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Slovenia’s stalled anti-corruption reform: What numbers don’t tell us

A woman holds a protest sign in front of a government building and a policeman

Anti-government protests in Ljubljana in July 2020

Sebastijan Peterka

Transparency International Slovenia

Slovenia’s score on the Corruption Perceptions Index may look like the same old, repetitive story. Since 2012, the country has not moved much beyond the standard statistical error with a score stuck at 60 for the third year in a row, a score below the EU average. A stagnant score encapsulates the general state of play well. Slovenia’s anti-corruption framework was considered relatively robust at the time of its implementation, more than a decade ago. Now, the much-needed reforms that would increase its effectiveness are progressing at a snail’s pace.

Two milestones are not enough

In 2020, Slovenia did reach two milestones. The Integrity and Prevention of Corruption Act was amended after more than five years of discussions, international recommendations, drafts, public consultations, three changes of government, and endless efforts to persuade key decision makers. It took deputies in the National Assembly even longer to pass a code of ethics, despite discussions first starting in the 1990s and years of pressure from the international community. Despite some obvious deficiencies, just approving such a document once seemed impossible given the complex political situation.

You might think that this year’s CPI score is just not keeping up with the progress made. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. While legal amendments and the code of ethics are steps in the right direction, there is a long way to go to overhaul the whole anti-corruption framework. The Resolution on the Prevention of Corruption is almost 17 years old and is outdated, the Government’s Integrity Programme ran out in 2019 and is yet to be replaced, and the transposition of the EU Whistleblower Protection Directive remains incomplete, with little sign of progress.

COVID-19 exposes an extremely vulnerable system

More importantly, 2020 showed the vulnerability of the Slovene integrity system and a worrying trend of attacks on its key pillars. As in many countries, COVID-19 emergency procurement processes manifested every possible corruption risk that textbooks list. Public spending information, which is normally refreshed daily, was suspended for a time. A whistleblower that pointed out irregularities lost his job. The police and the National Bureau of Investigation heads changed with great speed, as criteria for the latter were somehow (conveniently) lowered.

COVID-19 relief packages worth billions of euros included provisions that raised suspicions of privileged access to decision makers. CSOs faced harassment, defunding attempts and eviction from publicly owned premises. Journalists were and are continuously attacked by social media trolls fuelled by prominent political figures and pro-government media outlets. Legislative proposals threatened national news outlets with severe budget cuts, while the national press agency saw its funding temporarily suspended. Need I go on?

If the trend of impunity, political pressure on key oversight bodies, and a gradual dissolvement of watchdog organisations continues, no future legislative progress will make a difference. No one will be left to practice and enforce the rules effectively and they will become an empty shell. Much like a CPI score of 60 can be a good evaluation of the state of play or just a number in a table. This is a stern reminder that a country can deteriorate faster than numbers are able to show. We have seen this in the region recently, it calls for vigilance and action.

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