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TI: ČR lacks tools to reduce clash of interests threat

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Prague, March 29 (CTK) – The Czech Republic lacks instruments to help reduce the risk of conflict of interests in public administration and in businesses related to the placing of contracts and drawing of subsidies, Ivana Dufkova, from the Czech branch of Transparency International (TI), told reporters yesterday.

Rules for transparent steps, decision making and also sanctions are lacking, Dufkova said.

TI plans to draft recommendations for the public administration and entrepreneurs based on its ongoing project Conflict of interests as a risk of fraud, which is to end in a year.

The project has been backed by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF). Its part was an international conference of experts in Prague yesterday.

“We are trying to seek other than legislative tools to reduce conflict of interests…Unfortunately, not only the Czech Republic but also other countries still have no tools to effectively reduce the risks of corruption and conflict of interests,” Dufkova said.

Conflict of interests is not unlawful. According to TI, it is often “legal and can be criticised in ethical terms only.”

It is impossible to either rule out or prove that one benefited from deciding on a contract or a subsidy, TI said.

In the past months, a conflict of interests was often mentioned in connection with Finance Minister and ANO chairman Andrej Babis over his ownership of business companies and media.

In February, Babis transferred his giant Agrofert Holding to trust funds to comply with a new conflict of interests law.

Another case that drew the public attention was the suspicious drawing of EU subsidies by Stork Nest, a firm previously owned by Babis.

Most recently, the EC criticised the drawing of subsidies by Agrofert, a chemical, agricultural and food company, in a situation where its senior manager Jaroslav Faltynek simultaneously sat on the board of the state agricultural and intervention fund SZIF that supervises the distribution of subsidies.

The EC has proposed a fine of 800,000 euros for the Czech Republic. Prague seeks conciliation proceedings in Brussels, wanting the EC to withdraw the fine.

Faltynek said a few days ago that his colleagues on the SZIF board, Ladislav Velebny (Social Democrats, CSSD) and Petr Kudela (Social Democrats, CSSD) faced a conflict of interests similar to his.

Senator Libor Michalek (for the Pirates) said at the conference yesterday that balanced rules must be introduced to define the group of officials concerned, the posts that cannot be held simultaneously and the way to report suspected corruption and conflict of interests.

Repressions in case of a breach of law should also be defined, as should the steps to ensure a remedy, Michalek said.
Matej Simalcik, from the Slovak TI branch, said Slovakia’s legislation in this respect is tougher than Czech.

An official who breaches the rules might be fined up to their yearly pay, and they can lose their mandate if they repeat the mistake. This also applies to members of the government and to the president, Simalcik said.

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