A recent study by the corruption watchdog Transparency International indicates that the Czech Republic is facing growing corruption in the public sector. Various forms of unethical business practices not only discourage foreign investors, but are seen as a serious problem by the European Union which the Czech Republic is to join in May 2004. This week the government met to debate the most effective course of action against a problem that has plagued Czech society for decades.
Eradicating corruption among the police, judges, customs officials, government employees and prison administrators has become a top priority for the Spidla cabinet. Interior Minister Stanislav Gross is pushing for what he considers to be the most effective solution: integrity tests involving undercover corruption checks. His plan involves integrity tests of all public employees - by police officers who have also been screened. There will be tests for various forms of abuse - from under-the-table payments to mutual favours. A special anti-corruption police squad would also be set up to check the origin of suspected state employees' assets. The idea has provoked heated debate - especially as the law does not allow the state to prosecute a crime brought about by deliberate enticement. Despite this drawback Minister Gross's idea has received wide backing. The Supreme State Attorney Marie Benesova observed that once this plan was in operation public employees would think twice before risking their job by accepting a bribe. Transparency International has also welcomed the idea, pointing out that corruption is deeply rooted in Czech society and requires radical action.
What Transparency International does not like is the slow pace at which things are moving. Minister Gross has been given until next June to draft an amendment to the law which would incorporate these changes. Only then can it be assessed by the cabinet and subsequently by both houses of parliament. In the meantime corruption will continue to go unchallenged.