Anti-corruption appeal causes activity

A Green Party member’s decision to confront the government with an ultimatum did not remain without reactions.

Peter Pilz said at the weekend it was time to increase the pressure on the Social Democrats (SPÖ) and the People’s Party (ÖVP) for stricter anti-corruption regulations and an effective party funding regulative. The parliament member (MP) told the Kurier on Sunday he would organise a referendum if the coalition failed to press on with passing the promised laws.

SPÖ and ÖVP pledged to introduce effective regulations against corruption at companies close to the state and within political movements last year when it emerged that several ex-ministers and CEOs could be entangled in some of the most spectacular cases of corruption, abuse of office, embezzlement and fraud Austria has ever seen.

The opposition harshly criticised the government partners for delaying meetings about contents of the planned laws for months – and accused them of trying to postpone the project until people stop being interested. Pilz said on Sunday, now was the final chance for SPÖ and ÖVP to increase the pace in working on the creation of serious anti-fraud rules. The Green Party MP said he feared that Austria would be dominated by pre-election promotion of the established parties from the coming summer. A federal ballot will take place in 2013.

Pilz said the government must finally consider his party’s ideas for more stringent anti-corruption regulations. After weeks of no statements on the issue, SPÖ Chancellor Werner Faymann promised yesterday (Tues) that laws would be changed before summer. Faymann refused to comment the various ideas Pilz presented speaking to the Kurier last weekend.

Pilz said whistleblowers must be better protected from bullying and a job loss in the private economy but also in the public sector. The veteran Green Party member said political organisations should face fines if it turned out that firms in which the state owns shares assigned staff mainly because of their membership in a party.

He also called for lower parliamentary burdens to set up an investigative commission. A committee formed by representatives of all five parliament factions currently tries to clarify alleged fraud and illicit deals made by former lawmakers and managers of Telekom Austria (TA) and other enterprises. The commission headed by Greens MP Gabriela Moser has been examining the various accusations since last month. The MPs – who are braced for busy weeks of interrogating Austria’s movers and shakers – were only allowed to start their activities when SPÖ and ÖVP gave the go-ahead. Pilz said a simple majority should not be necessary to form an investigative committee of such kind in the near future.

The left-winger caused some controversy by calling for jail terms for politicians caught engaging in illegal funding of their parties. He said fines would not help create more transparency in such cases in Austria. Constitutional experts said yesterday they expected Pilz to fail in calling for prison sentences but also indicated an urgent need for tougher rules.

Franz Fiedler, the former president of the Austrian Audit Office (RH), recently said the various revelations of the currently operating parliamentary committee headed by Moser were causing a further worsening of the reputation of Austrian politics. Fiedler, who heads the Austrian branch of Transparency International (TI), said the reputation of the domestic political system was already dramatically bad due to the increasing number of pieces of evidence of serious fraud in the country’s parties and leading companies.

Political scientist Fritz Plasser said Austria’s rules for the funding of parties must be reformed as soon as possible to match Western European standards. Plasser said the current laws were “totally ineffective”. A poll by public opinion research agency Karmasin showed that almost four in 10 Austrians were convinced that all of the country’s main political parties were “equally corrupt”. Research by TI revealed that 49 per cent of Austrians expected corruption in their home country to climb.