We have been asked our view on the recent news report concerning former AmCham President Dan Tok and a contract between his former company and a partner in a consortium. Czech Radio insinuated- without supporting evidence- that this contract was related to corrupt public procurement. Mr. Tok’s former company has since denied the accusation- both locally and globally- and released material related to the deal and their internal audit. The company then hired Deloitte to investigate the matter. Our view is that the available evidence makes the denial more credible than the accusation. Read more.
As with any of the constantly erupting corruption scandals, the public debate and private discussion immediately focused on the motivation behind Czech Radio’s decision to publish the news story. Speculation about speculation: this has become the standard substance of politics in this era of intransparency and unaccountability. We will not add another layer of speculation by guessing why the report was aired.
Regardless of its motivation, did the report have any merit? Journalists are supposed to investigate and report on misdoings of government, and the media has every right, even responsibility, to look into suspicious conduct. In this case, the report seems to have missed the fundamental question. That question is whether the partner in the consortium bribed an official in the government, and, if so, whether this constituted an exceptional act or an institutionalized habit. Without establishing at least some circumstantial evidence concerning this, any consequent allegation is pure, and somewhat irresponsible, conjecture. The reporter has subsequently asserted he has still unpublished proof: it would have been better to lead with that proof.
Until such alleged proof becomes more than a rumor, the denials have a firmer foundation than the accusation. Our fear, however, is that no amount of public explanation or documentation will restore the reputation of either Mr. Tok or his former company. The public believes that politics is corrupt: in the latest World Competitiveness Report, the country ranks 138th out 144 countries for public trust in politicians. All a politician or a company has to do to damage a rival is to convince the media to write a story on procurement (no matter how sketchy the actual facts), and public attitude convicts out of belief, not fact.
Remarkably enough, in this society that is fed scandal by its politicians, its lobbyists, and its media for breakfast, lunch and dinner, nearly no one is ever convicted and put in jail. Either public perception is right and the legal system is systematically supporting corruption, or public perception is wrong, and politicians, the media, and lobbyists are making fools (and paupers) of all of us.
Our disappointment is that no one in this government seems very interested in changing this. The current coalition came into power to a large degree because they made promises that they would be different. They have not delivered public registries. They have not delivered political party finance reform. They have made it easier to spend money in public procurement, but have done nothing to improve decision-making or make it more transparent.
When faced with the recent scandal, the prime minister suggested the two companies do what his government refuses to require the state to do: publish contracts. Instead of looking for a solution that could prevent future scandals, he unfortunately seems to want to address only the current one.
Nothing will change for the better until the political and business leadership recognizes that the steady drip of scandal risks undermining the entire foundation of the democracy and the economy, and does something about it. Until then, companies need to understand that their reputation is just collateral damage in the ongoing pursuit of political power through the destructive weapon of scandals. That is the true price of public procurement, and a price more and more companies are likely to pay.