RIGA - Latvians lack a fundamental understanding about corruption and its insidious impact on economic development, a report released earlier this month shows.
The report, released by leading national anti-corruption campaigners Providus, showed Latvians were more tolerant of corrupt government practices as long as those in power continued to work in the interests of society.
As part of the report on corruption issues in Latvia, Providus commissioned a poll to determine if Latvian voters were prepared to punish political parties at election time.
The survey, which was carried out by SKDS in September, 2008, reveals the majority of Latvians regarded political parties' ability to tackle systemic economic problems as the most important.
Some 22 percent of respondents named economic concerns as a pressing consideration at the ballots, while just 8 percent named the practice of good governance as a deciding factor.
"The report shows that despite the corrupt practices of government, voters will continue to provide support. It's an unfortunate affirmation of why we keep electing people to public office who do not necessarily have the interests of the country or the people at heart," Providus Director Vita Anda Terauda told The Baltic Times.
The report was released ahead of the long awaited appointment of a new head of the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau (KNAB), which has been without permanent leadership for more than six months.
Normunds Vilitis, who was appointed to the position on March 12, will be responsible for tackling corruption in the state sector and policing violations by political parties.
Director of the Riga-based corruption watchdog Transparency International Laura Mikelsone said while those surveyed resoundingly rejected corruption on a basic level, there remained a lack of understanding about its parameters and characteristics.
According to the survey, more than 70 percent of respondents recognized the acceptance of bribes for personal gain as an underpinning facet of corruption. When presented with certain variables, however, respondents were less well informed.
For example, less than half (44.9 percent) of respondents considered the unlawful acceptance of donations to finance party activities as a corrupt practice, while only 34.5 percent found the expenditure of funds on pre-election campaigns above the legal allowable limit to be corrupt.
"We can conclude that on a buzzword or PR level corruption awareness is high but the level of understanding about the borders of [its] development needs further education," Mikelsone told TBT.
Mikelsone said the results were striking given the fact that respondents failed to draw parallels between corrupt government practice and economic health.
"Society is still in the process of becoming aware of this flip side and of the negative and monetary effects corruption has on economic growth," she said.
"Long-term sustainable economic growth and recovery that would be of benefit to most groups in society is more or less impossible without working against corruption."
According to the results of the survey 52.4 percent of respondents named the People's Party as the most corrupt political party in Latvia. Center-right party New Era came in second at 21.9 percent, followed by Latvia's First Party/Latvia's Way and Union of Greens and Farmers at 21.8 percent and 20.6 percent, respectively.
Meanwhile, more than 60 percent of respondents were unable to name individual cases of corruption in Latvia.
Mikelsone said although the complex nature of what constitutes corruption continued to muddy public perceptions on the issue, the survey results showed a growing resentment towards unethical political practices.
"We don't believe there will ever be zero corruption, but the main point is that society is growing in intolerance toward corrupt practices," said Mikelsone.
She said corruption advocates would need to develop more educational tools to increase intolerance and raise awareness of the issues surrounding corruption in Latvia.
The biannual report was compiled by Providus as part of ongoing measures to monitor the corruption situation and the effectiveness of anti-corruption policy in Latvia.