Government aims to streamline legislation in fight against corruption

On Monday, the government announced it was planning to streamline legislation to help make the country's fight against corruption more effective. Analysis suggests corruption remains a major problem, especially in the case of public tenders, which - critics contend - are often not transparent enough and are all too open to bribes. Although according to some watchdog groups, the situation improved slightly last year many corruption cases ultimately go uncovered or are never fully resolved.

The fight against corruption, by definition, is never-ending but it is a battle in which the Czech government wants to gain an upper-hand. After meeting on Monday it announced plans to make fighting corruption easier: the integration of existing legislation into a streamlined bill on corruption control. Currently a plethora of 230 legal measures deals with different aspects of control, something that Interior Minister Ivan Langer told journalists needed to be changed:

Interior Minister Ivan Langer
"The aim of the bill is to simplify control rules and mechanisms: it should get rid of duplicate entries, should simplify corruption monitoring itself, and should introduce a new principle. Compared to 230 measures which make the exception the rule, we want the control bill to introduce a new philosophy: to make the rule the rule, and exceptions just that."

Currently, watchdog groups like Transparency International contend that corruption in the Czech Republic ranks among the highest in Europe. While the numbers released on Monday dealt only with the state sector, clearly there are no areas were corruption can't be found: the head of TI's Prague chapter Adriana Krnacova told Czech Radio that "vulnerable was any area involving public funds where processes were not transparent enough".

Adriana Krnacova
So far changes planned, along with streamlining legislation, include strengthening sentences for those found guilty of corruption as well as creating a public blacklist naming offending firms. At the government level, the Interior Ministry is currently waiting to assess anti-corruption audits from all Czech ministries by the end of August and Interior Minister Ivan Langer has said that in the future individual ministries will cooperate more closely with non-governmental organisations specialising in fighting corruption.

Paradoxically, as many in the opposition were quick to point out, Monday's government meeting was chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Jiri Cunek in the absence of the prime minister. Why paradox? Mr Cunek himself is accused of taking a bribe of 500,000 Czech crowns from when he was the mayor of the Moravian town of Vsetin. His chairing of the meeting, not surprisingly, met with a good deal of criticism. Social Democrat shadow justice minister, Marie Benesova:

"It doesn't go together: a government that says it will fight corruption yet retains a member accused of it."

But Interior Minister Ivan Langer defended Mr Cunek by saying that unless it was proven otherwise in a court of law, the presumption of innocence in his case had to be maintained.