CORRUPTION remains a serious problem in Slovakia, and according to the latest survey carried out by Ernst & Young, the country is perceived as one of the most corrupt in the European Union. Although there are several non-governmental organisations that work to combat corruption and disseminate information on corrupt practices, they often lack the funds to support their activities.
This was one of the reasons why eight companies associated with the Business Leaders Forum initiated the establishment of the Fund for a Transparent Slovakia in September 2012. Its aim is to support NGOs in their efforts to curb corruption, cronyism, the wasting of public money and abuse of power in Slovakia. The fund does not focus on supporting new, “artificial” projects, but on strengthening the ongoing and planned activities of NGOs, reads the website of the Pontis Foundation, under which the fund runs. Its operation is currently planned for three years.
The fund supports watchdogs and think tanks with the goal of furthering principles of ethics, transparency and democracy, as well as a healthy business environment in Slovakia, Petra Nagyová, PR manager of the Pontis Foundation, explained.
“The fact that these NGOs [have] devoted [themselves] to revealing corruption for a long time and laid emphasis on systematic measures which support ethical and economic management of public affairs, [means] they are an important part of strengthening democracy and a healthy environment for economic development,” Nagyová told The Slovak Spectator.
The Fund for a Transparent Slovakia has already supported the first four NGOs within its first grant programme, which took place in November 2012: Via Iuris, Transparency International Slovensko (TIS), Fair-Play Alliance and the Health Policy Institute (HPI). They received altogether €50,350, the Pontis Foundation reported on its website.
The representatives of these four NGOs praise the existence of such a fund, saying that companies themselves see corruption as a problem. They also appreciate that the money is not linked to one specific project, but with various activities, as well as the institutional development of the organisations.
“Thanks to this we can more quickly respond to situations and cases which have occurred in society unexpectedly, which we could not expect when writing projects,” František Pauliny from Fair-Play Alliance told The Slovak Spectator.
Combating corruption is part of the official agenda of the Interior Ministry. When asked how the ministry views the existence of such a fund in Slovakia, Adrián Jenčo, head of the section of the public administration at the Interior Ministry, told The Slovak Spectator that the ministry supports activities which lead to an increase in transparency in every area of life, in both the public and private spheres. The ministry’s current ambition is “to optimise the performance of the state administration with the emphasis on the effectiveness of managing public funds” through the ESO (Effective, Reliable and Open State Administration) reform, Jenčo added.
Thanks to a €20,000 grant from the Fund for a Transparent Slovakia, Via Iuris was able to provide legal aid to inhabitants of Pezinok, who have been fighting a local landfill which they claim was established illegally. They were recently successful when the Supreme Court issued a ruling that says the site’s owner no longer has a valid permit to use it as a landfill. The organisation has also been helping people in Slatinka fight against a planned dam, and inhabitants of Podpoľanie who have been protesting a gold mining operation, Milan Šagát from Via Iuris, who is responsible for fundraising and projects, told The Slovak Spectator.
Moreover, Via Iuris used the money to continue monitoring the legislative environment, and to support the reform of the Slovak judiciary. The grant also helps them to facilitate discussion about the issue of judicial ethics, the selection process for new judges, the quality of judicial rulings and electronisation of the judiciary, Šagát added.
TIS plans to use the €13,000 grant to professionalise its fundraising. Though Slovak companies and citizens benefit from TIS’ work the most, and are often critical of corruption in Slovakia in various surveys, there is not much will to fund the organisations that actively fight corruption, Gabriel Šípoš, head of TIS, told The Slovak Spectator. At the moment the organisation is using the money to prepare its own strategy as well as for online campaigns and promotional materials, with the aim of addressing potential partners for funding its activities.
“Only one third of our annual budget of €200,000 comes from local sources,” Šípoš said. “Our aim is to increase this share by at least one half, while not decreasing our budget.”
Fair-Play Alliance received €10,350, thanks to which it was able to expose a disadvantageous agreement with Microsoft, and other dubious contracts between companies and the state. Moreover, the alliance discovered several agreements in the central register which had been manipulated, and were also able to organise a competition called “Save Money for the State”, to which people submitted tips for the most disadvantageous public contracts, Pauliny said.
In addition to this, Fair-Play Alliance organised the Christmas Evening for Zuzanas, to which it invited filmmaker Zuzana Piussi, journalist Zuzana Petková, White Crow award laureate Zuzana Melicherčíková and lawyer Zuzana Lauková – all of whom did the right thing when protecting the public interest, but had to face “the fury of judicial bodies”, according to Pauliny.
Other activities included opening a discussion about the Jozef Čentéš case, establishing several web projects (like Datanest.sk and Otvorenezmluvy.sk), organising a seminar on data journalism and publishing regular online commentaries from the sessions of the Judicial Council, Pauliny told The Slovak Spectator.
The HPI, which received €7,000, used the money to launch an Analysis of Waiting Lists and Corruption in the Slovak Health Sector. The organisation presents a survey of people’s experiences with corruption in the health-care sector on its Bezuplatku.sk website. The aim is “to specify all informal payments in the health sector within the doctor-patient relationship”, Roman Mužik, an analyst with the HPI, told The Slovak Spectator. In the survey, the HPI focuses on the specific reasons that lead patients to make informal payments.
The HPI also analyses the number of patients on waiting lists for surgery, and the length of time they had to wait, depending on the health insurer and health-care provider. When collecting the data, the HPI observed a low level of transparency in this area, as well as a general unwillingness to publish data necessary for public control, Mužik said.
He added that the HPI plans to publish the results of the project this autumn.
Second grant round in autumn
According to the statute of the Fund for a Transparent Slovakia, every application filed by an NGO applying for a grant is considered by a committee composed of independent experts. The applications within the first round, submitted by 11 NGOs, were reviewed by a committee composed of Martin Slosiarik from the Focus polling agency, journalist Zuzana Petková, economic reporter Gabriel Beer and director of the Pontis Foundation Lenka Surotchak.
In addition to the quality of the submitted projects, the committee members also focus on the long-term impact of the NGO’s activities, Nagyová said.
Via Iuris, for example, is known for its activities aimed at helping citizens to defend their rights, and for dealing with ethics issues in the judiciary.
TIS has been fighting corruption for several years, focusing on the use of public finances, and publishing of information by the state and state institutions.
Fair-Play Alliance is active in independent civil control of power in Slovakia and publicises cases in which public funds are wasted and people’s rights are violated.
The HPI focuses on health care, particularly long waiting lists for surgery and possible corruption within the health-care sector, Nagyová explained.
The Pontis Foundation plans to launch the second round of grants in autumn 2013.
Organisations will be able to apply for the subsidy in three areas: institutional development, financial sustainability and programme development, the Pontis Foundation wrote on its website.
Plans for the future
The Fund for a Transparent Slovakia is currently planning to offer the grants for three years. Yet, Nagyová said that the foundation wants to continue supporting NGOs and their projects.
At a meeting held on May 21 in Design Factory, representatives of the supported organisations and companies met to discuss the current environment and to present the projects supported by the fund. The companies agreed that if fairness and justice become social norms, the organisations should receive more support. Moreover, the firms agreed that there is a will to improve the situation not only among NGOs and companies, but also among state representatives, Nagyová added.
“To [make] everybody perceives the real pressure and interest in decreasing corruption, the criticism of the European Commission or international institutions is not enough; the only way goes through the mobilisation of [our own] inner resources,” Surotchak of the Pontis Foundation said.