Czechia and Slovakia lagging behind European average in fighting corruption, says Transparency International

Czechia and Slovakia lagging behind European average in fighting corruption, says Transparency International
Under the Czech populist agro-billionaire Andrej Babis, Czechia lost 5 points in the CPI scoring system.
By bne IntelliNews January 26, 2022

In 2021, Czechia did not change its year-on-year position in the Corruption Perception Index 2021 by Transparency International (TI), remaining at 49th place (with 54 points) in 2021, while its closest neighbour Slovakia improved by four positions up to 56th place (52 points) last year. However, both countries are still lagging behind the rest of the EU (where the average reached 64 points) and Western European countries' average. 

According to a commentary by the Czech branch of TI (TI CR), the figures over the past 10 years show that Czechia, after a slight drop under the government of Petr Necas (Civil Democrats), has improved its corruption index since 2014, starting with the seven-month government of Jiri Rusnok's caretaker government to the government of Bohuslav Sobotka (Social Democrats) until 2018. 

Between 2012 and 2018, the Czech Republic gained 10 CPI points, while during the four years of the previous government (2018-2021) under the Czech populist agro-billionaire Andrej Babis, the country lost 5 points. 

"The main reasons for the Czech Republic's unflattering result in the Corruption Perception Index are the unfulfilled promises of Andrej Babis' government. The 'anti-corruption campaign' announced by him became just a phrase and a marketing slogan without real action," commented Petr Leyer, lawyer and director of TI CR.  

"Almost nothing has been improved. Quite the opposite, the chaos and disruption of public institutions has continued to deepen. This was compounded by Andrej Babis´ and his [ANO] movement's own scandals, including domestic cases, vulgar [alleged] corruption of [former ANO vice-chair] Jaroslav Faltynek, the conflict of interest of the former PM and the privatisation of public interest," Leyer warned.

According to TI CR, a typical symptom of the development of recent years in Czechia is the increasingly visible privatisation of public interest. Personnel changes in the management of strategic institutions, the capture of public interest for personal business gain, controversial changes in legislation, all resulted in the breakdown of anti-corruption measures.

"Instead of the rule of law, we are witnessing nervous shuffling around and ignoring the phenomenon of conflicts of interest and the inability to confront clientelist groups. To a certain extent, the civil service has transformed itself into an advocate for one political group. Unfortunately, fixing this state of affairs requires systemic solutions that will take more than one term," said Milan Eibl, senior analyst at TI CR.

The Czech CPI result also shows that some corruption cases from which the public has high expectations take too long to deal with or to end with a strange result, TI CR stressed, giving examples of cases concerning the Prague City Transport Company and Ivo Rittig, Andrej Babis´ Stork's Nest fraud case or subsidies in relation to Prague Castle Chancellor Vratislav Mynar. 

"Unfortunately, the corruption case of [former Health Minister] David Rath was the last major case that was closed with a final conviction. All of this undoubtedly contributes to the perception that the corruption environment in our country is not being punished effectively enough as it should be," explained Pavel Jiricek, a lawyer at TI CR.

The new Czech five-party coalition government of Petr Fiala has an opportunity to improve the image of Czechia in the world in relation to corruption, the experts from TI CR believe. "Improvements are needed in three linked areas that could become priorities for the [upcoming] Czech EU Presidency: tax evasion by large companies, tax evasion by wealthy individuals, a lack of transparency and money laundering,” said economist from Institute of Economic Studies FSV UK Petr Jansky.

Slovakia's big improvement can be attributed primarily to the increased efforts of the police and prosecutors in detecting and prosecuting corruption, as well as investigations into the cases of long untouchable and influential people, such as oligarchs Jozef Brhel and Miroslav Vyboh or former finance minister and current Governor of the National Bank Peter Kazimir

"The current improvement [in CPI] can be attributed to the incumbent government and institutions. Last year's decline was largely the doings of the previous cabinet of Peter Pellegrini," said director Michal Pisko from the Slovak branch of TI (TI SR). 

According to TI SR, although the government has still managed to fulfil only part of its own promises, there has been some progress in the implementation of anti-corruption measures in Slovakia – such as the new Whistleblowers Protection Office, which was launched last year. 

TI SR praised the Slovak government for managing to conduct several important institutions open tenders, which have brought a qualitative shift from the long-standing political clientelism. Unfortunately, the current government's approach in this area has not yet been systematic, and the past year showed a number of party nominations or mishandled selection processes. 

On January 25, Foreign Affairs Minister Ivan Korcok said at the EU Foreign Affairs Council that Slovakia proposed that the European Magnitsky Act should be expanded to include corruption-related crimes, aiming at presenting the request to EU diplomacy chief Joseph Borrell and the French Presidency of the Council of the EU.