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BUT SOME TOWNS COULD STILL IMPROVE, SAYS WATCHDOG

Survey: Towns more transparent

THOUGH Slovak municipalities now publish more documents pertaining to their activities on their websites than two years ago, they still struggle to report on the sale of municipal property and selection procedures for certain jobs. These are some of the results of the Open Municipality 2012 list compiled in mid December 2012 by political ethics watchdog Transparency International Slovensko (TIS).

THOUGH Slovak municipalities now publish more documents pertaining to their activities on their websites than two years ago, they still struggle to report on the sale of municipal property and selection procedures for certain jobs. These are some of the results of the Open Municipality 2012 list compiled in mid December 2012 by political ethics watchdog Transparency International Slovensko (TIS).

TIS found that the most transparent municipality was Šaľa, in Nitra Region, which also topped the list in 2010, when the evaluation of the 100 biggest municipalities was published for the first time.

“Šaľa got 83 out of 100 points, which is an excellent result,” said TIS head Gabriel Šípoš, as quoted by the TASR newswire.

Martin, in Žilina Region, placed second with 77 points, followed by Rožňava, Košice Region, with 74 points. On the other hand, the lowest scorers were Bytča and Vranov nad Topľou, each scoring only 28 points.

Compared to the 2010 evaluation, municipalities improved their average score from 40 to 49 points, with up to four-fifths of the towns surveyed posting an improvement. The biggest advance up the chart was made by Smižany, a village in Prešov Region, which improved its position from 99th to 6th, according to the TIS press release.

The overall improvements were affected by new legislation, especially that requiring publication of contracts and invoices on the internet, as well as changes implemented by the municipalities themselves, particularly regarding the publication of reports from council meetings.

While in 2010 only slightly more than 50 percent of the municipalities published reports of council meetings, in 2012 the number increased to three-quarters. Moreover, in 2012 the number making audio-visual recordings of council meetings as well as the number publishing information about grants tripled compared to 2010, TIS reported.

In addition, the number of towns with a code of ethics increased from 24 to 36.

“The results are hopeful news, since higher transparency decreases the risks of ineffective spending of public money and reduces the space for corruption,” the TIS report stated.

Tomáš Jacko, programme coordinator at TIS, told The Slovak Spectator that another factor which affected the improvement of the municipalities’ positions was the evaluation from 2010 and the recommendations from TIS which the towns followed. The towns did not just want to improve their positions compared to the 2010 list, but also compared to other towns, Jacko added.

On the other hand, areas in which municipalities scored the least points were in the sale and lease of municipal property and in the hiring of new employees. Eighty-one out of the 100 municipalities surveyed do not publish the results of municipal property’ sales on their websites, while only one third of municipalities have regular selection procedures for clerical positions, with only four publishing information about the final order of the applicants, TIS found.

Evaluation might serve to motivate

The Open Municipality list was designed in order to show and compare levels of transparency, the content and amount of information provided, the quality of anti-corruption mechanisms and municipalities’ openness when informing citizens about their activities. TIS also wanted the evaluation to serve as a motivation as well as an evaluation of the work of municipalities and their representatives, and their effort to behave frankly and provide citizens with high-quality information, Jacko told The Slovak Spectator.

“This is [also] a way to support development in local administration, including the inflow of investment and improvement of inhabitants’ quality of life,” Jacko added.

TIS evaluated 11 areas altogether, including provision of information about the work of employees and local deputies, opportunity for public participation in discussions, openness of public procurement, personnel policy, loans of properties, and provision of grants and subsidies. Its assessment was based on 111 factors, such as the number of Public Procurement Office (ÚVO) decisions against each town prompted by mistakes in tenders, the form in which contracts and invoices are published on municipal websites, the existence of a code of ethics for employees, and whether towns reveal information about the amount the mayor spent on his or her election campaign.

“The evaluation took us roughly three months, and [was] really complex,” Šípoš said, as quoted by TASR.

Nearly one half of the final score was composed of an evaluation of the quality of information on municipal websites, another 40 percent was based on responses to requests filed under the law on free access to information, and the rest were public data, for example about public procurement processes provided by ÚVO, TIS explained.

Jacko said that several municipalities whose score worsened compared to 2010 simply ignored TIS’ request to provide information. This was the case for Bytča and Vranov nad Topľou, which received the lowest results.

After publication of the Open Municipality 2012 list, a representative of Vranov nad Topľou said that the town had completed a questionnaire, but later claimed that it had been sent to the wrong e-mail address.

“Since the incorrect e-mail address in fact exists, we did not receive a non-delivery message,” said Vranov nad Topľou spokesperson Eva Mitaľová, as quoted by TASR.

Jacko said that there had been several complaints of this kind, but stressed that the municipalities carry responsibility for delivering the information requested. On the other hand, he admitted that TIS can make mistakes when processing data. If such a case were to occur, the organisation would have no problem updating the list, he added.

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