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EDITORIAL

Decades of 'little reminders'

SLOVAKS have been incredibly creative in softening the edges of the word ‘corruption’ and have developed a colourful tapestry of expressions to use instead of the word ‘bribe’. Most Slovaks who have, at one time or another, paid a bribe would say they only gave a ‘malá pozornosť’ which might translate to something like a ‘little reminder’ or a ‘small consideration’. The ‘reminder’ of course might be as ‘little’ as €10,000, discreetly slipped into the right pocket. Some still recite the communist-era proverb that if you do not steal from the state you are stealing from your family, and continue greasing the palms of those who control the flow of public funds.

SLOVAKS have been incredibly creative in softening the edges of the word ‘corruption’ and have developed a colourful tapestry of expressions to use instead of the word ‘bribe’. Most Slovaks who have, at one time or another, paid a bribe would say they only gave a ‘malá pozornosť’ which might translate to something like a ‘little reminder’ or a ‘small consideration’. The ‘reminder’ of course might be as ‘little’ as €10,000, discreetly slipped into the right pocket. Some still recite the communist-era proverb that if you do not steal from the state you are stealing from your family, and continue greasing the palms of those who control the flow of public funds.

Moreover, the information that society is corrupt has completely lost its power to shock. One rarely hears a person or a company saying ‘I rejected a state order because it seemed to me that it was set up to waste public money’. On the contrary, many projects exist solely to siphon public funds and are non-functional by design.

As many as 84 percent of respondents from Slovakia in a recent survey conducted by global accountancy firm Ernst & Young said that corruption and bribery are widespread in their country, which is more than the average of 57 percent in all the 36 surveyed countries of Europe, the Middle East, India and Africa, or even the average of 67 percent within so-called fast-growing economies, according to an Ernst & Young press release. Among European countries, a higher degree of perceived corruption was recorded only in Slovenia, Croatia, Ukraine and Greece. In the actual survey, 41 percent of those surveyed admitted corruption in their area of work. According to the survey, four out of five respondents said that there is no easy way to report fraudulent practices in their place of work.

The more than two decades since the fall of communism has clearly shown that corruption will not simply disappear through a generational change. Senior politicians, by failing to demand zero-tolerance when it comes to corruption and attempting to justify even the most blatant misuse of state funds, send out the message that everyone is trying to milk the state-cow by whatever means are available.

Until corruption in society is bravely discussed and until those who witness it are asked to provide concrete names and until the police are required to investigate such suspicions in a much braver way, people will continue to believe that it is more beneficial for them to slip €100 or €200 into the right pocket and get what they need instead of being dragged through interrogations only to see, at the end of the process, a corrupt official being released due to lack of evidence.

Then there is activity which is as harmful as corruption, but does not happen to contravene existing laws and rules and in the process makes a mockery of ethical standards in the handling of state money.

Uneconomic handling of state funds is a bottomless well ranging from interminable contracts signed for 100 years, dubious rentals, to sweetheart deals to promote, for example, companies which enjoy monopolies and require no promotion – all at taxpayers’ expense.

A recent example of potential misuse of public money, at least according to opposition parties, is a project known by a rather grand name – the National System of Qualifications – and carrying a ‘mere’ €25-million price tag. Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) MP Miroslav Beblavý has called on the Education Ministry to reassess the project, which is designed to prepare a catalogue of skills and knowledge that would define the qualifications of workers for specific jobs, and instead take advantage of an offer from the Czech Republic, which is willing to give its own such catalogue to Slovakia free of charge. Slovakia’s neighbour has spent around €1.2 million creating it,
according to the SITA newswire. The ministry argues that Slovakia needs its own system and that the procurement process will push down the price.

There are many small holes in the tank of state funds, through which money dribbles uselessly away. But some people do not need these small holes, because they can turn on special taps from which funds “legally” flow to water the right gardens. Of course, the harvests from these particular gardens will never benefit the public.

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