(Radio Praha – 15/04/2019) The Czech Ministry of the Interior has reduced by over one-quarter its funding for non-governmental organisations focused on preventing corruption. The money has been diverted into an anti-drink driving campaign – despite a previous government pledge to allocate more funds to anti-graft groups. Ian Willoughby discussed the news with David Ondráčka, head of the Czech branch of watchdog group Transparency International.
“It’s a farce. The government declares in their strategic documents anti-corruption policy as a top priority.
“They declare that they want to outsource pro bono legal aid to NGOs and to support them more.
“And then in reality they do the complete opposite – they reduce funding.
“They are basically sending a signal to NGOs: You should shut up and keep low.
“I believe it’s a complete joke, because in reality the total funding is CZK 2.5 million a year, for all the NGOs together, which is like EUR 120,000.
“It’s really a ridiculous amount of money.”
Given that the government did previously identify combatting corruption as a priority, what’s your sense as to why this is happening now?
“One of the reasons might be that, for instance, Transparency International investigates high-profile cases of political corruption.
“We name and shame, no matter who. We lead litigations against Prime Minister Babiš.
“And one might see this as a kind of sweet revenge that is taking place.
“However, another explanation might be also that it’s kind of negligence, that it’s a top policy priority only verbally and politically, but in reality it’s not followed with concrete actions.”
In concrete terms, how will this reduction in funds impact the work of Transparency International and other anti-corruption groups?
“The truth is that we don’t know yet whether they will reduce funding completely, or whether they will still keep some of it.
“But any reduction will result in the shrinking of our service.
“It will probably mean that I will need to let go one of my lawyers who work on individual cases.
“I will not be able to employ one or two analysts who are digging into open sources and openly available documents.
“And we will not be able to help dozens of our citizens who come to our office every week and who seek our legal advice.”
If we were to accept the idea that the government was deliberately doing this to reign in NGOs that are combatting corruption, will that move then prove effective?
“Transparency International will survive that and we will be able to find alternative funding.
“We will never be quiet and we will do what we do now with even more effort.
“That’s what I can promise.
“However, of course securing funding for independent anti-corruption NGOs is not an easy task.
“We need to put extra effort into finding extra funding and potential donors.
“So if it happens and they reduce finally government funding, I will have to turn to the general public and to the corporate sector to support our work, because I believe it makes sense.”