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Transparency International: Corruption is on the rise in the Western Balkans

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Public sector in the Western Balkans became more corrupt in 2020 in comparison to 2019 according to experts and businesspeople. This is the sum up of the latest results of the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) published in January 2021 by Transparency International (TI) for 180 countries in the world.

If we take a look at the results in the last four years, we could see that in 2016 Western Balkans had average score of 39,8 points, while in 2020 it dropped to 37,5 points on the scale where 100 points score is „corruption-free“ public sector and 0 is „absolutely corrupted“.

This result is far from the average 66 points in the region of Western Europe and European Union and also below the lowest ranking EU countries, Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary (44 points) and the world average (43 points).

Comparing the 2020 CPI results with 2019 results it could be observed that Montenegro, North Macedonia and Kosovo are stagnating, Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina are backsliding, while only Albania is slightly improving.

With the 45 points on 64th place, Montenegro is the highest-ranked country, followed by Serbia (38 points, 94th place), Kosovo and Albania (36 points, 104th place) and North Macedonia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (35 points, 111th place)

Albania – marginal or significant improvement

Corruption Perception Index in Albania improved for 5 points since 2013, according to the Transparency International, which places Albania in the group of countries in which CPI score  „significantly improved“.

In the last couple of years Albania is in the middle of the large-scale institutional changes when it comes to the fighting corruption and reforming judiciary. Since 2014 there is an ongoing „vetting process“ In judiciary which represents a re-evaluation of all judges and prosecutors in the country. According to EU Commission 2020 Report, the process resulted in dismissal or resignation of 62% of judges and prosecutors of the scrutinized cases.  As a results of the vetting process Constitutional Court remained without judges and was not able to make decisions from 2018 to January 2021.

Zef Preci, Executive Director of the Albanian Centre for Economic Research (ACER), says for European Western Balkans that the change between 2019 and 2020 is insignificant, as it is very close to the limit of CPI margin of error, which is 0.92 for 2020.

“It is true that in comparison with 2013 there is an improvement in perception but in our estimation, it is not attributed to the reduction of corruption but to the influence in the media, changes in the regulatory framework, more to satisfy the criticisms of international institutions rather than reducing corruption”, he said.

Preci says that corruption in Albania has become more sophisticated and the state capture in the hands of the oligarchs has in some way nullified the policies undertaken in recent years that aimed at good governance, and this wide overview is encouraging the departure of Albanian citizens abroad.

Commenting on the improvement compared to 2013, he said that the beginning of the justice reform has had an impact, which, although there are no concrete results, has affected the overall perception of the population that the time of the “untouchables” has come to an end.

“The entire leadership has changed since the implementation of justice reform in the last 4-5 years in Albania, but the possibility of the political capture of the new leadership remains a risk”, he concluded.

Montenegro – stagnation of the frontrunner

The frontrunner in the EU accession process is the only country in Western Balkans above the world average CPI score. In spite of relatively good results in comparison to its neighbours, the new Government of Montenegro elected in December 2020 will have a difficult time reforming the judiciary and solving corruption cases which piled up over the years.

„It was a clear from the start that the new Government will not have an easy task having in mind the widespread corruption and organized crime in the country, as well as unstable majority in the Parliament“, wrote Jovana Marović, Executive Director of the Politikon Network in the op-ed for European Western Balkans

About the challenges of the Montenegrin Government in fighting corruption and reforming judiciary  European Western Balkans wrote in separate article.

Serbia reached the new low in the CPI Index

As Serbia holds the lowest CPI score since 2012, Transparency International has placed it on the list of countries that should be watched in the period to come. It was noted that Serbia is facing difficulties when it comes to the rule of law, democratic erosion and the attempts to silent the critical voices.

In the statement following the publication of the CPI Index, Transparency Serbia noted that this result is expected having in mind that there is a clear political will not to implement anti-corruption regulations.

„That is noticeable in the illegal management of the most valuable public companies and open promotion of the direct agreements for granting the highest-valued public contracts by circumventing the competition process“, reads the statement.

Nemanja Nenadić, Executive Director of Transparency Srbija said for Nova S that COVID-19 made conditions for fighting corruption worse both in the world and in Serbia, as the number of urgent public procurement rose, as well as the spending of the Government.

„Public procurements during the pandemic were conducted without transparency, based on the Government decision from March 2020 which made all COVID-19 related public procurements confidential“, said Nenadić.

He also said that there is no document which demonstrates what was procured in this period, but only a number of the contradictory statements by the politicians.

Kosovo – another stagnation in the light of political instability

For the third year in a row, Kosovo is stagnating in terms of CPI results. In 2018, 36 points were enough for 95th place, while in 2020 Kosovo is on the 104th place.

In 2019. Transparency International expressed hope that the new Government at that time, led by Albin Kurti, leader of Self-Determination Movement (VV) could bring necessary changes when it comes to the fight against corruption and to break-away from the practice of political appointments in the administration. Anyway, Kurti spent only 58 days as the Prime-Minister of Kosovo and did not have enough time to conduct serious reforms.

Rule of his successor, Avdullah Hoti from the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) was marked with many scandals, including abolishment of anti-corruption police task force – the move criticized by the European Union and Western embassies in Kosovo. Because of this, after the snap elections on 14th February the polls suggest that Albin Kurti will have a second chance to implement his anti-corruption agenda.

Bosnia and Herzegovina – a significant decliner in the region

 Having in mind the 7 points drop in comparison to 2012, Bosnia and Herzegovina is put on the list of „significant decliners“ in world.

Similar to the Serbian case, Transparency International BiH stated that the COVID-19 period was marked by untransparent public procurement of medical equipment, that BiH lacks strategic and legal framework to fight corruption and that the situation in judiciary is very difficult.

„Instead of uncompromising contribution to the fight against corruption, judiciary became one of the biggest problems of the society. Judiciary is politically instrumentalized, without independence and responsibility and demands urgent and in-depth reform based on the vetting process as the first step in fight against corruption“, the statement reads.

Transparency BiH holds political parties and political leaders accountable for state capture by subordination of public institutions to their particular interests.

One of the major scandals emerged in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic in Bosnia and Herzegovina, when the entity Government of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina procured lifesaving medical equipment worth 5,3 million euros, imported from China, from the company that produces raspberries. Only recently the State Court has confirmed the indictment against Prime-Minister and three other persons involved.

North Macedonia – the worst ranking since 2001

The 35 points on CPI index puts North Macedonia on the bottom of the Western Balkans list together with Bosnia and Herzegovina.

„Our ranking for 2020 is the worst result since the first Corruption Perception Index research in North Macedonia in 2001“, said Director of Transparency International Macedonia, Slađana Taseva.

She said that this result is a serious message and lesson for the Government that paying lip service to the fight against corruption without clear activities won’t bring necessary changes. She also added that it is necessary to conduct serious reforms to curb high-level corruption which is out of reach for the institutions.

„In the same time, financial flows and illicit enrichments needs to be investigated and everything what is stolen needs to be returned to the citizens, because all the money that is going away as a consequence of corruption is property of the citizens“, Taseva concluded.

These results clearly indicate that the Western Balkans fits in the grim picture of the state of corruption in the world and that in spite of being in the EU integration process for years, no substantial progress in eradicating corruption happened. This is indicator that the EU accession process alone, without active involvement of the citizens is not enough to incentivize Governments to conduct serious anti-corruption reforms.

This article was published as part of the project “Civil society for good governance and anti-corruption in southeast Europe: Capacity building for monitoring, advocacy and awareness-raising (SELDI)” funded by the European Union.

 

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