Post-communist institutions failing to stop corruption in Visegrad countries

New study on corruption risks in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia

Issued by Transparency International Hungary



Political influence over independent institutions is a systemic corruption risk in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia according to a new study released today by Transparency International.

The report highlights that democratic institutions and adequate legal frameworks adopted by the Visegrad countries during their accession process to the  EU do not automatically provide sufficient protection against corruption risks. In many cases, these institutions have been weakened or entirely abandoned by dominant political actors after the accession.

“The laws and institutions against corruption in the Visegrad region will remain empty shells without a meaningful commitment to transparency. Most important is that high level public servants and politicians declare their assets and interests, public institutions must be independent from influence and there needs to be better checks on party financing”, said Miklos Marschall, Deputy Managing Director at Transparency International.

In the early 1990s, Visegrad countries established a formal sub-regional grouping with a common agenda that mainly emphasised political cooperation for the strategic goals of the EU and NATO membership. Beyond this formal collaboration, the countries also followed similar institution development paths, creating new democratic institutions and legal framework at an early stage and - during the accession process - made efforts to harmonise them with the EU’s equivalent institutions.

But recent Eurobarometer surveys suggests that about 87% of citizens in the region agree that corruption is a major problem in their respective country and the average Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) score of the Visegrad countries lags far behind the Western European member states.

Transparency International’s new report, which is based on national surveys assessing the strength of the anti-corruption frameworks of the Visegrad countries, captures some important similarities and differences in the region. Key findings of the report include:

Party financing is a key area in the Visegrad region where not only are practices unlawful but the legal framework is also weak. Political parties often abandon attempts to create transparent party and campaign financing systems with adequate controlling, monitoring and sanctioning mechanisms. Dominant political parties typically spend much more money to finance their operations and campaigns than the amount that is legally allowed.

Political and economic interest groups in the Visegrad region are capable of influencing and manipulating state organisations, however they are much less adept at controlling actors outside the state’s authority, especially media and civil society.

When a predominantly corrupt system cannot self-correct, external actors will have key roles. In all Visegrad countries investigative journalists, websites and blogs exposed corrupt practices that could not be  hidden  anymore  by  corrupt  cliques. Therefore the independence of these institutions is crucial in the fight against corruption in the post-Communist Visegrad region.

Business related corruption risks are especially high in Hungary and Poland but they show different patterns. While in Hungary economic actors can capture the state, in Poland “state captures the business”. Powerful Hungarian interest groups are able to extract public money from the system through intentionally designed and  professionally managed corrupt networks.In Poland top level public officials extort bribes from prosperous businesses.

Prosecution proved to be especially weak in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The prosecuting bodies are vulnerable to direct political influence because of their strictly hierarchical and non-transparent organisational structures, and the lack of reforms since the fall of communism.

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