It started as a simple idea to fight corruption and strengthen democracy. But a crucial law aimed at putting all contracts signed by local and regional councils and other public institutions on the Internet now looks like it could be derailed. The Czech branch of Transparency International on Friday called an emergency press conference to raise the alarm.
Most of the major Czech political parties and the newly formed government voiced their strong support for a new law that would make public contracts signed by state authorities and companies before the last elections two years ago. The idea was that shedding light on such deals would prevent corruption and boost confidence in state institutions.
But the initial hopes for the proposed law on so called registered agreements now looks like it could be compromised to such an extent that it will be almost worthless. Corruption watchdog Transparency International on Friday put the spotlight on amendments made by the upper house of parliament, the Senate, which it says, significantly blunts the measure.
Instead of contracts becoming automatically invalid if not made public, the lawmakers have framed a drawn out and bureaucratic process involving the national competition office which might eventually result in a fine. In effect, one state institution would be fining another public one with the taxpayer footing the bill.
Transparency International’s Radim Bureš says the simple thrust of the original proposal looks like being lost if the Senate amendments are taken on board by the lower house of parliament next week:
“The meaning will be drastically diminished because the genius of this law was its simplicity. That means that the contract that was not put on the Internet. So there is no administrative procedure there is just that the law says that the contract is invalid and that no public money is misused. If the Senate version is adopted this simplicity will be abandoned. There will be quite heavy administrative procedures regarding the sanctions, which actually will not lead to the ideal solution.”
Bureš says even members of the leading government party, the Social Democrats, backed the Senate amendment and he says there are signs that this is the version that could become final in a vote next week. Some lawmakers, he says, seem to fear that the original proposal would make cosy, underhand deals impossible.
A similar registry of agreements, like that originally intended for the Czech Republic, was adopted in neighbouring Slovakia four years ago. Transparency International’s branch there says that it has been an outstanding success with no problems putting it into effect and public confidence in local, regional, and national government rising as a result.