One of the most serious societal problems in the Czech Republic and neighbouring Central and Eastern European countries is clientelism and systemic political corruption that is present at all levels of the government. Its impacts range from the destruction of the local environment to the embezzlement of public funds to the proliferation of private interests into policy-making. There is a growing public outrage about this situation, and people across society have begun calling for a solution.
Harnessing this energy, we work to tackle these problems using two intertwined strategies. First, we support and link together grassroots citizen initiatives that combat corruption and public maladministration at the local level. Second, we develop and promote legislative measures to head off this problem systemically. We focus our work in this field in the Czech Republic and Poland..
We systematically work to empower citizens and local communities in the Czech Republic and in Poland by helping them to assert their rights and actively participate in public affairs. By providing support to active individuals and local initiatives we aim to strengthen civic society, being the basis for the solution to systemic corruption embedded deeply in our governance systems.
We provide free legal counselling on a wide range of topics with an emphasis on environmental protection and public maladministration, clientelism, and corruption. Our counselling centre answers more than 1000 queries per year. A lot of information (including model legal submissions, FAQs, news) is further being distributed by means of an on-line counselling centre.
A major part of the cases we deal with are characterised by unlawful efforts of public authorities to prevent the public from participating in administrative proceedings and public decision-making and having access to information related to matters of public interest. As result, it is difficult and often impossible to prove and punish acts of corruption that stand behind adverse impacts of public authorities’ decisions and policies. Therefore, we are focusing on the enforcement of:
- public control over the politicians and public administration;
- transparency of administrative proceedings;
- participation of the public concerned about decision-making procedures;
- effective access to a wide range of information; and
- accountability for the impacts of corruption and clientelism taking the form of unlawful exercise or misuse of powers by public authorities.
Our efforts focus on the systemic support of active grassroots initiatives dealing with cases of strong public interest. This covers extended legal aid in their cases; involving teams of law students in their support and in implementing the case strategy. It also deals with non-legal help such as giving publicity to their cases and building the network of grassroots initiatives to help these advocates to get in touch, share their know-how and regularly co-operate and support each other’s activities.
We work intensively with law students and engage them in close and continuous collaboration with local initiatives. This greatly increases our capacity to work at the grassroots level and support isolated initiatives while also helping to build up new ranks of conscious lawyers.
Further, we connect our activities at the local level with our anticorruption efforts at the national level. We base the legislative reforms we promote on the experience of our local partners. In addition, we regularly introduce the national anticorruption activities to the local NGOs offering them the possibility to participate and get involved.
Building a legal framework against corruption
We develop, promote, and help to enforce laws that prevent systemic political corruption and misuse of public funds. In the Czech Republic, we have joined forces with the most prominent anti-corruption organisations to create a unified and directed voice of civil society in this area for the first time. We specifically target the responsibility of politicians and executives for handling public assets, the abuse of these assets for financing political parties, and the transparency of the law-making process.
State-owned enterprises are a major vehicle driving corruption in the Czech Republic. The state assets in these companies are equal to 62% of the annual income of the state budget. Yet, there is little or no control of how these assets are managed: no procurement regulation for state-owned enterprises, no rules for state companies’ governance, and no rules for the appointments to management or supervisory boards. In 2011, we opened a public discussion on this issue and prepared proposals to bridge these gaps. Since then, we have been pushing for more efficient control of state-owned enterprises—for example, by changing the supervisory boards’ composition, introducing committees for expert nominations to the boards, or by extending the powers of the Supreme Audit Office so that it can audit public assets in state- and municipality-owned companies. Learn more about our analytical work on the issue of state-owned enterprises.
Transparent legislative process and lobbying regulation
In 2011, with the support of major Czech anti-corruption organizations, we prepared and presented a detailed proposal of a law regulating lobbying that would require both politicians and lobbyists to record all their meetings. The proposal followed a series of roundtable discussions organized by the Respect Institute in the spring of 2011 and had drawn inspiration from examples of good practice abroad. Based on our recommendations, a draft bill was prepared by the government at the time. The bill was not passed in the end. In addition, we are active advocates of a more transparent legislative process—we have participated in various expert discussions as well as the preparation of a corresponding bill. The bill eliminates the common practice of legislative “riders”, and calls for making all relevant proposals and votes available for public scrutiny.
Financing of political parties
The election campaigns of the two largest political parties in the 2010 general elections cost approximately CZK 1 billion (approx. EUR 40 million). In response to public concern—arguing that such enormous sums negatively affect political competition—the new coalition government announced their commitment to reform the legislation governing the financing of political parties. In collaboration with Transparency International and the Academy of Science, we prepared an analysis of the financing of political parties in the Czech Republic. A draft law reflecting best practices, focusing both on transparency and concrete rules for campaigns and political parties’ financing followed this analysis. Learn more about our analytical work on the issue of financing of political parties.
Depoliticising state service
The Czech Republic does not have legislation that would protect public officials from political pressure and that would ensure their responsibility for the lawfulness of their decision-making. As a result, officials are often under political influence, being forced to adopt unlawful decisions against which the public lacks effective remedy. To solve this situation, the Czech Republic has committed to adopting a Civil Service Act, which was also one of the conditions of joining the European Union. However, all attempts to pass this law by previous administrations have failed. In collaboration with our partners, we have detailed a number of cases clearly illustrating the risks of corruption and the subsequent need for depoliticisation and professionalization of the Czech civil service. Therefore, as a part of our advocacy work, we continue to push for the adoption of a high-quality Civil Service Act. Learn more about our and our partners’ analytical work on the issue of civil service.
Access to information and public control
For the last two years, we have participated in and initiated discussions about the public register of contracts in the Czech Republic. This mostly preventive measure would help to save public money and prevent corruption and conflicts of interest by making all contracts concluded by the State available to the public. Using a Slovakian example, where a central register of contracts has been in use for several years, we helped to draft a Bill on a Register of Contracts, and continue to defend this piece of legislation against the industry lobby and other critics. In a similar vein, we are a part of the coalition of European civil society organizations promoting public registers of beneficial owners of companies—a measure that would contribute to tackling the issue of anonymous ownership, tax evasion, and money laundering. Learn more about our analytical work on the issue of access to information and public control.
Uniting civil society
Civil society’s demands will only be met if it is well organised and if its efforts are focused on a limited number of specific objectives. In 2009, we initiated a series of negotiations with leading anti-corruption organisations in the Czech Republic, which resulted in the creation of a coalition of 20 organisations with a joint anti-corruption advocacy programme entitled “Reconstruction of the State”. Currently, we are coordinating this joint project, which aims at the adoption of nine specific anti-corruption laws.
To support our advocacy work on concrete legislative proposals and recommendations, we collaborate with partners from the Czech Republic and abroad, preparing and publishing reports, case studies, data analyses, and examples of best practices from other countries.