Croatia's New Anti-Corruption Hotline Is Constantly Hot
By Liz Barrett for Southeast European Times - 09/07/03
Croatians do not trust national governments to deliver on their campaign promises. But also at the local level, in the municipality or post office, the public is suspicious of authority and suspect that staff will block their requests rather than try to help them.
The problem can become a vicious circle. Because citizens are suspicious of public servants, public servants get demoralised and it becomes harder to recruit skilled professionals. And because citizens expect that they will have to pay a bribe to get a service, they often offer bribes regardless of whether they are requested, adding to the perception that such payments are the norm.
One new service in Croatia is trying to break the circle. Set up by Transparency International (TI), an anti-corruption NGO, with funding from the OECD, its aims are not just to reveal corruption. Rather, it hopes to inform citizens about their rights and make sure that they know how to use rights that already exist. "One of our aims is to demystify corruption," says Ana Milovcic, executive manager of TI's Croatia office, adding "many people in Croatia believe that everything is corrupted."
The emphasis, Milovcic says, is on empowering citizens to use procedures that are already there. "Before people even try to get information or make a complaint they have the attitude that nothing can be done. Part of what we do is encourage them to try, and tell them how to do it," she explains.
Around one-fifth of the calls refer to suspected corruption in the courts, known for their long delays and non-transparent practices. About the same amount cite corruption in the various ministries. Health care is the subject of around one in ten calls. Citizens report having to pay 2,000 euros to obtain surgery, while war veterans claim that it is necessary to pay 5,000 euros to obtain a doctor's certificate stating that one suffers from post-war stress. These sums are often well beyond the wallets of those who need them most and show just how damaging corruption can be.
In such cases, TI seeks to raise public awareness by announcing its findings in the media, but callers remain anonymous. In other cases, callers are pleased to give their names and want a police investigation. TI then co-operates with the interior ministry, which is better equipped to find out whether a claim is genuine. TI warns callers that anyone who has paid a bribe is legally culpable under Croatian law -- it is not just those who collect bribes who break the law. But someone reporting a bribe is nevertheless likely to be looked on kindly by the police and courts.
Milovcic sees government institutions as part of the solution and finds the interior ministry very helpful. The ministry set up its own hotline two years ago, but it has proved less popular -- perhaps because citizens would rather speak to TI's trained volunteers than deal with government officials. The new hotline gives citizens a voice, but it also allows the government to get feedback on its own performance. Over time, it could not only help to rid the Croatia of corruption, but could also build a more trusting relationship between government and citizens.