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EDITORIAL

Par for the course

CHARTS, rankings and surveys highlighting Slovakia’s ongoing problems with corruption have lost their power to shock. Year after year, when Slovakia achieves an unflattering standing in corruption perception rankings, politicians respond predictably, depending on who is in power: some downplay the significance of the message; some blame the previous administration; or else they simply shoot the messenger, claiming that the watchdog in question is politically motivated in sounding the alarm.

CHARTS, rankings and surveys highlighting Slovakia’s ongoing problems with corruption have lost their power to shock. Year after year, when Slovakia achieves an unflattering standing in corruption perception rankings, politicians respond predictably, depending on who is in power: some downplay the significance of the message; some blame the previous administration; or else they simply shoot the messenger, claiming that the watchdog in question is politically motivated in sounding the alarm.

Yet the situation is alarming because part of the public is no longer shocked by these charts:

instead they regard the unsettling findings as somehow part of the seasonal political discourse.

From time to time a declaration emerges promising change, but all the while the state machine rolls on, leaking cash from every orifice.

The Corruption Perception Index for 2012 released by Transparency International ranks Slovakia 62nd out of 176 assessed countries, and the fifth worst among European Union countries. Within the EU, Slovakia managed to outscore only Romania, Italy, Bulgaria and Greece. But do not expect to see officials of the government of Robert Fico nervously summon special meetings or even a parliamentary session to figure out what immediate action is needed to repair the machinery of state.

Because, at least from the viewpoint of those who are at the wheel, if the state is leaking into the ‘right’ vessels then there is really no need to order any thorough repairs. State firms and institutions continue to be stacked with party nominees at the expense of expertise or integrity, Transparency International Slovensko suggested in its December 5 release.

The ethics watchdog also noted that while high-level political corruption became the dominant issue of this year’s general election campaign, “the newly formed government of Robert Fico has not been meeting the strong anti-corruption expectations of voters, the first eight months of its rule shows”. Indeed the Gorilla file, an unverified document purporting to describe an operation conducted by the country’s SIS intelligence agency between 2005 and 2006 into suspicions of corrupt behaviour by politicians and tycoons, became a synonym for corruption. Sadly, Gorilla may remain just a set of suspicions.

The massive protests prompted by Gorilla disappeared from the streets; petty quarrels split the organisers of the rallies; the extremist groups which occasionally joined the rallies now claim to be ‘decent’ citizens and are marching against their Roma neighbours. Some politicians, nicknamed Gorillas, meaning that they featured in the file or were associated with the parties which featured, were voted out, leaving the field clear for a team whose hearts have never really been in the crusade against corruption.

The cynics would promptly add that given the fact that the first government of Robert Fico gave birth to such monsters as the so-called bulletin board tender for legal and support services worth €120 million, which was announced solely via a notice posted on a bulletin board at the Construction Ministry in an area not normally accessible to the public, there is not much reason to be surprised that the second government of Fico has not metamorphosed into a champion of the fight against corruption.

In September several Slovak NGOs launched a campaign to remind politicians of their pre-election promise to change the rules for party financing, generally believed to contain too many gaps through which murky money can sneak into political parties’ coffers. None of the political parties rushed to acknowledge this. Meanwhile, however, some are busy drafting regulations against nudity in the media or amending laws which had only just been changed by the previous government and whose effectiveness had therefore hardly been tested.

Observers have been stressing over the past two decades that corruption is not just a problem for sensitive souls who are unwilling to accept that the nation should indefinitely pursue its ‘let’s trick the system’ heritage or the complacent canard that ‘everybody is doing it’. They warned that it is a serious economic issue, because there will be foreign businesses that are unwilling to figure out how to trick the Slovak system in order not to be disadvantaged here and which might therefore decide to leave – or tell others not to come.

The once-celebrated flat tax has just been buried, so foreign businesses now have one less reason to come, or stay, if they feel that the rules are unclear – and that they have plenty of alternative locations to choose from.

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