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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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”.

Act on Free Access to Information

A law on free access to information that is a powerful tool for corruption control and watchdog activities has been absent in the Czech legal framework for quite a long time; this project contributed to the successful culmination of the efforts to bring it into life. The seminar was widely inclusive, convening the representatives of the civil society, deputies, journalists and civil servants. The printed outcome of the seminar was distributed to the members of Chamber of Deputies before the vote. The advocacy part and media campaign implemented by TIC targeted three main groups – deputies and senators, journalist and young people. The message was simple – allow for free access to information. Tools like free postcards with a motto “Get informed by your deputy or senator when they allow you to access the information” were used. TIC issued around 10.000 postcards and sent them to all legislators and important journalists; the postcards were also distributed freely by a chain of cinemas, cafes and restaurants. The main message of the campaign was modified and extended for each of the target groups (via press releases, letters or info brochures). The campaign managed to get the deputies and senators under pressure and made some of them to make a public commitment to support the law (43 out of the 200 deputies made the public commitment they would vote for the law). An individual approach to each and every deputy and senator proved efficient; it allowed for expression of their personal opinions and for media coverage. There was also an important role of journalist who were not only transmitting the message but took active part in the campaign. TIC supplied media actively with additional info on how the law works in different European countries or delivered the statements of the involved Czech deputies. The law was adopted in spring 1999 and went into effect as of January 2000.

A corruption-free Town Hall

The project included a roundtable discussion with employees of the Prague City Hall on the transparent decision-making and the problem of corruption. Before the 2002 local communal elections all the competing political parties and movements were approached and requested answers from their candidates to six questions concerning their personal position with respect to questions of transparency and corruption. The outcome is a report on this survey. The second phase of the project were the workshops in the V4 countries’ capitals entitled “Corruption-free Town Halls in the Visegrad Region”” aiming at experience sharing and comparison. The result of the first meeting that took place in 2003 in Prague was the formulation of specific plans and further elaboration of the cooperation.”

Detection of Corruption in the Czech Public Administration

The project consisted in watchdog activities; monitoring and mapping the corruption space in different public authorities and institutions; evaluation of the systemic risks. The staff members of the organization worked under cover in different institutions, only the director of the NGO was known.

Anti-Corruption Packages

The project was aimed at monitoring, archivation and presentation of the cases of corruption; and structural support 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.”

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.

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.

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.