GRECO president in Prague: Without good people, even a perfect law is futile

Photo: Barbora Němcová

The Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) established in 1999 by the Council of Europe to monitor member states’ compliance with the organization’s anti-corruption standards, is currently holding a two-day conference in Prague. Its aim is to highlight the main trends and the lessons learned from GRECO’s Fourth Evaluation Round of the Czech Republic’s anti-corruption drive.

Marin Mrčela,  photo: archive of Council of Europe
I spoke with GRECO's President Marin Mrčela about the Czech Republic’s track record in fighting corruption, the recommendations for improvement that GRECO has made and how much progress the country has made since joining GRECO in 2002.

“It is very hard to say how much progress has been made, because we are not measuring progress, but the progress was obviously there because the Czech Republic has already implemented a number of the recommendations that we issued. We have concluded three rounds already and the fourth round is still pending for the Czech Republic. It would be good to say that 14 recommendations were issued to the Czech Republic in this latest fourth evaluation round that were related to corruption prevention among members of Parliament, judges and prosecutors. They are still pending and the Czech Republic needs to report on the implementation of these recommendations by January 31st of next year. So we are looking forward to that report. We noticed that in some cases progress is slower, in some case it is much faster, but I never noticed any reluctance on the part of the Czech Republic to implement the recommendations, so I have no doubts that there is a willingness on the part of the Czech Republic to deal with the problem.”

Can you briefly say where progress has been made and where it is still lacking?

“The third round dealt with the transparency of party funding and those recommendations were met but we are still waiting for the results of the fourth evaluation round. The problem areas we identified there were prevention of corruption among members of Parliament, a code of conduct which is lacking in the Parliament of the Czech Republic, there is a need to set down rules regarding contacts between MPs and lobbyists, the area of assets declarations for MPs also needs to be improved. So those are all areas that need to be improved in order to increase trust and confidence in parliamentarians because the key word is their transparency.”

Would you say that the problem lies more in the need to approve a proper legislative framework –or in its implementation?

“We need to persuade people that it is not normal and it is not acceptable that when you go to the doctor to bring coffee, whisky and candies.”

“We are always looking to both. In some cases there is perfect legislation, but there is no implementation. In other cases – other countries, not the Czech Republic – we have a good practice, but practically no legislation. So we recommend both. But my experience is that in most countries you have the legislation but not its implementation.”

And in the Czech Republic?

“In the Czech Republic you also need the rules, the code of conduct –MPs interacting with third parties, asset declarations, the criteria for recruitment and promotion of judges and so on. So you need these kind of rules, but even if you have perfect rules you still need good people to implement them. Without good people even a perfect law is basically futile. You don’t have good results if you don’t have good people.”

Would you say that the post-communist countries are more prone to problems with corruption?

“I think that because they opened up suddenly and widely to all the trends and to democracy they are in a position to go very fast through the changes that the West –or the so-called West – has been undertaking for decades and even hundreds of years. So all the Central and East European counties need to do in 25 years what for instance France, England or Sweden underwent in 200 years. And then of course there is a difference in culture also, we have to take that into account. There is a difference in culture and mind-set. We need to change the conscience of the people. We need to persuade them that it is not normal and it is not acceptable that when you go to the doctor to bring coffee, whisky and candies. It is not polite and it is not necessary because the doctors will do their job anyway.”

What leverage does GRECO have to push countries that have a problem with corruption to effect change?

Photo: Stuart Miles /
“I think our best leverage is our method. There is peer pressure, because all the countries that signed the GRECO agreement effectively said yes, we will follow your recommendations. We assess the situation in individual countries by a method that gets us concrete results, it is not just perception. We are not evaluation on the basis of perceptions, we are finding out what is the real situation.”

So if you are not using the Corruption Perception Index, which may be unreliable, what are you using?

“First we have a questionnaire –which is very detailed and burdensome to fulfil. And after we receive the answers to that questionnaire from a given country we pay the country a study visit. We go to the country for a week and meet representatives of state bodies, NGOs and the media and all our conversations, all our counterparts are confidential. Then we draft a report on the actual situation, we have standards that apply from the Council of Europe and we match the factual situation to the standards given and then we issue recommendations. Our recommendations are tailor-made, because there are different systems, there are Anglo-American systems, there are civil systems, you know we have 49 members including the United States, so you can imagine what kind of differences we encounter when we work in an former communist bloc state and then go to the UK, or US and then to Finland. We see big differences. But we are proud of our tailor-made recommendations because they are adjusted to the situation in the country, based on our standards.”

“And GRECO members know that we do not issue these recommendations because we think we are smart or because we think the countries should obey them or any other such reasons. These recommendations are for the sake of citizens, to improve the situation in the country, because there is no perfect country and corruption will always be there. It is sad to say that, but in some counties –if they follow the recommendations – the actual situation improves tremendously.”

“Even if you have perfect rules, you still need good people to implement them. Without good people even a perfect law is basically futile.”

In your view, how reliable is the Corruption Perception Index?

“As it says by name, it is perception. The perception index relies on polls and polling methods differ. I would say the most famous perception index is that compiled by Transparency International. But that too is based on perception – in reality the actual situation could be significantly different. There is this famous Eurobarometer research from 2013 – it is not undertaken every year, but every two or three years –that show that in one country 74 percent of respondents said they think the judiciary is corrupt. And the next question was –how many times have you, your relatives or friends – given a bribe to the judiciary and the answer to that question was three percent. So you can see the discrepancy. What we noticed in our work is that almost all polls show a large measure of distrust for state institutions primarily for politicians, then for prosecutors, and also for judges and this is something that needs to be addressed, with an effort made in all areas. You cannot chose only one and say OK, clear this and everything will be perfect. When you are cleaning the snow you have to grab every inch of the street, not just a part of the street. So that’s why we are asking for legislation, its implementation and supervision.”

What is the purpose of conferences such as the one now underway in Prague?

Photo: Barbora Němcová
“The purpose of the conference is to present the results of the fourth round of evaluation which was in relation to prevention of corruption among MPs, judges and prosecutors. I might be biased, but I think we made an excellent document that shows the areas of concern; three areas - first, the prevention of corruption among MPs judges and prosecutors, the second concern is that prevention is undermined, people think that if you have a law and prosecute someone and put them in jail, that’s enough, but it is not. Criminal law serves as ultima ratio societatis – i.e. as a last resort –when everything else fails then criminal law is enacted. But if criminal law is enacted it means that all the other preventive measures failed. So that is why we put great emphasis on prevention – clear rules, guidelines, transparency and supervision. And then if you have good legislation – that is the third area of concern – implementation must be better. One of our recommendations in the fourth round is related to implementation – that is an area where the country needs to step up its efforts.”