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New Anti-Corruption Initiative a First in Czech Republic

BY Jessica McKenzie | Friday, May 31 2013

Pavel Franc and others wearing symbolic hard hats (Flickr with permission)

For the first time in the Czech Republic, a group of NGOs have banded together to support nine important anti-corruption measures. They are asking Czech citizens – again, for the first time – to write to their representative Members of Parliament (MPs) and ask them to pledge support for specific anti-corruption legislation. The campaign Rekonstrukce Státu, or the Reconstruction of State, holds MPs responsible for their pledges by posting their positions on the campaign website. One of the demands has already been made into law.

The Reconstruction of State initiative is headed by three major NGOs in the Czech Republic: Transparency International, Environmental Law Service and Ozivení. It is neither left nor right leaning; nor is it an official entity. The site presents a collection of goals that are supported by several organizations that released the plan in March after a year or so of hammering out nine concrete anti-corruption measures that they want to pass this electoral period, which ends in May 2014. That is a pretty narrow time slot to push through legislation like the abolition of secret political campaign donors and requiring an open declaration of assets by politicians in office.

Pavel Franc, program director of Environmental Law Service, the largest public interest law organization in the Czech Republic, and one of the leaders of the Reconstruction of State campaign, explained in a Skype conversation with techPresident that there is more to the project than just pushing legislation through the Parliament. The campaign is also an experiment in getting Czech NGOs to partner and cooperate with each other to achieve shared goals. They want to teach citizens to go to their representatives and make demands, and to hold them responsible for their promises.

The campaign website is a useful tool for reaching out to citizens. There are clear explanations of the nine laws, illustrated by punchy graphics that track the status of the legislation. Aphoto gallery of the politicians who have pledged support for the Reconstruction of State allows citizens to see which MPs still need to be persuaded to participate. In September Franc says they will post something of a voter guide with ratings of MPs based on their support, or lack thereof, for anti-corruption legislation. The goal, he says, is to make it “really painful” for MPs who are against the legislation.

A Transparency International poll found that 75 percent of Czech citizens think most or almost all public officials are corrupt. Czechs can be almost blasé about the situation. One travel agency offers the Corrupt Tour, which takes tourists by what it calls “Monuments of Corruption,” like the City Hall of Prague and the Ministry of Defense.

During the last election, Franc said, every politician was talking about anti-corruption, and yet since the new electoral term began only one anti-corruption law has been passed. That law, which prevents anonymous shareholding and will cut back on political conflicts of interest, was heavily supported by Reconstruction of State. Not one MP voted against it, and only four abstained.

However, that early success drew Reconstruction of State some unwanted attention. Franc said, “They've already discovered that it's not that easy with us, so they're trying to slow [other initiatives] down in Parliament committees ... so the next important laws can't be passed before elections.”

Franc conceived the idea for the Reconstruction of State in 2009, but he had some trouble convincing other NGOs of the project's viability at first. It was the then new U.S. Ambassador Norman Eisen who invited the heads of the top NGOs to dinner and encouraged them to talk it out, think about it, then come back for dinner and talk some more.

This project has been a long time coming — more than three years since first conceived and likely many more since first needed — and, although the website calls the plan realistic, it is certainly ambitious as well. Pavel Franc did not want to speculate on the possible success or failure of Reconstruction of State. Then, he said, he would start questioning and changing tactics, when what he really needs to do is focus on accomplishing the remaining eight goals.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.