Poorer perception of corruption may be a positive signal, says TI director

Photo: Barbora Kmentová

Czechs have a worse view of corruption in their country than they did last year, according to the annual Corruption Perception Index that the organization Transparency International released this week. Worldwide, the Czech Republic went down three notches to 57th spot, putting it on par with countries like Bahrain, Croatia or Namibia. Among 31 western European countries, the Czechs took 25th place this year. But is this actually bad news, and is the fairly negative perception of corruption in this country based on reality?

Photo: Barbora Kmentová
We put these questions to the director of the Czech branch of TI, David Ondráčka.

“There is deep distrust in the functioning of the Czech state and public institutions. People see very clearly a number of high-profile corruption cases, which seem to be unfinished or the investigation is going very slowly. And on the policy level there is very visible inability to enforce anti-corruption measures and legislation. And all of these aspects very much affect the perception of the general public and foreign investors as well.”

Corruption has been talked about much more in the past year, but also there have been more arrests and more investigations started concerning corruption in politics mostly. Did the results of the index surprise you?

“Not really. Frankly, our reading of the situation is very critical. We see that quality of enforcement in public administration is pretty low and that affects everyday life of Czech citizens. It is very true that investigation and prosecution [of corruption] was kind of unleashed recently. And police investigators and prosecutors have starting going after the big fish lately. However, these cases of financial crime and corruption are very complicated. The investigation usually takes months or even years, and the public is usually seeking quick results.

“In the long run, I am not skeptical. Generally, I believe there is a very active civil society. The media are trying to really look deeply into the corrupt and criminal networks. However, we still have a long way to go.”

And would you say that in a sense the results of this year’s survey actually may be somewhat positive, because they show that Czechs are more aware of corruption in society and in politics?

David Ondráčka,  photo: CTK
“Well, I believe that there is definitely a light at the end of the tunnel. This index actually shows that people are fed up. They really want to see clear and very practical changes. We saw that in the recent elections, when all of the relevant parties lost public support and new parties emerged. Which is a clear sign that if the political elite is not able to read the trend and change themselves, they are punished in the elections. And I believe this is a very positive signal for the future.

“And I am also very much in touch with the young generation, the students, and I believe that they are eager to really participate in changing of our society towards a more accountable and fair country.”

The next government is being formed as we speak. What will the new cabinet need to do in order to improve not only the level of corruption in politics, but also the perception of corruption?

“On the level of perception, they have to stay trustworthy and really be able to react quickly if there are any ‘bad apples’ in the basket. And on the policy level, they really need to move from policy plans to practice and implementation. There are a number of pieces of legislation, which have been prepared and they need to be adopted. But there are also a number of changes within the current institutional set-up that can make them more efficient and more courageous in implementation.

“And I believe that these are changes that are absolutely necessary if we want to keep a certain societal consensus and if we want to avoid any kind of extremism or radicalization in this country. If we manage to do this, I believe this country has a bright future.”