A Diagnosis of Corruption in the Czech Republic

As the different surveys and opinion polls suggest, corruption and lack of transparency is, despite minor improvements, the longstanding problem in the Czech Republic´s public space. Perceived as the burning issue, the discourse on introduction of new anticorruption measures is high on the political parties´ list of priority agenda within the current political campaign before May 2010 general elections. How does that play out in the long run?

National Integrity System Assessment for Czech Republic Launched

Transparency International’s national chapter in the Czech Republic released recently a National Integrity System assessment showing how “healthy” the main governance institutions in the country are, considering their resources, accountability, transparency and role in fighting corruption. The study showed that corruption in public procurement remains one of the main problems to be tackled.

According to the report, the “healthiest” institutions are the Ombudsman and the Supreme Auditing Office. These are, however, like islands of integrity in a system where fundamental institutions show weaknesses. The state prosecutor’s office, for instance, received the lowest score, mainly due to its lack of independence from political parties. On a positive note, however, this institution is currently undergoing important reforms expected to bring improvements in its performance.

A cross-cutting issue identified in the report refers to the accountability of institutions, which seems to be not so clearly defined in the case of institutions such as the police and the civil service. Both the concepts of accountability and integrity are not well translated into legal provisions applicable to the public sector, and this reveals the need for a broader debate on how regulations should more clearly reflect these principles.

Read the article “Health Czech! Any surprising results from the Czech Integrity System assessment?” on blog.transparency.org. The full study is available in Czech on transparency.cz.

Conflict of Interests and Corruption in the Public Administration

Monitoring of the implementation of the law on conflict of interest focusing on particular cases including publishing the cases, taking part in the administrative procedures, court rulings and involving media into the coverage of the issues and cases. Monitoring targeted mainly deputies and senators – how they comply with the obligaton to publish all gainful activities and incomes. A substantial part was cooperation with the media (assisting them with publishing a list of those who did not comply every year). The organization also provided support to the media and background information on the interpretation of the law. Regular press conferences took place, later on in the Senate. The project changed the culture connected to the publishing of the incomes, related to the law on the conflict of interests and raised awareness of the media on the issue; after the termination of the project, the media keep continuing monitoring the obligation to comply. In the third year of running project (2004), all deputies and senators complied. The only shortcomming would be the focus on the parliamentary level only due to the capacity of the organization.

Anti-Corruption Legal Advice Center

The anti-corruption counselling center was established. A publication (cookbook) “How to face a corruption”” was one of the project outputs as well as the special internet section and the anti-corruption library. A workshop for the NNO representatives was organised durign the first year of the project implementation. The number of clients (individuals, companies, public authorities) and cases assited by the Center (available at Center’s Activity Report of 2006 and 2008) amounts to several hundreds every year. Lawyers employed by the TIC assist the individuals at the court if necessary and the TIC also organises public debates in the municipailities where particular case takes place with good results and impacts on transparency of the local governments´processes. The project is ongoing. There has been different funding every year. The anti-corruption number 199, operated by TIC (outsourcing), is funded by the Ministry of Interior. Some of the clients of the anticorruption line 199 are consequently assisted by the Center.”

Transparency through Awareness/Threats and Opportunities of EU Structural Funds I and II

During the first phase, the project focused on monitoring and analyzing the areas of distribution and use of funds, especially on areas related to institutional conflict of interest, influence of political representation on project selection, access to information, structure of institutions involved in the process and their relationships, selection and execution of projects, financial management, evaluation and monitoring. The first phase of the project concentrated on building local capacity to deal with the issue. The project was implemented in cooperation with six international chapters of Transparency International from new EU member states (Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Hungary and Slovakia).The second phase aimed at raising awareness on the transparency and implementation of the anti-corruption tools during the process of distribution of the funds to the public administration. It also focused on the role of media and their capacity in the area of SF monitoring. The target area was NUTS III – city of Prague.

Anti-Corruption Education

Training project with the goal of reducing the scope of corruption in the public administration in the territorial self-governing units (municipalities and regions); it aimed at increasing the capacity of local government officials in detecting individual cases of corruption, applying suitable anti-corruption tools to cases of corruption, evaluating the effectiveness of anti-corruption measures in local government authorities and training on law on conflict of interest by tailored trainings.

Transparency within the communication of the cities and municipalities

A questionnaire survey of 250 town halls and municipal offices was carried out and meetings of representatives of municipal offices with the public, local experts and interest groups in three localities were organised, analyzing the way how the town halls communicate with the citizens. The conclusions of the debate were embodied into recommednations for the town halls on how to improve the communication. The results of the project contributed to the creation of a Communication Manual for Local Municipalities that is available online at www.komunikujici-mesto.cz.

Dissemination of the anti-corruption know-how among NGOs and citizens

Workshops for the activist and organisations interested in anti-corruption and watchdog know-how were organised; specific educational and networking activity aimed especially at voluntary activists. Dozens of activists took part in the seminars. The organisation is running a community web where the newcomers can register only when recommended by a members; the members of the web group are sharing local cases and know-how and provide advice to those who ask for them. A web forum – both with open and restricted access is planned as a follow up.

Arms Trade Control

The project focused on establishing regular contact and communication with relevant Czech parliamentarians and other relevant parties and on monitoring and analysing the existing legislation and documents. It also helped increase the information value of regular publication of detailed reports on arms and military material exports from the Czech Republic.

Transparent Health Service

The health service is prone to corruption due to combination of uncertainty, informative asymmetry, and sheer quantity of participants (interests). The specific project aims were: to analyze the health service system from the perspective of transparency and corruption risks, to identify and name shortcomings and their consequences for the quality of health care in the Czech Republic; to increase public awareness and knowledge of the functions of the system and its procedures, its participants, rights, and obligations; to propose procedures and specify instruments to lead to an increase in the transparency, responsibility, and credibility of the system.

Enforcement of the individual liability of public officials at the local level

A project monitoring the praxis of enforcement of individual public officials´ liability for the damages made by their illegal decisions; the research monitored the two types of penalites – those vested by the Office for Protection of competition and expenses of court cases related to ill-formulated public contracts tenders. On the basis of research findings the draft law amendments are being prepapared in 2009.

Transparent Municipal Budgets

Main project outcome was a practical guide to municipal budgeting. Publication also contains results of research conducted among dozens of municipalities, mapping budgeting procedures; quality and public availability of relevant information; and level and ways of public involvement in budget process. Other project activities included meetings with representatives of local governments and civic society organisations and increasing their awareness of public control instruments and possibilities. Both the results of the research and the publication were presented to media.

Fair-Play Database: internet database monitoring relations and links bewteen the public officials and public finances (conflict of interest)

The database served also as a pre-elections tool focusing on political sponsorship and potential political corruption. The database proved to be demanding in terms of actualization (the original idea that citizens would contribute after being checked by the AWC did not work) and management. The project was effective at the level of top politicians (sponsorship of political parties, public officials at the Prague Town Hall, top politicians), at the regional and local level, there was a different millieu and different relations among the actors. The database is still online, covering the top politicans only due to limited capacities of the organisation.The journalists used the database as the entry point for finding new cases. The project template was copied by the city of Lanškroun that developed its own database of local representatives and public officials.

Coalition for Suppression of Information within the Democratic Framework

A coalition of three non-governmental organisations was created to meet the purpose of the project: TIC, Iuridicum remedium and Otevřená společnost, o.p.s. The project carefully monitored and analysed the legislative process, lobbyied the Government Legislative Council, the government ministers and selected MPs. A workshop was organised in the Chamber of Deputies of the Czech Parliament, dedicated to suppression of information, legal analyses and information materials were published on the issue.

Transparent Regions

Roundtable discussions with political representation of individual regions took place and recommendation reports for the management of each regional government were prepared. TIC had also been actively involved in the proceedings of anti-corruption committee of Prague City Council. The project covered five selected regions of the Czech Republic and included also anti-corruption art exhibitions. A follow up project included series of trainings for regional government officials.

Intrastate Offset

Project aiming at involvement of particular regional socio-economic conditions as a criterion within the public procurement and public contracting tenders when the companies from disadvatnaged regions would receive additional points within the tender evaluation. The project was implemented in cooperation with a businessman from one of the Czech disadvantaged regions (Jesenicko). The seminars on the method took place and an agreement with Ministry of Defence on including the new criterion was reached.

Conflicts of interest

In order to reduce political corruption the project aimed at enactment of an effective law on the conflict of interest. TIC proposed a draft law and managed to build a coalition around it, advocate the draft successfuly and push it through; the law went into effect as of January 1, 2007. Media campaign was part of the project.

Transparent State Budget

Within the project a study dedicated to a general definition of the term and historical context, description of the budgetary process – its creation and its shortcomings, and control and checks was elaborated. The study contains recommendations for increasing transparency of the budgetary process.

Educational seminars – Quality and Integrity in Public Procurement

Two seminars were organized in the framework of the project, focusing on the issues of corruption risks related to public procurement and identification of anti-corruption tools. Both seminars were targeted on public officials responsible for public procurement processes and/or its supervision at ministries, in the regions or big cities, and at executive bodies of structural funds.

Viva Etika

The project activities included discussion about the necessity of ethical business approach, starting cooperation of public, private and non-profit segments, promotion of legislative changes and contribution to cultivated and competitive business environment. Viva Etika also represented a coalition of companies that were with TIC and influencing business environment in order to increase transparency, credibility and responsibility.

Town Hall Bulletins without Censorship

A survey of over 500 volumes of town halls bulletins issued by over the 100 town halls in the Czech Republic was implemented; the aim of the survey was to identify important features such a bulletin should contain to fulfil the conditions of the free access to information, information on public funds spending and balanced reporting. It revealed only about 26% of the bulletins allowed for critical opinions to be published, the censorship was widespread and the political parties in the local governments used the bulletins for their own PR. The project outputs involved: detailed survey, analysis identifying rights and obligations related to publishing town hall bulletins and recommendations for improvements of legal regulations; codex of balanced town hall bulletin and ten basic rules for its publishing and a leaflet for the citizens “Apply your rights”.

Entries into the Commercial Register

A slow process and the complexity of the legal conditions connected to entries into commercial register led to a high number of mistakes in the registration applications handed to the courts. Mistakes in the applications lead to the courts returning the applications for review or for supplementary information. There was no standardized procedure and application format. A database of standard applications for the commercial register was created within the project and consequently published on the website of the Justice Ministry. Business and non-business applicants could then receive authoritative information concerning the requirements of individual courts, which increased the legal quality of individual applications and as a result partially simplified the registration process in the Czech Republic and narrowed down the room for corruption.