Adriana Krnacova - executive director of Transparency International CR

30-08-2005

Rob Cameron's guest in One on One is Adriana Krnacova, executive director of the Czech branch of the anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International. Corruption is a major problem in Czech society, with bribe-taking officials and opaque government tenders frequently making headlines.

Adriana, could you explain for those who don't know exactly what Transparency International does?

"Transparency tries to combat corruption by fighting for transparency. It's the sentence I use to explain our activities to people. What does it mean? Well, we are not investigating cases, we can't do that, we believe the police are here to do that. We try to analyse systems, finding loopholes and finding tools to repair those loopholes by communicating our tools and our suggestions to politicians, to decision-makers, to the system."

Have you personally encountered corruption in your own life?

"Yes."

Give me an example.

"Well, when I was establishing my company in 95, my lawyer asked me if I wanted it registered in three months or two years. I needed it established in two months, badly, because I wanted to start my business. So I gave him some money. What he did with the money I don't know, but I don't think he was spending it on himself!"

What are the most outrageous cases of corruption you've come across during your time at Transparency?

"Actually there are a couple of them, and to be honest I'm so much involved in the activities and in my daily work, I consider each case as outrageous. But what I think is the most dangerous form of corruption is influencing the decision-making process in parliament. Because this influences the lives of everybody, not only the wrongdoing of a mayor or a couple of citizens but of all of us. If a law is adopted in favour of a group this is something which is very bad."

Transparency International produces an annual "Corruption Perception Index" - how is the survey produced and would you describe it as scientific and accurate?

"Well, this is a very complex question. There are three questions in one. It's really perception - this index shows the perception. It doesn't show the level, only the perception."

So it shows how corrupt a country the citizens of that country believe it to be?

"No, no. This index shows the opinion of outsiders. Whether they consider corruption to be low or high, what their perception of the existence of corruption is in a country where they're living or where they're doing business. Actually it's a combined survey. In the survey there are up to seventeen other surveys which are combined, and it's difficult to say whether this is scientific. I believe it is, but I see quite a lot of let's mistakes done in this CPI survey, because it's very difficult to explain to people what perception means to outsiders. Journalists mix it up quite often, because they only look at the ranking, and not at the index. But the index is much more important than the ranking, because the ranking depends on the number of countries to be surveyed. So the CPI index is the opinion of outside people, researchers, journalists, experts who are living in the country, watching what's going on in the country, but from the outside, not from the inside. We have another index, called a barometer, which we started producing two years ago, and this barometer shows the opinion of the insiders, of the citizens. If you combine the two sides of the coin, the outside and the inside, then you get a certain impression of what's going on in the country."

To what extent would you say that corruption is a legacy of forty years of Communism?

"We can't always say that Communism is guilty of everything. We have to stop saying this, because then we always find a good excuse for the wrongdoing. The reason why corruption is so high in this country is yes, partly a legacy of previous times, but to a large extent the situation created fifteen years ago - consequently to this time - is a big perpetuator and a motor for corruption."

Earlier this year the Prime Minister, Stanislav Gross, was forced to resign over a scandal surrounding how he financed his flat. Do you think that helped improve the political culture in this country?

"At least it pointed out what is possible, what politicians are capable of doing without having some reflection. Why is corruption considered to be so high? It's because if you find out that someone in a high position is really acting against the law, or making significant mistakes in office, or abusing power and nothing happens. The follow up somehow fades out. This time it didn't fade out. So for that reason I think it is a sort of milestone in a way of how political culture should be treated. A benchmark has to be set. I don't know if this is a benchmark, but maybe for a limited time period it could be a benchmark. It will take another fifteen years for people to finally realise that if they take a mandate, if they want to work for citizens and for the public, there are certain duties that go with it. First of all it's not making himself rich, but serving the people, and this is something our politicians don't understand quite well."

Do you think there will come a point when they will understand it?

"We are living in Central Europe, and as you said, there's a legacy from the past. There are quite a lot of challenges approaching Central Europe, and actually to the world as such. So it is very difficult to say that in fifteen years' time the Czech Republic will be a clean country, I don't know. What we try is to push that country to be cleaner. Corruption will not be diminished entirely, never, ever. But to eliminate the worst cases, and the worst cases of our corruption is executed in this country, this is our aim. And by having the new conflict of interests act pushed through parliament, and actually this took us three years of work, for us this is a victory, it's already in the second reading. So it's a good sign for us that maybe the Gross case pushed politicians to be much more open to adopt such a law, and an effective one."

30-08-2005