Lobbying continues to suffer poor reputation in the Czech Rep

28-04-2005

The practice of lobbying has long been accepted as an effective if sometimes controversial part of the modern political process, with no shortage of lobby groups everywhere trying to influence government policy and legislation. But in formerly communist countries it is still relatively new - and not without its detractors. Lobbying here is still widely associated with corruption in the public eye.

It's true that lobbying does not enjoy a favourable reputation in the Czech Republic - among the public and even among many politicians. The PR agency Donath Burson-Marsteller recently released the results of a survey it conducted in tandem with a professional polling firm, showing how Czech politicians viewed lobbying here and areas where improvements could be made. Less than half of 362 interviewed felt lobbying was useful as an information tool. DBM's Jiri Sebek:

"The attitude of elected officials is much more positive than the attitude of the general public, but it's not as positive as in the rest of the EU. We found out that a bit less than half of those we spoke to think about lobbying positively. The rest don't like lobbying, they have very definite ideas about why lobbying is 'bad'."

One reason why lobbying gets a bad rap is because the country has failed to introduce regulations requiring lobby groups to declare interests openly at regional and government levels. Jiri Sebek says lobbying's image would improve if such rules were in place. But, he also takes the optimistic view.

Ada Krnacova of the watchdog group Transparency International is far more critical of the Czech political scene.

"It's highly corrupt in our society and lobbying is a part of it. It is difficult to exclude it and say lobbying is somehow 'cleaner' than other parts of political life. It's as contaminated as political life in the Czech Republic as a whole."

When it comes to lobbying some, like Ada Krnacova, are sceptical of Czech politicians' ability to separate the wheat from the chaff and differentiate between information that is truly useful from pure self-interest of lobby groups.

"My experience is that the level of education and that the overall intelligence level in political life in the Czech Republic is pretty low. People are not used to working with information and they are not used to properly extracting information from gossip. The output matches this: if you see the number of laws which had to be changed because of their lack of quality - it's mad! Politicians are not making an effort because they lack the ability!"

That may seem like unduly harsh criticism but Ada Krnacova points, for example, to a Prague Post survey last year revealing how few Czech politicians spoke additional languages - leaving them paralysed or reliant on secondary sources in comparison and analysis, compared to their EU counterparts.

Finally, what of the report by Donath Burson-Marsteller?

It points out interesting differences between the Czech Republic and other countries in the European Union.

For instance, Czech politicians seem ready to rely far more on their own research and gut instincts and or that of their closest colleagues, than take expert advice from outside. Whether this is a limitation is open to interpretation, but it does not end there. In Great Britain, for example, politicians give far greater weight to other information sources too - such as the media. Here the media is rated among the least important.

In the end the study does suggest that the politicians here who do welcome lobbying want greater transparency. There does seem to be a growing awareness that bribes, kick-backs, and shady dealings of all sorts are no longer lobbying at all - but crimes.

28-04-2005