Will certain wheels always need to be greased?

THERE is still a whole generation of people in Slovakia who will pass on to their children the ‘folk wisdom’ that certain wheels always need to be greased in one or another way in order to get things moving.

THERE is still a whole generation of people in Slovakia who will pass on to their children the ‘folk wisdom’ that certain wheels always need to be greased in one or another way in order to get things moving.

They will say that parental duties include dialling the right numbers to get their kids into the right schools.

They would never call slipping the right-sized envelope into the right pocket in order to get a state order for their firm corruption, but would instead reach for one of the numerous euphemisms generated over the years by society.

Bribes can take multiple forms, from innocent-looking free tickets, bottles and baskets of eggs, through small favours, waived payments and perks, up to fat envelopes and shameless sweetheart deals.

Twenty-one years after the fall of communism, it is becoming clear that a change in regime or the arrival of a new generation in politics is not enough to weed out this phenomenon from the daily lives of people in Slovakia – or anywhere else for that matter.

One in four households in Slovakia that sought help from the Slovak health service over the past year paid a bribe, according to last year’s Global Corruption Barometer survey published by Transparency International (TI) in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

The health service aside, the Slovak public most frequently came across bribery at land registry offices and in courts, while businesspeople and officials in state and public administration are, according to the survey, considered the most corrupt individuals.

Despite the perceived high level of bribery, only 8 percent of Slovaks have ever made an official complaint.

Yet any government with the ambition to reduce the widespread societal tolerance of petty forms of corruption should first of all apply zero-tolerance to corruption within its own ranks.

It should also encourage wider public control over the flow of taxpayers’ money and shed more light on how spending decisions are made.

When the government of Iveta Radičová took office after Robert Fico and his politically objectionable coalition partners, Ján Slota and Vladimír Mečiar, corruption and cronyism were promptly defined as the new enemies.

True, the Radičová government has been wor–

king on anti-corruption strategies, but the most important messages are transmitted when governments, prosecutors and courts deal with concrete corruption cases. This is why the media are closely watching developments around the most recent corruption case, relating to the construction of a sports stadium in the village of Osrblie, which is supposed to host a European biathlon championship.

The state was expected to contribute €1.6 million to the project, of which €300,000 has already been paid out. The police allege that 10 percent of the latter sum was paid as a bribe and the government has now stopped the rest of the subsidy. Among those charged with bribery are former Slovak ambassador to Kenya Igor Líška, a representative of the firm Kňazík Slovakia and Martin Novotný, who has already been sacked as an economic advisor to the prime minister.

Slovakia does not have a good record when it comes to sending corrupt officials to jail, this despite various surveys – and past experience – demonstrating that the public sector contains more than its fair share of crooks.

For example in one of the most keenly observed cases involving suspected corruption of a public official, the case of a former mayor of Rača, six years after an alleged crime was first reported by a businessman to the police the main defendants in the case were in 2010 cleared on appeal by the senate of the Specialised Criminal Court, with the court concluding that it had not been proved that the act for which the two were originally convicted had actually happened.

Back in 2009, the Banská Bystrica district court ruled that former Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) deputy Gabriel Karlin, who allegedly accepted a €16,600 bribe in 2006, was in fact innocent.

The court also dismissed corruption charges against Milan Mráz, Karlin’s party colleague and former head of the Banská Bystrica Regional Office. The court said the prosecution’s evidence was not convincing.

The head of the board of advisors to the prime minister has already pledged that the Osrblie case will be thoroughly investigated and the main figures punished regardless of their names, influence and position. That good old phrase is definitely apt here: we will see.

Tough action against those who still think that all what they are doing is taking what they are entitled to would be far more effective than a series of prettily packaged anti-corruption policies.

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