US business grouping seeks to fight corruption by sponsoring new law on public tenders

The American Chamber of Commerce in the Czech Republic has taken the highly unusual step of launching an initiative of its own to get a new law governing how massive public contracts are awarded backed by the government and passed by parliament. It says that corruption and the fixing of such tenders have got so bad that many foreign firms have given up on them altogether. We asked journalist and Amcham board member Erik Best what it is seeking to do.

“What we are trying to do is to put together an actual law that sets out the principles for tenders and public procurement. That means that the government and politicians would commit to pass a law that would very specifically say that tenders need to be fair, the owners of companies that bid need to be known, and the process is very transparent. And the way this differs from past efforts to fight corruption is that we are speaking about adopting a very specific law that should be planned out by numerous parties, chambers of commerce, political parties. And the chamber’s role is to get the ball rolling and to convince everyone who should be involved to get involved.”

And why exactly is this initiative being taken now?

“I think that the reason for doing it now is that people are fed up with what is going on and the idea that something can happen before the elections is attractive. But as a chamber we want to get a commitment at a time when politicians are willing to give a commitment but also to make it so public that it would be difficult for them to renege on the commitment after the elections. Very often the problem is that the commitment before the elections is very different from what we see afterwards.”

But how big is the problem with corruption in public tenders in the Czech Republic?

Photo: Barbora Kmentová
“Well, I think the problem with public tenders is one of the central problems. That is why we should expect quite a bit of opposition. Basically we are talking about billions of crowns that are going missing. And there will be opposition from those who will not want to give up access to that amount of money. So it is not going to be an easy battle, but I think it is one that is ripe and the business community and some of the political parties are interested in seeing something happen. And it is also reaching a point where the populace, the voters, are feeling that everyone else is being asked to cut back and pay more tax and those at the top are not willing to reduce the amount they are taking from the kitty.”

And has there been any clear political support so far?

“Well, the Greens have been very good about saying right off the bat that they are willing to get involved and will send a person. It is a bit disappointing that the other political parties are a bit hesitant and sceptical about it. And I think it is to be expected. It has come out of the blue to an extent for them and I suppose for them there might be a reason not to be so excited about passing such a law.”