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Govt appeals to business community for help to promote transparency

Deputy prime minister Tibor Navracsics has called upon commerce to help increase transparency and fight corruption, in a matrix involving all of society’s stakeholders tackling what is “a political, legal, social, cultural and business problem at the same time”.

Navracsics, who is also Minister of Public Administration and Justice, was talking at the AmCham transparency conference on April 5 entitled “Self-cleansing”. No one strata of society can fight corruption alone, he said, though he accepted the political ruling class had to act as an exemplar.

“Politicians ought to be obliged to combat corruption, because corruption represents a grave danger for the legitimization of the system. It is indispensable for civilians to believe that the administration and MPs are serving the public good,” he said.

“Corruption is not just a political but also a cultural problem because we have a general lack of trust in society,” Navracsics told delegates. “When you know you only get something if you give a kickback, you don’t trust the system.” Eventually that would lead to everybody trying to find “a shortcut” to make the system work for them. And once that moved across to the commercial sector, “business transactions become so much more expensive because of the extra costs [in bribes] for example”. Trying to operate legitimately in such an environment also becomes “legally more complicated” with ever more complex contracts required.

Navracsics said he believes a two-pronged approach is needed. “You have to have laws and regulations that make it much more difficult to have corruption, that make corruption so expensive.” In other words, tighten the rules and enforce them to such an extent that any possible advantages of a less transparent approach are outweighed by the penalties, making legitimacy the pragmatic, cheaper option. But that needs to go along with greater integrity, with a change of culture. The deputy PM said his ministry was doing its best to set an example to others: “We are much more disciplined than before, responsibilities are much clearer,” he said.

“In the budget debate this year we were able to fight for additional funds for the judiciary in order to ensure a very strong anti-corruption fight.” Specialists are being hired for the prosecutor’s office, rules tightened, courts are getting extra funding, and from next year “punishment will be more severe”. Navracsics said that as a deterrent he wanted to ensure even complex cases could be dealt with quickly, rather than dragging on for years.

But all of that only helps create a background. “Just deterring is not enough; a culture of integrity has to be spread and this is just as important. We should also have ethical expectations in public administration.”

“The Zoltán Magyary Program is trying to show in public administration how you can be competitive even at a world level,” he explained. “One of the most important steps is to have a code of conduct.” And he called for businesses to get involved in a dialogue with his department in shaping that. The aim was to make stakeholders more confident in the overall system, rather than finding individuals within it whom they trust to work in a right and proper manner.

Hungary has joined international efforts to fight corruption at an EU and UN level. “But international coalition is not worth much unless you have domestic coalition. We are working with the court of auditors on prevention protocols and sharing experiences.” The justice minister thought it would be “very useful to sign an agreement” between the two bodies “to ensure regular cooperation.” Referring to the groundbreaking strategic partnership announced recently with AmCham (see ‘Milestone’ agreement with government in theMarch 2011 issue of Voice), Navracsics said he would like to see more of these with businesses and business associations.

 

Zoltán Magyary

The Zoltán Magyary Program is named after a Hungarian academic and policymaker who died 66 years ago, aged just 57, and who was an author, professor of public law at Budapest University, founder of the Hungarian Institute of Administrative Affairs, Vice President of the International Institute of Administrative Sciences, and commissioner for Hungarian public administration reform between the wars. Magyary (1888-1945) envisioned a public administration that served the public, an effective state which assumed only those tasks that it could deliver at a similar or lower cost than others, but at a better quality. Magyary believed Hungary could become a winner of great social and economic changes through a systematic development of excellence in higher education, science, public libraries and museums.

 

This article was originally printed in the June issue of AmCham's membership magazine Voice under the title "Self-cleansing transparency"