Czech justice minister unveils anti-corruption plan

Justice Minister Jiri Pospisil, photo: CTK

No issue has plagued post-communist governments in the Czech Republic so much as corruption. Every prime minister in office has pledged to resolve the problem but so far none have met with success. Now the new Civic Democrat Justice Minister Jiri Pospisil has unveiled a proposed amendment to the penal code which should help him succeed where his predecessors failed.

Justice Minister Jiri Pospisil,  photo: CTK
According to Transparency International the Czech Republic is the fifth most corrupt state in the European Union. And there's plenty to show for it. A former prime minister was forced to resign because of corruption allegations, a current deputy prime minister is being investigated on charges of bribery, and alleged corruption cases linked to big public tenders in the Czech Republic have been investigated by police in Poland, Sweden and Britain.

Now the justice minister is proposing tough new measures: significantly higher prison sentences -8 to 12 years for accepting a bribe, 1-2 for offering one and even a maximum three year sentence for those who know about and fail to report a serious case of corruption. Minister Pospisil says that the punishment must be such that it would make people think twice about getting involved:

"Anyone found guilty of accepting a bribe would be given a higher prison sentence, might get their business license revoked for several years and could even get their property confiscated - that would be up to the courts."

The proposed amendment to the penal code envisages special training for judges, the establishment of special anti-corruption "panels" and anti corruption agents and a special hot line for anyone who wants to report a case. The justice ministry further wants to create a "black list" of people convicted of corruption in connection with public orders, tenders and auctions -in order to prevent them from taking part in any future ones - and plans to carry out anti-corruption audits at all levels of state administration. The proposed anti-corruption plan is based on three pillars -prevention, transparency and punishment. Its chances of gaining approval in the Lower House are considerable since the opposition parties have said they are in favour of such steps. The question is what are its chances of actually producing results? Former State Attorney and shadow justice minister Marie Benesova says longer prison sentences are fine - but the main problem remains getting culprits to court and collecting enough evidence against them.

David Ondracka of Transparency International is not entirely happy with it either.

"The amendment does not create a special entity which would have significant powers and whose employees would be immune to various local influences and such."

Probably the only totally independent entity of this kind is the Czech branch of Transparency itself, which has unfortunately just been tarred with the same brush and is having to explain how it used a 30 million crown subsidy in 2001. Transparency says it's a trumped-up accusation aimed at undermining its credibility, but in a country where corruption has more or less become the norm -it will need more than words to clear its name.