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CABINET ADMITS GRAFT IS WIDESPREAD AND THAT MORE SYSTEMIC MEASURES ARE REQUIRED

More action needed on corruption

“CORRUPTION is an octopus, a spider’s web that tangles up not just Slovakia,” Prime Minister Iveta Radičová admitted in August. Her statement marked a year since her cabinet, which pledged to deal with corruption at all levels of society and to introduce measures to promote more transparency and fairer practices, took office. Since then, her government has faced several accusations of corrupt practices and cronyism, such as the case of the tax office building in Košice, and minor corruption has proved to be deeply rooted in the health-care system and in various public offices.

“CORRUPTION is an octopus, a spider’s web that tangles up not just Slovakia,” Prime Minister Iveta Radičová admitted in August. Her statement marked a year since her cabinet, which pledged to deal with corruption at all levels of society and to introduce measures to promote more transparency and fairer practices, took office. Since then, her government has faced several accusations of corrupt practices and cronyism, such as the case of the tax office building in Košice, and minor corruption has proved to be deeply rooted in the health-care system and in various public offices.

The cabinet addressed what it said is one of its priorities, the fight against corruption, at its first session after the summer break on August 10, when it agreed a strategic plan to tackle the problem.

“It would be naïve to rely solely on individual change when [corruption] has slowly become a systemic element in this country,” Radičová said, explaining why more systemic measures need to be put in place.

Minor corruption spreads

The cabinet referred to the results of the Global Corruption Barometer survey published by Transparency International (TI) in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). It revealed that one in four households in Slovakia that sought help from the Slovak health service over the past year paid a bribe, making it the area where so-called minor corruption occurs most frequently. The results also revealed that the Slovak public experienced bribery frequently at land registry offices (15.8 percent) and courts (14.8 percent).

The local poll was carried out by Transparency International Slovakia (TIS) in partnership with the UNDP regional centre in Bratislava and the British Embassy in Slovakia. The results were released to mark International Anti-corruption Day at a conference held under the auspices of Justice Minister Lucia Žitňanská in December 2010.

The strategy

The anti-corruption strategy states that corruption is a widespread form of criminality in Slovakia, as it occurs in the public and private spheres alike, and often becomes a means to commit other criminal activities. It is usually connected with abuse of power, the document states, as reported by the SITA newswire.

The first step to eliminate corruption, as set out in the strategic plan, is the elaboration of an analysis to identify entities with a risk of corrupt behaviour. That is scheduled to be ready by November 2011. Following that, until February 2012, concrete legislative measures to eliminate potential shortcomings are to be drafted. Criteria and procedures for awarding licences, concessions, permits, loans, subsidies and contributions are to be defined with the aim of ensuring their objectivity by December 2012, and an enforceable ethical code is to be put into practice by March 2013, SITA reported, citing the document.

EU funds linked to corruption

Apart from what the prime minister called ‘minor corruption’, the material also looks at corruption at the highest levels of the state administration, highlighting in particular corruption related to the drawing of EU funds through project schemes.

A prime example of such corruption was the infamous bulletin-board tender, a public procurement procedure at the former Construction Ministry under the previous government, when it was managed by ministers nominated by the Slovak National Party (SNS) who are now accused of having manipulated the tender, worth €120 million.

The cabinet’s strategic document defines the primary negative impacts of corruption related to distributing resources from EU funds as being: an undesired increase in the prices of the services and products which are the subject of the procurement; discrimination against companies and providers who do not succeed in tenders despite being more honest; and the harm that EU-funds-related corruption cases do to the good name of Slovakia abroad, which might discourage potential foreign investors from coming to Slovakia.

“The priority should thus be an effort to improve the mechanism for distributing EU funds, and its de-politicisation by drawing a line between political and professional posts,” the document states, as reported by SITA.

Corruption in courts

The cabinet also highlighted the justice system as having a unique position in the campaign against corruption. It said this is partly because the culprits in this area are experts on criminal law and cases typically involve a very limited number of people, usually only two (lawyer plus judge or prosecutor) or at most three (suspect plus lawyer plus judge or prosecutor). The cabinet proposes to develop measures to increase the competencies of bodies active in criminal prosecution, improve the quality of technical equipment, and provide more consistent and thorough protection of whistleblowers. The Interior Ministry was assigned to draft the related amendments.

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