VILNIUS - Lithuania's top Roman Catholic churchman, Kaunas archbishop Sigitas Tamkevicius, made headlines this month by warning believers that not voting is a sin. His warning was in reaction to recent polls predicting a mere 50 percent turnout in the forthcoming municipal elections.
But Tamkevicius might have done better to warn Lithuanians against bribery, as an even larger share of the Baltic country's population believe that a backhander is the best way to ensure help, a poll released by the Law Institute on Feb. 20 has found.
According to the poll, which was conducted last year, the health sector in particular seems to be a place where bribery is deemed acceptable. As many 53.3 as percent of Lithuanians agree that one should offer a bribe in exchange for better services when dealing with doctors and nurses, it found.
A full 31.6 percent of the 2,000 respondents believe that bribery may help in dealings with the police, 27.6 percent said they would bribe customs officials and 26.6 percent were ready to offer money to judges.
However, only 6.7 percent of respondents agreed that bribes help while dealing with bankers.
The poll also showed that Lithuanian officials are the most likely in the European Union to demand a bribe. As many as 11.5 percent of Lithuanians confirmed they had been asked for a bribe by a public official.
These indicators put Lithuania well behind other EU member states, as the corresponding figures for Hungary and Poland, which rank second and third respectively in the EU's corruption table, are 4.8 percent and 4.4 percent.
The poll showed that more than one third of all demands for a backhander came from police officers; of the respondents who said they'd been asked for bribes, 35.7 percent said the demands came from police. At the same time 10.4 percent said that customs officials had demanded bribes from them, while 20 percent named public inspectors in health, construction and other areas as the bribe extractors.
The poll also showed that bribery has not decreased during recent years. When asked to recall what the situation was in 1996, 10.9 percent of respondents said they were asked to pay bribes that year compared with 11.5 percent last year. Of these, 32 percent recalled being asked to grease the palm of a police officer in 1996, slightly below last year's 35.7 percent.
Last November Lithuania was ranked 46th among 163 countries in an annual corruption index released by the non-government organization Transparency International. Countries were given a score from zero to 10, where zero meant highly corrupt and 10 showed the most transparent environment. Lithuania's score was 4.8, and has barely changed since 2001.
Gediminas Kirkilas, prime minister, then publicly pledged to resign if Lithuania's position in global anti-graft scales did not improve in 2007.
If the Law Institute's poll is anything to go by, he may indeed be forced to do so, or risk being reminded by the bishops that lying is also considered a sin.