06. 02. 2023 Pontis Foundation

The Fund for Transparent Slovakia celebrated 10 years with a discussion evening in the Pálffy Palace

Over the ten years of its existence, the Fund for Transparent Slovakia announced 12 grant calls. It supported more than 1.2 million euros for more than 70 projects to increase transparency and fight corruption. On the tenth anniversary of its establishment, the Pontis Foundation organised an event to thank all those who cooperated with the foundation during that time.

The event took place in the Pálffy Palace on Zámocká Street in Bratislava. In addition to recapitulating the ten years of the fund’s existence, the programme also included two debates. In one of them, Miroslav Šarišský, Director of Human Resources of Slovenské elektrárne and at the same time a founding member of the fund, talked with his guests about how corruption in Slovakia is perceived by those who are most affected by it. Among the speakers were Katarína Batková, director of Via Iuris, Zuzana Petková, director of the Stop Corruption Foundation, and Michal Piško, director of Transparency International Slovakia.

There has been a shift for the better in the fight against corruption

On the 31st of January, Transparency International published the Corruption Perceptions (CPI) ranking for 2022, according to which Slovakia was ranked 49th out of 108 evaluated countries. The resulting position is thus seven places better than the year before (56). “It’s an improvement, but expectations were higher. The government committed in the Programme Statement that it wanted to improve the perception of corruption by 11 places. The ambitions thus remains unfulfilled,” said Michal Piško. He stated as one of the reasons that this government succeeded only partially in setting a higher political culture. Although it had to deal with objective problems, such as the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, or high inflation, it often exhausted itself needlessly with various internal conflicts and quarrels.

Katarína Batková thinks there has been a shift for the better in the field of transparency in Slovakia. She has a positive view, in particular, of filling positions in the highest state institutions, for which Via Iuris also has merit. Thanks to support from the Fund for Transparent Slovakia, the organisation presented solutions for the transparent selection of new constitutional judges, which increased their independence from political influences. She emphasised the importance of the Constitutional Court to the media and the public. Further, she advocated for changes in the selection process that ensured independent personalities with high professional and moral credit would become judges.

Zuzana Petková singled out the Information Act, the duty to publish contracts with the state, and the register of public sector partners as policies which were set up very well. “Many European countries do not have such legislation.” For example, in Germany, all these services are paid; in Slovakia, they are free. “The legislation is set well; the problem of Slovakia is the nature of political representation. We have not yet moved for the better in this area,” she said.

Political culture and control of public administration remain a problem

A model in the field of transparency and the fight against corruption is Estonia, which ranks highest among post-communist states in the most recent ranking of perceptions of corruption. It was ranked 14th, ahead of Austria and many other Western countries. “It must be said that Estonia was not always doing so well; they also had big problems with corruption, so they decided to digitise the authorities. In our country, unfortunately, we used those funds by sending them to Greece “in someone’s pocket”, said Z. Petková. According to Michal Piško, Slovakia’s problem is mainly political culture. “In our country, politicians and voters accept things that would not be tolerated in Western countries, and consequences would occur much more often.”

Katarína Batková thinks that we have the so-called paradox of transparency in Slovakia. “We have many registries for free, but to be able to effectively control the public administration, it is not enough to have everything public – you need to have the capacity for someone to control it. For example, journalists and non-governmental organisations, experts who have the know-how and know how to look at the data.” According to her, this is also an essential part of the anti-corruption fight, having the capacity to control things and investigate politicians.

In our country, politicians and voters accept things that would not be tolerated in Western countries, and consequences would occur much more often.

To do their job well, they need to build their capacities

The guests agreed that in recent years, they had to pay more attention to setting up the financing of their organisations. To function sustainably, they had to diversify their resources – not only relying on grants but also focusing on individual donations. “The last grant call of the Fund for Transparent Slovakia aimed at building capacities helped us a lot because we were able to develop our fundraising,” said Zuzana Petková. Thanks to grant support from the fund, the Via Iuris organisation also changed the funding ratio. Currently, 45% of income is donations, and 55% is granted. “Donations help us a lot. Instead of solving how to fit into some grant calls, we can focus on what is needed,” said Katarína Batková.

The guests in the second discussion were a member of the Judicial Council, Lucia Berdisová, special prosecutor Daniel Lipšic, and editor-in-chief of Aktuality.sk, Peter Bárdy. They talked with host Braňo Závodský about how they remembered the period ten years ago, whether we have progressed since that, and how they perceived the role of justice, journalists, and civil organisations in fighting against corruption.

The limit of what cannot be done is different than it was 10 years ago

Lucia Berdisová remembers that very interesting things happened in the judiciary ten years ago. The President of the Supreme Court at that time was Štefan Harabin. “I remember that when I watched the sessions of the Judicial Council, I had a feeling of great bizarreness about what was happening there. The microphones were usually turned off, and the recordings had blank spots.” According to Peter Bárdy, the work of journalists at that time was significantly easier. He remembers that the fall of Radičová’s government was covered two years after it happened. Today there are many more topics and different cases. “It was a quieter time for me, both in journalism and politics.”

Daniel Lipšic highlighted the public pressure in 2009, which occurred after the decision of the Constitutional Court to abolish the Special Court. “Public opinion played a big role then. After pressure from the media, experts and the public, a new law was adopted, which was finally upheld by the Special Court. Only its name has changed to the Specialised Criminal Court.”

Berdisová, Lipšic and Bárdy agreed that we are moving in the right direction regarding state transparency and the fight against corruption, especially in the last five years. The trends that Lucia Berdisová perceives from her experience are positive. “I feel that the judiciary is much more civilized. The limit of what cannot be done is somewhere completely different than it was ten years ago.” Even Peter Bárdy feels that under this government, the police, the courts, and the special prosecutor’s office have their hands untied to be able to do what they must do. Daniel Lipšic sees it a bit more sceptically; according to him, the development of the fight against corruption is like a sinusoid. “So far, the trajectory is set well. We see that things have been moving forward. We’ll see how long this trend lasts.”

The non-governmental sector as part of the fight against corruption

Daniel Lipšic considers the third sector as an alternative to law enforcement authorities. “Organisations are not bound by restraint. They can open many things, draw attention to problems and scandals, and write about them. Subsequently, they can cooperate very effectively with the relevant authorities.” At the same time, he highlighted that in Slovakia, we have civic organisations focused specifically on the fight against corruption, which are often staffed by motivated people who play a unique role in solving this issue. Lucia Berdisová perceives it similarly – “we need to be put under pressure, constantly asked, examined and controlled.”

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