Government slow on upholding anti-corruption policy, say watchdogs

Andrej Babiš, photo: Michaela Danelová, ČRo

When Andrej Babiš’s government published its manifesto in June 2018, it vowed to come up with new measures to combat corruption, including laws protecting whistleblowers and the regulation of lobbying. However, some of the country’s leading anti-corruption NGOs say the ANO-led government have been slow to deliver on those promises.

Andrej Babiš,  photo: Michaela Danelová,  ČRo
In July 2018, shortly after his government’s inauguration, ANO leader Andrej Babiš chose to be the first prime minister to lead the government’s special anti-corruption council.

Given this choice of responsibility and the fact that he cooperated with transparency organisations when he entered politics, one could expect a certain fervour towards ticking the boxes on the government’s anti-corruption manifesto pledges.

However, some of the country’s leading anti-corruption NGOs are saying that little actual change has taken place.

The head of the Czech branch of Transparency International, David Ondráčka, says that it is the initial period which is crucial for enacting important legislation.

“Experience shows that if the government doesn’t start promoting reforms in the early stage of their term, very often nothing happens at the end and that leads to great disappointment. In my view the time is now to come up with proposals and try to generate political consensus. Otherwise it will be lost in translation and nothing will happen. “

The Ministry of Justice has defended itself from criticism. Its spokesman, Vladimír Řepka, recently told Czech Radio that three laws have been prepared.

“The Ministry of Justice has prepared three concrete laws. The law concerning the Supreme Audit Office has been approved by government and was submitted to Parliament in December 2018. We also have the law on lobbying, which will contain a new amendment concerning the activity. This proposal was submitted to government on the December 27.”

However, the criticism is not only limited to NGOs. The head of the Pirate Party’s deputies group, Jakub Michálek, said on Friday that some of the anti-corruption laws submitted by the government are just recycled forms of what had already been submitted by the opposition and voted down by ANO MPs.

David Ondráčka,  photo: ČT24
Another of the manifesto pledges seen as particularly important by anti-corruption organisations is the creation of effective legal measures that would protect whistleblowers, something Mr. Ondráčka says is the most important piece of missing anti-corruption legislation.

“It would actually incentivise people who work and who witness some wrongdoing in their workplace to speak up against it and help uncover a lot of fraud and corruption situations, so in my view rightly designed whistleblowing legislation is the priority.”

The Ministry of Justice says the whistleblower legislation will be submitted to the government by the end of January. Whether the legislation moves forward or not, a new EU directive on whistleblowing, is expected to face a vote in 2019.