November 4, 2004
Corruption in Eastern Europe: Communism Leaves a Long Hangover
Inter Press Service
Lack of government action has left former communist states in Eastern Europe struggling to shake off a culture of corruption, experts say. A report released by the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International (TI) said that levels of perceived corruption remain high in Europe's former communist countries.
BRATISLAVA, Nov 1 (IPS) - Lack of government action has left former communist states in Eastern Europe struggling to shake off a culture of corruption, experts say.
A report released by the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International (TI) at the end of October said that in comparison with western states levels of perceived corruption remain high in Europe's former communist countries.
TI claimed corruption in some countries was ”rampant” and that the public sector in particular was ”plagued” by it.
Of 146 countries surveyed in the report, new EU states like the Czech Republic, Poland, Latvia and Slovakia showed far higher levels of perceived corruption than western European countries.
Former communist countries not in the EU such as Russia showed even worse levels of corruption. Moldova, formerly part of the Soviet Union, was perceived as the most corrupt country in Europe.
Under communism corruption was considered by many a necessary part of life. Small 'gifts' of sweets, alcohol and other goods were taken to doctors or civil servants to get proper or quick services. Waiting periods of months for imported or scarce goods could be shortened considerably by offering officials 'gifts' or money.
Studies have repeatedly shown that people living in former communist states see corruption in all levels of society, from business to the school system to police and government, but often most strongly in the health sector and the judiciary.
When asked in what areas corruption was most widespread, 66 percent of respondents to a TI survey in Slovakia in May this year named the health sector and 59 percent the judiciary.
Head of the Russian constitutional court Valery Zorkin said in an interview with Izvestia daily last month that ”bribe-taking in the courts has become one of the biggest corruption markets in Russia.” Russian media have suggested that upwards of 10 billion dollars passes hands in bribes every year in the country.
Anti-corruption experts say the TI report highlights the fact that not only does corruption remain a large problem for society but that some governments still show a lack of will to fight it.
”The evaluation (of the Czech Republic in the report) is a reflection of the incapability and unwillingness of the government to push through effective anti-corruption measures,” head of the Czech branch of TI Adriana Krnacova, said in the report. ”A clear signal of this is for instance the failure to pass an effective law on conflicts of interests (for officials).”
In neighbouring Slovakia corruption levels have changed little, MPs and experts say. ”There's the same level of corruption here as there has been for years, if not more,” MP for the governing New Citizen's Alliance (ANO) party Jan Drgonec told the Slovak TASR news agency.
”The latest corruption perception index shows only a very slight improvement. If we look at Slovakia's corruption perception index since 1998 when it was first included in TI studies it has pretty much been at the same level,” Emilia Sicakova-Beblava, TI head in Slovakia told IPS.
She added that only if reforms were adopted and fully carried through ”will society see changes.”
Slovakia was praised in the TI report for adopting legislation on potential conflict of interest in positions held by officials, and imposing obligations on officials to declare their property holdings. But MPs were also criticised for not restricting their immunity to criminal prosecution, despite promises to do so.
In the May TI survey in Slovakia 60 percent of respondents said that they believed the government was not interested in solving the problem of corruption.
But experts admit that even with far-reaching reforms implemented by willing politicians, eradicating corruption in former communist states will not be easy.
”In the former communist countries the reason why so much corruption is still perceived is that it takes time to implement measures even once they have been adopted,” Sicakova-Beblava said. ”It may take three, four or five years for any measures that have been introduced to have any effect on people's everyday lives.”
But she added there was still hope. ”If reforms are adopted and carried through then they will be successful.”
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