Bringing Political Corruption to Light
Awareness is key before corruption can be effectively combated. Interested organizations and parties gathered in Warsaw to see what steps have been taken and what remains to be done.
"This is an attempt to mobilize public opinion, politicians and non-government organizations," said Sejm Speaker Maciej Płażyński at the opening of the conference Corruption in Politics April 26. "Suspecting politicians of dishonesty and a low rating of the political class imperil democracy."
The decision to hold the conference was preceded by the publication of two reports-by the World Bank (WB) and the Central Auditing Office-devoted to the issue. The reports' tone was that of serious warning. The statement in the WB report considered to be the most disturbing was that a bill can be effectively blocked in the Polish parliament for $3 million (and not long ago the same could allegedly be done for "just" $500,000).
The journalists and participants at the conference addressed questions concerning this allegation to the bank's representative Helen Sutch. She maintained the assertion, adding that the report was based on sources including conversations with 50 Polish politicians and senior state officials, as well as generally accessible press and official materials and documents.
Sutch stated at the conference that the level of corruption in Poland is similar to that in other countries of the region. She praised Poles for facing up to this problem, and expressed appreciation for the determination of politicians and social organizations in their efforts to limit corruption. She offered help on the part of the WB (as an organization experienced in combating corruption), in forms including cooperation and consulting by WB experts, who have contributed to anti-corruption success in many other countries.
Some expert advice presented at the conference did not differ substantially from the conclusions of reports prepared by Polish institutions. However, many of the constitutional and legal guarantees of transparency in the work of state offices remain on paper.
"Article 61 [of the Constitution] guarantees citizens the right to obtain information about the activity of the bodies of official authority and persons performing official functions, while the local government act mentions the transparency of commune finances, but let someone actually go to the commune administration and ask about their financial statement," said Jacek Adamus from the Local Initiative Club, whose members are encouraged to exercise this form of supervision over the authorities.
"Deputies and councilors are friendly and willing to talk only once every four years: during the two months before elections," former Warsaw Councilor Tadeusz Jarzembowski seconded Adamus.
The conference's main topics included issues of the supervision over elected bodies and political party financing. The speakers taking the floor, including politicians of various stripes, agreed that the current system of raising money by political parties generates corruption.
"We face a great legislative task to adjust Polish regulations to European [Union] standards concerning the prevention of trade in political influence," said Ludwik Dorn. He is chairman of the sub-committee for anti-corruption amendments to the law on political parties, to the Sejm and Senate election laws, and to the President of the Republic of Poland election law. As an example of Polish anomalies, he reported that a political party electoral committee's report could consist of a single sentence: "We have neither gained nor spent a single zloty." And it wouldn't entail any consequences for the party, because they are neither stipulated by law nor Covered by the State Election Commission's powers to supervise election committee documents.
"Our proposals concern the introduction of such powers, and the possibility of leveling penalties ranging from denial of budget subsidies, making fines, to loss of mandate," said Dorn. The most pressing issues include putting public money collection in order, that is the question of anonymous benefactors supporting campaigns. "The concept of `campaign building blocks' has been totally compromised and has become a form of legally sanctioned corruption. Some 50-70 percent of money from their sale boils down to `briefcase swapping,' a briefcase full of `building blocks' for one full of money," says Dorn. The sub-commission proposes to ban cash contributions and to introduce obligatory spending of electoral money only through bank accounts, and also to ban the collection of contributions by individual candidates on the party ticket.
Dorn is aware that the proposals submitted by his sub-commission are quite unpopular. But he does not think of himself as a radical reformer. Unlike former Prime minister Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz (who attended the conference with two other former heads of the government, Hanna Suchocka and Jan Olszewski), Dorn is not a supporter of political party financing exclusively from the State Treasury and membership fees. "I allow the possibility of donations by corporate bodies and individuals, but on our conditions of a far-reaching regulation," said Dorn. "The system of financing solely from the state budget according to election results could lead to the political alignment's petrifiction, while the very meaning of elections is the possibility of change," he adds.
Poland ranks 45th on the list of 99 countries, prepared by Transparency International, in terms of the "observed corruption" indicator, arrived at from surveys. A place at the middle of the list can hardly be considered desirable, all the more so since a rising number of Poles-now two-thirds-think that corruption in Poland is spreading. Only one-fifth, however, admit to having given or taken a bribe.
Transparency International follows public opinion polls. Their results were also a factor behind the organization's participation in calling the conference in Warsaw. "This is the first such conference, and Rome wasn't built in a day," said Magda Brennek of Transparency International's Polish chapter. "The important thing is the general atmosphere, which has been improving. Just a few months ago Ludwik Dorn was considered a sort of knight-errant; today, everybody agrees many laws should be amended," adds Brennek.
Piotr Golik Link