Undercover agents to help curb corruption in the Czech Republic

The Czech Republic ranks 47th out of 158 countries in Transparency International's 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index, and a series of governments since 1989 have been criticised for failing to address graft effectively. But can we now expect some progress in this area? Interior Minister Ivan Langer has proposed the introduction of undercover agents, who would be present in all areas of life - even fighting corruption within the police force.

The Czech Republic has had a problem with corruption for decades. In the communist era, when very little could be achieved without a bribe, corruption flourished and most people got used to the idea of slipping someone an envelope in order to get a construction permit, a council flat ahead of others on the waiting list or to avoid a fine for speeding. As a result bribery has become a modern-day blight that has proved extremely hard to eradicate. Mainly because neither party is willing to give evidence. Minister Langer says the only way to weed it out is to put undercover agents in the field - on the road, in institutions and local councils.

Ivan Langer
"We are counting on these agents to uncover corruption and gather evidence against the perpetrators. We realize that this is a sensitive matter and we have weighed very carefully what powers such an agent should have so as to limit as far as possible interference in people's privacy and prevent a possible abuse of the system."

What the minister is proposing is not an agent provocateur but only an agent who would keep his eyes open and gather evidence. In practice this means that if an undercover agent is stopped by the traffic police he cannot attempt entrapment by offering a bribe. However if the officer asks for one - he will be able to arrest him and give evidence in court. The same goes for undercover agents in companies and state institutions. The police could even employ foreigners to act as undercover agents at the foreign police - where bribes are said to smooth the way to obtaining a residence permit quickly and without long queues.

The proposed amendment is very likely to pass through Parliament where the opposition Social Democrats would like to see it taken further - they themselves have tried to push through the introduction of agent-provocateurs in the past. The Czech branch of Tansparency International agrees with them, saying that anything short of agent provocateurs will not be enough to weed out corruption in a country where it is deeply rooted.