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Transparency points finger at Swiss old boy network

Switzerland has for the second year running failed to reach the top ten of the world's least corrupt nations, prompting calls for a fresh offensive against corruption.

This content was published on August 28, 2002 - 15:46

The global watchdog, Transparency International, said the country was plagued by a culture of petty nepotism.

The Berlin-based Transparency International placed Switzerland 12th in its annual global survey, saying no progress had been made over last year.

"While Switzerland is not a corrupt nation...it is also not corruption-free," said Philippe Lévy, president Transparency International's Swiss chapter.

The group - which surveyed perceptions of public corruption in 102 countries - found that Switzerland, while generally seen as relatively clean, still has room for significant improvement.

The study said Switzerland's failure to improve its ranking over last year was because it had made little progress in severing the incestuous links between government and business which fuels minor corruption.

Lévy said a key problem remains the country's limited size. The result is a web of personal relationships that criss-cross local and cantonal structures, into the party political system and throughout senior echelons of the army.

"People know each other," says Lévy.

Banking secrecy, tax evasion and money laundering issues added to perceptions of corruption.

National approach lacking

But by far the most damaging aspect to Switzerland's ranking is its failure to coordinate a nationwide fight against corruption at a federal level, a problem exacerbated by lethargy in the cantons.

Criticism was also reserved for the fact that Switzerland is still to ratify the European Union's anti-corruption convention, almost two and a half years after signing the agreement.

The group's Swiss branch, Transparency Switzerland, called on the federal government to establish a dedicated office for combating corruption.

Switzerland should also urgently introduce "whistleblower legislation" to protect public servants who reveal corruption.

Lévy told swissinfo that cantonal governments were in a position to do more about corruption. "It's particularly the case that the cantons have not made all the necessary efforts."

Self-denial

Lévy said many of Switzerland's problems stemmed from a lingering perception among the Swiss that they were immune from corruption, particularly petty nepotism.

"In the past, we believed that corruption was something that existed everywhere else in the world except in Switzerland," Lévy said.

"But nepotism, even if it doesn't involve huge sums of money, nevertheless has negative implications... [of which] taxpayers and consumers are the victims."

The report claims that Swiss courts handled around 40 cases of official corruption in 2001 - a mere fraction of the real number.

"There was a tendency in the past to somehow [hide] these cases because they throw a bad light on governments. This is now changing," Lévy said.

Image problem

The transparency study, which is based on a questionnaire of leading public servants, business leaders and journalists in each country, is an ongoing drag on Switzerland's traditional image of public probity.

"[The study] is an indicator of the investment climate that exists in this country, Lévy said.

"If a country gets a reputation of being corruption free... this gives that country an additional attractiveness for foreign investors"

Switzerland lags well behind survey leaders Finland, Denmark and New Zealand, as well as Singapore (in fifth place), Great Britain (tenth) and Australia (11th).

Switzerland only just edges out Hong Kong (14th), the United States (16th) and Chile (17th).

swissinfo

Corruption transparency

Transparency said Switzerland had made little progress in combating corruption.
Banking secrecy and tax evasion issues added to perceptions of corruption.
Switzerland lags well behind survey leaders Finland, Denmark and New Zealand.

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Transparency rankings

Finland (1)
Denmark, New Zealand (2)
Singapore, Sweden (5)
United Kingdom (10)
Australia (11)
SWITZERLAND (12)
Hong Kong (14)
United States (16)
Chile (17)
Germany, Israel (18)
Botswana (24)
Italy (24)
Argentina (70)
Vietnam (85)
Nigeria (101)
Bangladesh (102)

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