According to the European Commission 2021 Report, Kosovo is at an early stage / has some level of preparation in the fight against corruption, and limited progress has been made during the reporting period. Overall, corruption is widespread, and most of the recommendations of the 2020 report remain valid.
Some steps have been taken, but corruption is still an obstacle to Kosovo’s democracy. As the report stated, further efforts in improving the capacities and communications of different anti-corruption institutions are needed. The anti-corruption legal framework, although mostly in line with international standards, still lacks implementation.
Not much has been done on the investigation and prosecution of high-level cases in the track record, and sustained actions are needed to achieve more proactive investigations, final court decisions and final confiscation of assets. The report points out that there is a need for strong and continual political will to effectively address systemic corruption risks, as well as a robust criminal justice response to high-level corruption.
Milica Andrić Rakić, Project Manager at New Social Initiative in Kosovo, explains that, in addition to the EC, EULEX is another mission that closely monitors the fight against corruption in Kosovo, which in their annual report on this topic, set out a set of very specific measures that should be taken.
“Perhaps the main recommendation is the promptness of public institutions whose employees are accused of corruption. They cited the example of the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, which was passive in court proceedings, and, eventually, all defendants were released,” she says, adding that this recommendation may be a good start for the improvement of the assessments for Kosovo in the field of fight against corruption.
Institutional framework – building capacity and better communication
In an interview for the European Western Balkans, Visar Vokrri, Program Director of Riinvest Institute, stated institutional weaknesses remain one of the fundamental causes of corruption in Kosovo.
“Corruption has become deeply embedded in the way governments operate. Moreover, weak rule of law and poor institutional anti-corruption frameworks has contributed to the prevalence of corruption” he said.
There are many different institutions in Kosovo with anti-corruption mandates whose competencies continued to frequently overlap. The main body for preventing corruption is the Anti-Corruption Agency, which deals with asset declarations and declarations of gifts, as well as with whistleblowing and conflict of interest.
Although the number of cases dealt with by the Anti-Corruption Agency increased during the reporting period, EC recommended Kosovo to adopt the Law on the Anti-Corruption Agency, reforming the competencies of the Agency, and the new Law on Asset Declaration strengthening the capacity of the Agency to ensure proper implementation of the legislation under its competence.
Furthermore, the report stated that the capacities for inter-institutional coordination and cooperation between preventive anti-corruption institutions and law enforcement entities should be provided, as well.
Andrić Rakić explains that the fact the EU recommends building the capacity of institutions with the anti-corruption mandate, and their better mutual communication, shows there are no major problems in how the system looks on paper.
“These are modern institutions with well-designed competencies, but the quality of their work and coordination is poor”, she says, adding that instead of continued calls for the improvement of their work, causes of it should be discovered.
“I think that we should move on to consider the causes of poor-quality work, instead of constantly stating that it needs to be improved and that institutions need capacity building. Numerous international missions have had a strong mandate for capacity building in the last two years, and the effects of their work are persistently lacking. If the problem is the frequent change of officials, a way should be found to motivate them to stay in these positions after training and pass on institutional knowledge to new generations, because constant capacity building programs by the international community do not have sustainable effects,” Andrić Rakić points out.
Adequate functioning of institutions is an important condition that should be fulfilled. Among other things, a result of their vulnerabilities represents the poor implementation of the legal framework on preventing and fighting corruption so far.
The anti-corruption legal framework to ambitious for its implementation
When it comes to Kosovo’s anti-corruption legislation, it should be borne in mind that due to its status-related issues, Kosovo is not a party to the most relevant international anti-corruption conventions, such as the United Nations Convention against Corruption and the Council of Europe’s Criminal Law Convention on Corruption. Despite that, Kosovo’s legislation is generally aligned with these instruments and in line with relevant European standards.
Still, the report stated the anti-corruption legal package and the revised Criminal Procedure Code still need to be adopted, while the revision of political party financing legislation was delayed again. Besides, the legal framework on confiscation is in force but is not being consistently applied, and the value of finally confiscated assets remains low.
According to Andrić Rakić, Kosovo’s anti-corruption framework is mostly in place. However, the problem is the fact that civil servants do not have the capacity for its implementation.
“If we put aside the controversy regarding the announced verification process, as well as certain criticisms about the constitutionality of the conceptual document for the confiscation of property in civil proceedings, there have been no objections to the current legislative framework in Kosovo. However, at the moment, it is too ambitious for what civil servants in these institutions can do”, she says.
As she notes, that is evident not only from the EU report but also from the fact that often there are no court epilogues in the small number of anti-corruption cases that reach the stage where suspects are tried at all.
“The phase of investigation and gathering enough evidence to issue an arrest warrant has somehow been reached, but the work of the prosecution on the indictments is of very poor quality”, Andrić Rakić explains.
Therefore, prosecuting corruption, including high-level cases, is still at an unsatisfactory level and represents an important objective being hard to achieve.
Need for robust criminal justice response to high-level corruption
Corruption was an important theme during the last elections, and after them, as announced, the fight against it has been prioritised by the new government, Vokrri explained in his interview for EWB.
“The government has prioritised the fight against corruption through its anti-corruption reform program which is based on the vetting of law enforcement bodies as a prerequisite for strengthening the rule of law in Kosovo”, he stated.
However, during the reporting period, limited progress was made on the investigation and prosecution of high-level cases in the track record, the report noted.
Andrić Rakić explains that even though the Government of Kosovo began its fight against corruption with a “clash” with the Kosovo Prosecutorial and Judicial Council, and the announcement of a process of vetting prosecutors and judges which caused tensions, even an open conflict between the Government, and the Prosecutorial and Judicial Council, this process is still at the beginning.
“The process is still in the phase of consultation with the Venice Commission, and the EU is not “thrilled” with the idea, because it sees a solution in raising the capacity of institutions, and not changing procedures in the judiciary that they already consider harmonized with the EU”, she says.
According to her opinion, there are two biggest obstacles when it comes to prosecuting high-level corruption cases.
“Certainly, the biggest problem with high-level corruption is that high-ranking government officials are involved i.e., influential people, who can abuse their positions to protect themselves or possibly sabotage criminal prosecution, and often high-ranking KLA representatives” she notes.
“The second part of the problem is what the EU points out, and that is the work of the Prosecution, which fails to turn investigations into convictions,” Andrić Rakić says.
There are cases, such as the case of the murder of Oliver Ivanović, as well as the case of people arrested in the “smuggling” operation in 2019, whose end is still not in sight. That needs to be changed, says Andrić Rakić, because “spectacular police actions will not bring any effects unless they experience a court epilogue,” she concludes.
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.