Czech civil servants loosing reputation

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The prestige of Czech civil servants at the beginning of a new millenium is not too high. The prevailing public opinion is that there are too many of them, they are ineffective and that the majority of them take bribes. Alena Skodova has this report:

An opinion poll carried out last year by Transparency International, an organisation dealing with corruption, showed that one third of those polled thought that without bribes the Czech state administration would cease to function. Twenty four percent of respondents admitted that in the past three years they had been in a situation where a bribe was expected. Following the Velvet Revolution, all supervisory bodies that monitored state institutions were gradually abolished. And so, someone waiting for a building permit for months might be surprised to see their well-off neighbour receiving the same permit within just a few days. There are frequent complaints about corrupt civil servants.

Are there too many of them? At the beginning of this year, the Czech Republic had 160,000 civil servants. If we add policemen, judges, firemen and soldiers to that figure, the total number of public servants is 323,000. This is much higher than in many EU countries. And it's also been made clear that when the Czech Republic joins the EU, the number of civil servants will go up even further. According to the chairwoman of the civil servant's trade union, Alena Vondrova, the poor reputation of civil servants could reflect their low monthly salary of 13,000 Czech crowns, or less than 400 US dollars, which is only slightly over the national average.

According to Mrs Vondrova, a higher salary would not necessarily prevent corruption, but it could increase their effectiveness. A new governmental bill, due to be debated in parliament next week, proposes that civil servant's salaries should be double salaries in the non-profit sector. But experts expect a heated debate in parliament, as opposition parties don't want a centralized model of state administration.

I took to the streets to find out what people in Prague feel about their civil servants. This elderly gentlemen, contrary to the majority of public opinion, was full of praise: "They are very nice and kind to me. They try to help me as much as they can. I hope that they don't take bribes, and I personally have never tried to bribe any of them."

No-one else on the streets of Prague that I tried to speak to would agree to talk publicly about the issue. They all said they have had bad experiences with civil servants, or had been forced to pay bribes, but refused point blank to have their comments recorded.