Prime Minister Andrej Babiš has gone back on a promise to implement a Code of Ethics for cabinet ministers, instructing the Ministry of Justice to stop work on draft guidelines and focus instead on a new lobbying law. Advocates for greater transparency in government see it as a blow to the fight against corruption.
In late July, shortly after the ministers of justice and labour in his new minority government were forced to resign over allegations they had plagiarised their academic theses, Andrej Babiš – who faces charges of EU subsidy fraud – announced 10 priority measures to fight corruption.
Chief among those priorities was drafting a Code of Ethics, which the prime minister said should to be in place by September. In a sudden reversal, Mr. Babiš now says such a move is unnecessary.
“Our ministers do not need this code because they are already promoting transparency. I think we are a government that is open and transparent. We have the values without needing them to be written somewhere on paper.”
According to the Ministry of Justice, the new focus on lobbying law in fact demonstrates a greater commitment to fighting corruption in government. The proposed Code of Ethics would have been a mere guideline rather than an enforceable law, says ministry spokesman Vladimír Řepka.
“We would like to address the issue of corruption not through soft measures, that is to say, a code, but rather through hard measures, such as the law on lobbying. We believe that the Lobbying Act, which we will be presenting this year, will appropriately guarantee the enforceability of all measures.”
Following the last meeting of the Council for Coordinating the Fight Against Corruption in October, at which the draft “Government Anti-Corruption Strategy for 2018-2022” was discussed, no public mention was made of plans to scrap the Code of Ethics.
Council member Josef Karlický, who also heads a private anti-corruption initiative, says the decision could stem from objections of individual government ministers. Or it could be that Mr Babiš, who faces EU subsidy fraud charges, is tired of being portrayed as a hypocrite.
“From earlier negotiations with officials, it was clear the ministers’ agreement and willingness to commit to the rules was required, and probably they have not yet reached an agreement. Also, the fact that a prime minister facing prosecution wants to adopt an ethical code was not portrayed very positively in the media. That could have played a role.”