Corruption seen rising across Central Europe

By bne IntelliNews July 10, 2013

Kester Eddy in Budapest -

Transparency International (TI) released its Global Corruption Barometer 2013 on July 8. It reveals that perceptions of graft continue to grow across Central and Eastern Europe.

Membership of the EU is no guarantee of progress. TI's analysis on Hungary reveals that 61% of respondents think that corruption has increased in the past two years, while 82% believe that the government's actions are "somewhat or heavily" influenced by a few groups of firms.

The report however indicates that Hungarians are not ready to stand up against the trend. "Seventy percent of Hungarians would not report corruption if they encounter it: this is an exceptionally high percentage in Europe and in the region," Jozsef Peter Martin, executive director of TI in Hungary, told a press conference. By way of comparison, 50% of Slovaks and a full 84% of Slovenes - the region's most zealous opponents of graft - said they would report incidents.

Equally telling are the reasons Magyars give for keeping quiet. Four in ten said reporting corruption would not lead to any action, while two in ten said they "feared the consequences" should they do so.

For the Fidesz government, which campaigned vehemently against corruption when in opposition, the results are hardly re-assuring. No more than 15% of respondents judge the current administration's much publicised anti-graft efforts as effective. "According to citizens' perceptions, corruption is unfortunately very widespread in Hungary. This is related to the fact that public trust is alarmingly low and institutions do not work efficiently," Martin added.

Harsh, but fair?

However, Budapest is hardly alone in failing to get to grips with graft. Even by TI's own global rankings, Hungary comes in level with Brunei in 46th place out of a total of 174 countries. While that's behind the likes of Estonia, Slovenia and Poland, it's comfortably ahead of the Czech Republic down in 54th place, and Slovakia, which is a further eight spots behind.

In the Czech Republic, 71% of people think civil servants are affected by corruption, and 73% feel political parties are so tainted. In Slovakia these figures - at 64% and 66% respectively - come out better, but 69% of Slovaks also view the judiciary in a poor light. In the Czech Republic, 52% are suspicious of the courts, while Hungary's judiciary looks relatively clean to all but 33%.

Indeed, Hungary out-performs the Central European regional average in a number of areas - notably corruption associated with police, education, health care and public administration. The latter is somewhat surprising, given that 85% of Hungarians report that personal relationships "have a fundamental role in solving administrative issues," according to TI.

Still, the TI analysis clearly paints a pretty grim picture, requiring a decent dollop of lip service from the government at the very least. "Any indication of the presence of corruption is alarming," government spokesperson Ferenc Kumin told bne, "therefore the latest TI report is worth studying,".

Perception vs reality

However, he stresses that the majority of the most alarming figures - such as the 82% who believe the government is in collusion with a coterie of favoured businesses - refer to perceptions. These figures "don't necessarily equal the actual level of corruption in a country," he says.

While he admits negative perception of corruption "matters", he says it could be just as much based on the media narrative as on real life experiences. At the same time, the opposition insists that there is an overwhelming government influence in the Hungarian media, this might be difficult to justify. However, it is nonetheless a clear trait of the TI report.

Understandably, given the figures, Kumin argues "the most objective indicator" of the actual corruption level in Hungary is the response to the question: 'Have you paid a bribe in the last 12 months?'

"The global average here according to the TI report is 27%," he notes, "while the Hungarian figure is 12%. Most of our neighboring countries like Slovakia, Romania, Serbia, Ukraine - which come out to 21%, 17%, 26%, and 37% respectively - are worse in this respect."

However, he also insists "it doesn't mean that the Hungarian government is satisfied with the general corruption environment," and says that "numerous provisions and programmes," are being undertaken with the "aim to improve the situation."

Read the full report here

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