A time of promises

MADAME Transparency is what Iveta Radičová, Slovakia’s next prime minister, might be called if the centre-right quartet of parties which will govern Slovakia for the next four years really keeps its anti-corruption promises.

MADAME Transparency is what Iveta Radičová, Slovakia’s next prime minister, might be called if the centre-right quartet of parties which will govern Slovakia for the next four years really keeps its anti-corruption promises.

The Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), Freedom and Solidarity (SaS), the Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) and Most-Híd have in fact presented a quite impressive assortment of anti-corruption initiatives which they plan to enact during the next four years. Observers were quick to point out that if it remains true to these promises, the emergent Radičová government might represent a European super-standard.

The voices of bitterness of course suggest that for a country which has in the last four years seen deals like the murky sale of state emissions quotas to obscure US firm Interblue Group, and a series of scandalous transfers of valuable state-owned land to governing-party cronies, even a good standard of anti-corruption enforcement would be a victory.

With growing public apathy, seasoned with sayings like “this is how it is in Slovakia”, any political sleaze will risk the further deterioration of public faith as well as the already seriously tarnished credibility of politicians.

The government of Robert Fico opened Pandora’s Box with a memorable sentence back in 2008: “We will not consider it unacceptable if, in the case of two equal projects of the same quality and the same final effect, a minister gives preference to a [village or town] mayor who supports the ruling coalition.”

What can be expected from an army of state servants whose top boss openly said that he believes it is acceptable to use public funds to reward supporters or sympathisers of ruling coalition parties if their proposals conform to the law and the rules? This is how loyalty to a party or a political representation is bought for public money, and it causes much deeper harm than just one or two non-transparent tenders.

Of course, crumbs – or often huge pieces of cake – thrown to those loyal and willing to deposit cash in a party’s piggybank is a double-edged sword. In a moment, power can slip away from the hands of the transient political bread-giver, and the flock of politically-sensitive businesses will move on to graze in different pastures.

In a country where many people still retain an instinct, developed under communism, to trick the system in order to survive and to get what they need by means of ‘gifts’, ‘contributions’, and other euphemisms for bribery, having parties like the Slovak National Party and its revolving government ministers in power effectively resuscitated this instinct.

Only the next couple of months will show when and how the clean-up will begin. The future Radičová government says the practice of electronic tenders will be used widely in order to reduce the possibility of a closer-to-the party-better-deal-for-the-pocket approach. If the coalition keeps its word, the public might soon be able to read contracts, invoices and information on transfers that involve public money online.

Is the possibility of anonymous reporting of corruption cases via the internet too good to be true? If the SDKÚ-KDH-SaS-Most-Híd coalition quartet treats its programme thesis as more than just a series of inspirational essays to entertain the media, then a crusade against corruption might become a reality.

A couple of weeks after seeing Vladimír Mečiar hitting the buffers, Ján Slota barely making it into parliament with a much-depleted army of deputies, and Smer boss Robert Fico left standing alone without any relevant partner to join him in government, the reality that a new government would transpire has now arrived.

If minorities and the media are lucky enough, the coalition will kill the controversial Press Code, dramatically modify the State Language Act, and curb the powers of Supreme Court President Stefan Harabin who is among the more unfortunate legacies of the Fico regime.

But then the unpopular measures will come, in the form of belt-tightening, cuts and reductions. One day, too, the rhetoric explaining the damage caused by the previous government will dry up and the ruling quartet will be left with the everyday toil of politics, when the contracts will actually have to be released and sensitive information will actually have to be given to the public.

Those days will in fact add value to the current political discourse on clean hands and dignified minds in politics. Yet, there will certainly be corrupt politicians; they are everywhere. The question will be how the quartet treats the cronies and the business that they grant to their friends and families. Only then will the public actually see whether Slovakia has the government of Madame Transparency or just a refined variation on the age-old model.

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