Rooting out corruption has been a priority for Czech governments right and left of center ever since the fall of communism. Yet according to the results of a survey conducted by the CVVM agency a full 20 percent of Czechs say giving bribes is a normal part of life.
The Czech Republic ranks 53 out of 175 states on Transparency’s Corruption Perception Index. In Europe it is 25th out of 31 states, behind countries such as Poland and Hungary but ahead of states such as Greece, Italy or Romania. Although in recent years it has slowly been moving up the ladder, corruption is still perceived as a major problem both by the government and the public. According to a Eurobarometer survey 95% of Czechs believe that corruption is widespread in their country and 80% of Czechs consider corruption the most important challenge to be addressed. Yet for a fifth of the population slipping someone an envelope to speed up a procedure at a public institution, get their car serviced faster or get better treatment in hospital is what they call “a normal part of life”.
Under communism envelopes were often the only way of getting hard-to get-products or services. And it takes time to root out old practices. What is surprising however is that a large number of those who consider bribery normal are young people. The head of the Czech branch of transparency international David Ondracka says that the assumption that the new generation will automatically be better and will have more integrity is simply wrong.
“They are very much influenced by the culture -political culture, business culture, they see what their parents and friends are doing and how they often succeed and benefit from not respecting the rules. I believe this is something that is a responsibility of everyone. We need to work more with the younger generation and we need to be able to show them, very practically, where are the thin lines which should not be crossed and that very often it is not only about the written rules but also about the rules of ethics and morality.”
Although the government’s long-term anti-corruption strategy targets corruption at all levels, gradually narrowing the space for giving an accepting bribes, it is large scale corruption that presents the biggest problem. According to a Eurobarometer business survey, 71% of Czech respondents, the highest percentage in the EU, noted that corruption is a major obstacle for doing business. In recent years firms got used to including bribes, mostly worth 10 to 16 percent of the price of the public contract, in the calculation of their costs. In 2011the government’s economic council NERV even produced an estimate alleging that firms paid 30 to 40 billion crowns in bribes a year. Changes to legislation, greater transparency in public tenders and more controls have gradually started producing results. However David Ondracka of Transparency says the fight against corruption will be a long and uphill struggle.
“There are definitely a lot of things happening – lot of initiatives, legislation and corruption scandals. I think we are in the middle of an anti-corruption fight that will last ten to fifteen years. I am not pessimistic, I hope there is a light at the end of the tunnel and we are slowly progressing.“