Sunday, November 15, 2009

Corruption is background of Polish gambling law

From: Earth Times
The Polish government, in a draft law it approved on Tuesday, is taking on the gambling industry and corruption weeks after a scandal broke involving high-ranking politicians accused of lobbying for casino owners. The draft law, which requires the approval of the parliament and president before it can take effect, would ban slot machines outside casinos and raise taxes for the industry.

The scandal saw four top politicians depart on October 7 amid reports of politicians' lobbying to block provisions in a bill that would have increased taxes the gambling industry pays to the state.

But experts warn that the country needs long-term solutions to tackle corruption in politics, and that Warsaw is focusing on the gambling problem to steer attention away from government corruption.

Anna Urbanska, chairman of Transparency International in Poland, had a favorable view of the draft law, but she said that Warsaw needs to address corruption with a permanent system that will outlast the current government and continue beyond the next elections.

"More important now is a national strategy of a couple years - a national anti-corruption strategy - where NGOs and other organizations and watchdogs would monitor every year if progress has been made," Urbanska said.

Transparency International, based in Berlin, monitors corruption worldwide.

Last month, Prime Minister Donald Tusk dismissed the head of the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau amid charges the official overstepped his powers during an investigation in 2007. That same day Tusk accepted resignations from the justice minister, deputy economy minister and deputy prime minister in connection with the gambling scandal.

Those sweeping changes in the government came after the sports minister resigned and the head of Tusk's Civic Platform, Zbigniew Chlebowski, was dismissed after publication of wire-tapped conversations between Chlebowski and gambling industry leaders.

Despite these drastic moves, one analyst said, Tusk is taking a milder approach to battling corruption than one of his predecessors, former prime minister Leszek Miller, who conducted sweeping purges of his Democratic Left Alliance.

"Politicians and governments that battle corruption in a spectacular way are doomed to failure, because it's hard to prove later that they were effective," said Grzegorz Makowski, an analyst at the Institute of Public Affairs, a Warsaw-based think tank.

Tusk's strategy is different from Miller's, Makowski said, as he quickly shifted from the gambling scandal to tackling slot machines and under-age gaming.

"Tusk hasn't engaged himself in the scandal. He got rid of those closest to the scandal, but there wasn't a thorough cleaning up of his entire party," Makowski said. "He covered the problem of corruption with the problem of gambling."

Some 76 per cent of Poles say corruption is widespread in their government, according to polls by Gallup of 1,000 adults conducted in 2006 and 2007.

Poland was near the bottom of a 2008 Transparency International study of 31 European nations, with only Romania and Bulgaria scoring worse.

But the individual score for Poland in 2008 was an improvement compared to its 2007 score, and that could be due to the creation in 2006 of the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau, Transparency International said.

Poles are quite conscious of corruption, Urbanska said, which puts pressure on government to work towards transparency.

"Poles talk more about corruption and are more aware of it, which has a big influence on government reforms," Urbanska said. "That leads to our feelings that it's getting better. And maybe we don't have many successes, but something is being done."

An investigative commission, which is being led by Civic Platform, was recently set up to probe the gambling lobby scandal. Urbanska said it is not appropriate for Civic Platform to be leading the commission.

Poles are doubtful that the commission will examine everything, because there have been so many different commissions over the years that they have lost value, Urbanska said. Often, she added, they are used as a field for political battles.