Lithuania - Corruption
Paying or accepting a bribe is a criminal act. Lithuania established in 1997 the Special Investigation Service (Specialiuju Tyrimu Tarnyba) specifically to fight public sector corruption. The agency investigates approximately 100 cases of alleged corruption every year, but has yet to bring charges against high-level officials for corrupt practices. Lithuania ratified the UN Convention against Corruption in December 2006. Lithuania also hosts a representative office of Transparency International (TI). TI ranked Lithuania 50th in its 2011 Perceptions of Corruption Index with a score of 4.8. (TI considers countries with a score below 5.0 to have serious problems with corruption.) Police, medical personnel and local government, among others, were cited by TI as prone to corruption. Large foreign investors report few problems with corruption. On the contrary, most large investors report that high-level officials are often very helpful in solving problems fairly. In general, foreign investors say that corruption is not a significant obstacle to doing business in Lithuania and describe most of the bureaucrats they deal with in Lithuania as reasonable and fair.
However, there is a general perception among the public that corruption, especially on lower levels, is common. More than 50 governmental institutions regulate commerce in one way or another, creating plenty of opportunities for corrupt practices.
Small and medium enterprises (SME) perceive themselves as more vulnerable to petty bureaucrats and commonly complain about extortion. SMEs often complain that excessive red tape virtually requires the payment of "grease money" to obtain permits promptly. Business owners maintain that some government officials, on the other hand, view SMEs as likely tax-cheats and smugglers, and treat the owners and managers accordingly.
A number of active and former government officials were investigated, tried, convicted, or sentenced for corruption during the year. As of September 1, the trial continued of Alytus mayor Ceslovas Daugela, arrested in October 2010 for corruption. The mayor, who had interests in construction businesses, was charged with illegal dealings in the reconstruction of the city stadium, document falsification, and embezzlement of more than 500,000 litas ($188,000). The trial continued at yearís end.
Algis Caplikas, Lithuania's Minister of Health, resigned effective 22 February 2010 in the aftermath of a corruption scandal in which a vice minister pled guilty to soliciting a bribe. The government's emphasis on reform of the health-care system was not expected to change. The bribery scandal may well have adverse effects on the departed minister's political party. It also appears that law-enforcement officials are probing for other evidence of corruption within the health ministry.
Caplikas' resignation was part of the fallout of the corruption conviction of Vice Minister Arturas Skikas, a doctor and local politician from western Lithuania, who was arrested January 21 after being accused of demanding a bribe of 20,000 litas (USD 8,000) from the director of the National Blood Center. Skikas, one of three vice ministers, quickly pled guilty and received a suspended prison sentence of two years. After his arrest, police questioned Caplikas and other health ministry officials in what appears to be a broader investigation into alleged corruption in the ministry.
The Skikas case also has focused media and law-enforcement attention on other possible corruption in the Health Ministry and the health-care industry. It is commonplace for patients to have to pay bribes to get access to medical resources or to get attention from doctors.
The law provides for public access to government information, and government institutions generally provided access in practice. During the year the parliamentary ombudsman received 106 complaints of delays by government offices in providing information and found 68 of them to be valid. The ombudsman recommended disciplinary action against the officials involved. Although the ombudsmanís recommendations were not binding, the Parliamentary Ombudsmanís Office reported that authorities took disciplinary action in 10 cases.
Although Lithuania boasts a strong and active democracy and an independent (albeit, at times, irresponsible) media, areas of concern remain. In particular, Lithuania needs to tackle corruption, especially in the police force, develop a more responsive prosecutor general's office, and strengthen the Special Investigation Service, which is charged with investigating corruption but seldom brings significant cases.
Transparency International (TI) in Lithuania did a survey of over 500 business leaders (owners, CEOs, etc.) to learn about their perceptions of and experiences with the media. It found that: 91 percent of business leaders surveyed believe the media has the power to destroy businesses; 63 percent said they were "aware of the existence of paid slander against companies and/or individuals" in the media; and 43 percent said that when they purchased advertising with national newspapers, it also meant favorable publicity in addition to advertising.
Some media outlets in Lithuania, newspapers especially, extort politicians and businessmen using rewards of positive coverage and the threat of negative coverage. Media corruption damages media credibility, undermines Lithuania's democratic institutions, and intimidates politicians, businesses, and civil society. Media outlets have clear favorites, as in many countries, but in Lithuania direct payments are also involved. These paid political advertisements misleadingly appear as original journalism. Most American companies are unwilling to pay bribes to the media, European companies are a little more willing, and for local companies it is part of doing business.
Politicians occasionally get caught paying for media coverage. Lithuania's Chief Ethics Commission ruled in 2007 that over the past two years Kazimiera Prunskiene, Minister of Agriculture and Lithuania's first Prime Minister after independence, inappropriately promoted herself and her party in a public education campaign that ran advertisements in newspapers. In September 2007, the Parliament voted not to reprimand Prunskiene for her actions.
Media corruption is important, but perception of corruption is equally or more important. Many people suspect that any positive or negative article is either paid for or an attempt at blackmail. In the late 1990s the media was the most trusted institution in Lithuania, with approval ratings in the high 70 percent range -- more trusted than the Catholic Church -- and by 2007 it was one of the least trusted institutions, with ratings around 40 percent.
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