Corruption seen widespread in former communist states

WARSAW (AFP) – Corruption remains widespread in the former communist nations which joined the European Union two years ago, despite efforts to fight the failings of the past, a global graft watchdog said yesterday. In its annual worldwide survey of corruption, Transparency International (TI) noted that the 25-nation EU is home not only to some of the world’s least corrupt nations, such as Finland, Sweden and Denmark, but also to a handful of countries, notably Poland, who still have their work cut out. TI ranked 163 countries according to the degree of corruption seen by business people and country analysts, with the scorecard ranging from 0, which is highly corrupt, to 10, which is squeaky clean. Top-ranked Finland had 9.6 points while Haiti, classed as the most corrupt, had 1.8 points. Of the eight former communist countries which joined the EU in May 2004, only Estonia (24th, 6.7 points) and Slovenia (28th, 6.4 points) scored convincingly on the TI list. Governments in the region have launched a string of anti-corruption drives to try to overcome graft, often under pressure from the European Commission, the EU’s executive body. Twin brothers Jaroslaw and Lech Kaczynski came to power in Poland after their conservative Law and Justice Party ran on an anti-corruption platform in last year’s legislative and presidential elections, pleasing voters who were fed up with scandals under the previous, left-wing government. The Kaczynskis subsequently created an anti-corruption body with wide-ranging powers. «After several years of decline, the trend has stopped,» said Maciej Chyz, a senior official at the Polish branch of TI. «The current government has started doing something for real, unlike its predecessors,» he said. Poland climbed from 70th to 61st place, but its score of 3.7 points left it well behind neighboring Slovakia, as well as Latvia, which were equal 49th, with 4.7 points. Lithuania and the Czech Republic were ranked equal 46th, with 4.8 points, while Hungary was 41st with 5.2 points. Rampant corruption has long been a concern in Bulgaria and Romania, which are set to join the EU in January 2007. Bulgaria nonetheless managed a better score than Poland on the TI index, managing 57th place with four points. But Romania, with 3.1 points, found itself in the 84th slot. «New anti-corruption legislation is either ineffective or not properly implemented,» said Iulia Cospanaru, an official from the Romanian branch of TI. The relatively poor scores of most former communist EU members are a reflection of ingrained practices which dog the lives of many residents of the region. Bribery is regularly used to obtain administrative documents, avoid a traffic fine or even win a court case. Corruption is also widespread in the medical sector, where «gifts» in cash or kind are often essential to ensure decent care. In Hungary and Poland, surgeons may expect up to 400 euros (500 dollars) for a basic operation such as a Caesarean section, and nurses several dozen euros. On paper, medical salaries are low across the region. In Poland, the gross salary for a doctor is around 400-500 euros. Corruption has also enabled politicians and their cohorts to build up personal wealth. Last year, Czech Prime Minister Stanislav Gross quit after failing to explain where he got his wealth.

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