IMPROPER financing of political parties, unrevealed lobbying, a lack of ethical standards for members of parliament, inadequate public access to information, rigged public procurements and limited protection for whistleblowers, the citizens who report corrupt practices, are some of the main reasons why several European countries have not been able to overcome corruption in the public and business spheres, according to a report prepared by Transparency International titled Money, Politics and Power: Corruption Risks in Europe.
The report states that corruption remains a significant problem in most of the countries it assessed and Slovakia was certainly no exception, receiving a positive evaluation in only one area.
“Across Europe, many of the institutions that define a democracy and enable a country to stop corruption are weaker than is often assumed,” said Cobus de Swardt, managing director of Transparency International (TI), as quoted by the anti-corruption group’s press release, adding that the report “raises troubling issues at a time when transparent leadership is needed as Europe tries to resolve its economic crisis”.
The report assessed anti-corruption efforts in 25 European countries, including Slovakia. It highlighted important trends across the continent and proposed measures that should be enacted to remove deficiencies in national anti-corruption efforts. The findings are based on a National Integrity System measurement approach that was prepared for each evaluated country, with TI stating that this provides “a framework to analyse the robustness and effectiveness of a country’s institutions in preventing and fighting corruption”.
The document states that three-quarters of Europeans view corruption as a growing problem in their country. TI warns that several negative trends are occurring in Europe that lead to corrupt practices, including too-close relations between business and government, a failure to appropriately regulate lobbying, and the lack of an outright ban on undisclosed donations to political parties.
Slovakia, according to the report, is among the countries which after becoming part of the European Union in 2004, have been “rolling back on progress made in the fight against corruption”. The report states that Slovak authorities have failed to “effectively regulate political [party] financing and continued widespread political corruption” and this has resulted in falling trust by the Slovak public in its political institutions and parliament.
TI used the Gorilla protests held in early 2012 as an example of public dissatisfaction and disgust with corrupt practices in the country. The protesters were rallying against high-level political corruption described in the so-called Gorilla file, a document published on the internet based on unverified transcripts of conversations secretly recorded by the Slovak Information Service (SIS), involving meetings between politicians and a representative of the Penta financial group in 2005-6.
Several measures were suggested by TI as ways for Slovakia to fight corrupt practices: setting rules and limits for financing of political parties; enacting a law on lobbying which would more clearly define the term and establish rules for lobbyists; adopting a code of conduct for members of parliament that would provide specific guidance to MPs on how to deal with potential conflicts of interest or ethical dilemmas; reviewing the current law on public procurement and removing loopholes; and passing legislation to protect whistleblowers.
The only area in which Slovakia won modest praise was in public access to information which in the national assessment was evaluated as “comprehensive”, permitting any person or organisation to receive information that is in the hands of a state agency, municipality or private organisation that makes decisions related to public matters. TI also noted the amendment passed by the Slovak parliament in 2010 requiring that public institutions publish their contracts, invoices and other financial transactions on the internet before they can become valid.
Audit and oversight bodies
Corruption in public procurement was one of the most evident problems in the countries reviewed by TI, with the press release noting that “too many governments are not accountable enough for public finances and public contracts, the latter worth €1.8 trillion in the EU each year”.
“Even worse, only two countries [Norway and the UK] really adequately protect whistleblowers from retaliation should they decide to speak out against suspected crime or other unethical conduct,” TI stated in its press release.
The report noted that political parties, public administrations and the private sector are among the weakest forces in promoting integrity across Europe, while adding that similar problems extend to national parliaments which are viewed as “generally falling short in putting forth and enforcing safeguards against corruption safeguards”.
In measuring the work of national-level auditing and oversight institutions, Slovakia received 67 points, while Norway and Slovenia shared first place with 97 points. Though the institutions in Slovakia are considered to be in a “strong position”, TI noted that the effectiveness of Slovakia’s supervisory institutions have been “hampered by perceived and actual politicisation of the agencies”. TI advised that these agencies must be “fully independent and well-resourced” if they are to function properly.
The results of Slovakia’s National Integrity System were presented in February 2012, with Transparency International Slovensko (TIS) stating that the weakest public sector institutions in the country were the police, the courts and the President’s Office, while the Public Procurement Office was the weakest specialised institution even though its responsibility is to supervise the procurement process and check complaints about public tenders, according to the TIS website.
TIS reported that the strongest institutions in combating corruption in Slovakia are the media and civil society organisations which “play an important role in performing the monitoring activities”.
One of the goals in the Slovak government’s programme statement approved by parliament is to “increase law enforceability and systematically liquidate corruption at all levels of society”.
The government plans to reassess the current rules under which political parties are financed as well as find ways to further bring public administration online, which the government believes is a way to “reduce the weight of subjective factors in contacts between citizens and public authorities,” Natália Hattalová from the press department of the Interior Ministry told The Slovak Spectator.
She added that the ministry also plans to prepare an amendment to the law on public procurement and establish anti-corruption telephone hotlines to spur reports of possibly corrupt behaviour. People will be able to call a specific telephone number and report any kind of suspected corrupt activities encountered at public offices, Hattalová said.
When asked which measures the ministry will prepare in response to the recommendations in the TI report, Hattalová responded that the ministry has not had time to comprehensively review the report.
Emília Sičáková-Beblavá from TIS told The Slovak Spectator that Slovakia needs to depoliticise and professionalise its public sector, including state administrative offices, the police corps, prosecutors’ offices and courts, as well as institutions in health care and education.
“It is a big and long-term challenge but we have not yet seen any concrete steps by the current government that would lead to this,” she stated, adding that this “concerns reforms of many processes and requires time as well as public resources”.