Striving against corruption

I AM pleased to see many institutions in Slovakia addressing the serious issue of corruption. According to a 2013 Eurobarometer survey, 90 percent of Slovaks perceived corruption as widespread, compared to an EU average of 76 percent.

(Source: Sme)

Eurobarometer found that two-thirds of Slovaks see corruption as the most significant obstacle for doing business in Slovakia, which clearly impedes job creation.

Parliament has taken some positive steps, including a new law protecting whistleblowers.  And we welcome the government’s commitment to work with 14 trade associations, including the American Chamber of Commerce, to fight corruption, reform the judiciary and open the legislative process to more public participation and efficiency. We are also glad to see Slovakia recently adopt its Second National Action Plan (NAP) under the Open Government Partnership (OGP).

But until Slovaks see an example of a high-level official being held to account for corruption – via prosecution, conviction, and asset forfeiture – the government’s commitment will still be questioned by the public, and corruption will persist, undermining citizens’ trust in Slovakia’s institutions. While some officials have resigned or were dismissed following allegations of corrupt practices, few have been prosecuted and convicted. Some senior-level officials who were dismissed in the recent health sector procurement scandals have been reappointed to new positions, which calls into question the government’s commitment to reform and sends the wrong message to the public. In addition to prosecutions, the government should pursue asset forfeitures against ill-gotten gains, which would provide additional incentive to prosecute corruption cases and resources for law enforcement bodies.

Fighting corruption in the region is a high priority for the United States. As Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland said recently: “Corruption is not only a democracy killer, it opens space for maligned foreign influence over our politics and economics… So all across central and eastern Europe and the Balkans you will see us redouble our efforts this year with allies and partners to strengthen independent judiciaries, to fight corruption and to promote open government, including through transparent public procurement, E-governance, and other well-established good practices.”

We value our engagement with the judiciary’s new leadership on Rule of Law reforms aimed at building greater public trust. We are working in a positive way with the judiciary on the adoption of a new detailed, enforceable Code of Ethics. We also support the government’s efforts to improve the system to make all verdicts publicly available on the internet, as it currently remains difficult to find some verdicts online.

We also support parliament’s efforts to adopt a new Code of Conduct and a new law on conflict of interest, which would regulate interactions between officials and lobbyists and place strict limits on gifts to public officials.

We value our cooperation with Slovak law enforcement. Just recently, at the request of Slovak authorities, representatives of the FBI came to Bratislava to conduct a workshop on international corruption and investigations with Slovak prosecutors and police. We remain interested in supporting additional bilateral anti-corruption cooperation and continue to support the efforts of the Prosecutorial Council to adopt a new detailed Code of Ethics with enforcement mechanisms.

Corruption not only is immoral, but also costs Europe’s economy about $160 billion annually, which really represents a looting of EU citizens.

The problem of corruption cannot be solved only by governments. It takes the vigilance and courage of all sectors of society, and a courageous public willing to demand more open and transparent government.

By Theodore Sedgwick, USA Ambassador to Slovakia  

 

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