During our study visit, the most widely discussed topic was the problem of what is generally regarded as widespread corruption that is undermining the democratic and economic development of the country, placing it just 105th on the transparency International corruption index. In a recent progress report, the Commission indicated that: ‘The implementation of the anti-corruption strategy and action plan fails to generate effective results due to weak political support’. significantly, the leaders of the five largest parties all assured us that they wholeheartedly endorsed effective measures to combat the problem. The fault always lay somewhere else. The opposition parties now seeking power were accusing the government parties of failure to act or, worse still, of active involvement in corruption. The civil engineering sector appeared to be a particularly attractive option for a minister with a keen eye for a little extra cash.
For example, over one billion euros had been channelled into the construction of a motorway costing less than half that amount. however, given the great symbolic value for most Albanians of the road link from Pristina to tirana, the government was in no mood to quibble. Following a visit from the transport Minister to Washington, the united states’ Ambassador succeeded in having the contract awarded to an American company in which he now holds a senior post. According to nGO and business representatives, no members of the political establishment, whether in government or opposition, see anything wrong with supplementing their meagre pay on the side. The head of the Foreign Investment Council, a highly successful Greek oil magnate, informed us that he was careful to steer clear of public procurement, since it was always tainted by corruption, adding that he had nevertheless managed to conclude some highly successful deals in Kosovo. When I asked how, he replied that he was able to talk business with clients on a strictly objective basis, adding that it was his word not his wallet that counted.
We were also informed by public officials that, while measures to combat corruption were an absolute priority under the rule of law, the problem was deeply ingrained in the Balkans as a whole and not limited to Kosovo. It is also proving hard to eradicate in a poor country where numerous laws have not yet taken effect and where the legal apparatus is still being assembled under the direction of euLeX.
A select delegation also met the leaders of the highly nationalistic Albanian Vetëvendosje (self-determination) party, including mayor of Pristina, who had adopted a hard line against corruption despite the risk to himself and been named bravest mayor in the world by the British Guardian newspaper. his party is in favour of the annexation of Kosovo by Albania and wishes to hold referendum to decide the matter. however, this would do little to help Kosovo in the anti-corruption stakes, given that Albania is even further behind on the index (116th)!
Kosovo still has a long way to go before being eligible for eu membership and must first of all put an end to the corruption blocking its road. It is by no means enough to have just one brave mayor. The entire political establishment needs to take a long hard look in the mirror.
Bob van den BOS, ELDR, The Netherlands (1999-2004)