dzurinda's government for handling corruption has been corroding in the eyes of the public over the past five years, according to a recent survey by the Focus polling agency for the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International Slovakia.

While in 1999 only 10 percent of those polled thought that corruption was a serious problem, four years later that number jumped to 18 percent. Compared to a poll from 2003, however, when 24 percent said corruption was a major dilemma, the number has since dropped, according to the daily SME.

In 1999, 49 percent of those polled felt that the government was not interested in solving the problems of corruption and bribery. Today, 60 percent feel that way.

The poll results, although pessimistic, do show improvement in the public's perception of police corruption. While in 1999, half of those polled felt the police were corrupt, today 43 percent believe that corruption occurs within the police.

According to a mid-June poll by the Slovak Radio's Media Research Department, citizens' trust in the police has revived, with 40.6 percent putting their faith in them this May, up 18 percentage points from a year ago.

"The police, over the first five months [of 2004], have solved 73 cases of corruption while the number for the past year is 95. The steps that the Interior Minister have taken to improve the work of the police and fight corruption appear to be paying off," Boris Ažaltovič, Interior Ministry spokesman, told The Slovak Spectator.

According to Ažaltovič, the police are taking uncompromising action against those who violate laws and regulations.

"We have been trying to clean the police of its black sheep. The interior minister has fired 299 policemen, of whom 42 had to leave because of corrupt conduct," he added.

The citizens' trust in the Slovak government, however, has been dropping overall. The mid-June poll by the Slovak Radio's Media Research Department claims that three out of four citizens distrust the Slovak cabinet (77.7 percent) and parliament (76.6 percent).

Emília Sičáková Beblavá, the president of Transparency International, says that the problem of corruption concerns the whole public sector. However, Slovak society tends to attribute all public sector failings to the government.

"The adoption and application of anti-corruption measures is controlled not only by the government, but also by the parliament, mayors, and the deputies in the municipalities," she told the daily SME.

Her organisation had been calling for a strict and objective constitutional conflict of interest law.

Finally, on May 26, the legislators gave the country a law that came as a compromise between the previous conflict of interest law, which has not penalised a single public official since 1995 when it took effect, and a norm proposed by Justice Minister Daniel Lipšic, whose drafts were rejected by MPs in the past.

Observers said that the long-lasting reluctance of public officials to adopt stricter rules to their operation in public posts and handling public property has harmed their credibility.

According to Ján Hrubala, head of the Cabinet Office department that fights corruption, politicians give a negative impression when they do not toughen those laws that concern them directly.

The new conflict of interest law stipulates that public officials, their spouses, and their children must publish their property declarations on request.

The law also introduces post-employment limitations for public officials who leave the state service, preventing them from taking well-paid jobs in organisations or companies for whom they had approved state assistance.

If officials are found breaking the law, they can be fined for up to 12 times their wages or lose their jobs.

In the case of MPs, proceedings will begin provided that a three-fifths majority - 90 legislators - supports the move. In Justice Minister Lipšic's proposal, a simple majority of 76 MPs was required.


Martina Jurinová contributed to this report

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