VILNIUS - Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas has voiced his pledge against corruption, promising to step down as head-of-government if the problem is not eradicated in the coming year. During an interview with Ziniu Radijas radio on Nov. 9, a journalist asked Kirkilas whether he would resign if Lithuania's ranking in the global anti-corruption index, which is currently 46th among 163 countries, did not improve in 2007.
"Of course I will," responded the prime minister, who recently celebrated his first 100 days in power. "I believe it is a matter of honor."
The annual corruption perception list was released earlier this month by the non-governmental corruption watchdog Transparency International. Lithuania was ranked 46th, together with the Czech Republic and Kuwait.
The anti-corruption index ranks countries according to their degree of corruption, as seen by business people and professional analysts. The scorecard ranges from zero, meaning high corruption, to 10, which reflects a transparent and non-corrupt environment.
In 2006, Lithuania scored 4.8 for the second year in a row. In 2003 and 2004, the Baltic state scored 4.7 and 4.6, respectively.
Top-ranked in this year's list are Finland, Iceland and New Zealand with 9.6 points, while Haiti was revealed as the world's most corrupt country with 1.8 points.
Estonia, with 6.7 points, ranked well above Lithuania in 24th place while Latvia (4.7 points) shared 49th place with Slovakia but was mentioned among those countries "with a significant improvement in perceived levels of corruption."
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Lithuania, according to Rytis Juozapavicius, director of Lithuania's Transparency International bureau.
"This year's index reflects the anti-corruption policy fiasco in Lithuania: we have not seen any serious anti-corruption reforms since 2004, when Lithuania joined the European Union and NATO," Juozapavicius said after the 2006 Corruption Perception Index was released.
Responding to Kirkilas' radio announcement, Juozapavicius told The Baltic Times that the PM had demonstrated superb public relations skills.
"We ask for political will and he demonstrates this. By doing so, Kirkilas will definitely earn public sympathy. Whether these sympathies disappear if he fails to follow up on his commitment has yet to be seen," Juozapavicius said.
Yet there is a good chance that Kirkilas won't even be put to the test, he added.
"What is special about the global corruption perception index is that it is influenced not only by local businessmen and bodies, but also by some international institutions, whose decision is often influenced by the media. If fewer corruption scandals are revealed in the media, the index may improve," Juozapavicius pointed out.
At the same time, the Transparency International director stressed that Kirkilas, if he really wants to bust corruption, should concentrate on the local corruption index.
"If the prime minister wanted to sign against corruption in blood, he should make a pledge over Lithuania's corruption map, which looks very bad, especially when we're speaking about bribery," Juozapavicius noted. "Only one indicator out of six improved on Lithuania's 2005 corruption map, while bribery by traffic police, vehicle registration employees and in hospitals increased."
"If Kirkilas promised to change this particular situation, that would be real commitment," he added.