Monday, September 30, 2002


The new anti-corruption program, announced by Internal Affairs and Administration Minister Krzysztof Janik Sept. 17, instantly sparked protests from police officers.
Unveiling the program, Janik said the number of cases involving corruption reviewed by Polish courts had doubled over the past 10 years. Poland has also dropped several notches down the Transparency International list. According to the government, the battle against corruption requires a new approach.
"The anti-corruption strategy," adopted in the form of an official government document, calls for much harsher moves in combating corruption in the police and other uniformed services such as the Border Guard, customs services and road transportation inspectors.
If the new proposal becomes law, employees of all these services will have to submit detailed property declarations to their supervisors each year. In the event of suspicions of corruption, these declarations will be checked thoroughly and compared against the annual personal-income tax returns filed by the officer with the tax office. Tax inspectors will in such cases be obligated to make detailed audits to show if the level of the suspect's spending is commensurate with their official pay.
Moreover, among other restrictions, police officers will not be allowed to use their private cell phones while on duty-as there is much talk of "cooperation" between traffic policemen and companies that tow and repair cars damaged in car accidents; the same goes for funeral homes, which receive information on deaths among accident victims surprisingly fast. Similarly, officers will only be allowed to keep limited amounts of money on them; they will have to leave the rest for safekeeping before going on duty.
Fines for traffic offenses will exclusively be in the form of credit tickets-to be paid later at a post office or a bank by the driver. Such a system is designed to uproot the practices of bribing officers instead of accepting tickets. Most drivers agree such practices are widespread on Polish roads and streets today.
In the event of suspicions of bribery, special groups of inspectors from police internal departments will have the right to frisk officers on duty. Undercover agents will also be used on a wider scale-whereby plainclothes policemen from the inspection department will offer bribes to officers.
Many police officers have received the proposals with anxiety. One of the trade unions representing police employees has even appealed for a vote of no-confidence in the minister and his aides. If the minister treats us like potential criminals, we cannot treat him as our responsible supervisor, the initiators of the campaign argue. However, observers say a major "disobedience campaign" is unlikely.
If parliament approves the proposal, officers, who always request anonymity in their statements to the press, vow to take Janik's plan to the Constitutional Tribunal for violating their civil rights.
However, Prof. Andrzej Rzepliński of the Helsinki Foundation said Janik's proposal did not undermine human rights in any way. Supervision of police officers by employees of internal departments is the norm in many European Union countries as well as the United States.
The same is true of many other institutions, in which employees voluntarily agree to accept certain limitations on their privacy in favor of the employer, such as supervisors' access to official correspondence or their e-mail accounts.
Officers joining the service acknowledge and undertake to respect its rules, so inspection-even if done secretly and involving their private lives, including their financial status (if there is suspicion of bribery, for example), cannot be treated as infringing upon their civil rights in any way.
Witold Żygulski