On 12 June 2012 the Center for the Study of Democracy (CSD) and the Center for Investigative Reporting, Srajevo (CIN) presented the report Countering Corruption in Bosnia and Herzegovina: a 2001-2011 Comparison at a policy forum in the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The forum is part of an EU effort to empower the civil society in the country in its fight against corruption through exchange of experience with similar organisations in the region. The event attracted a variety of stakeholders ranging from international organizations and governmental agencies to media representatives.
Ms. Leila Bicakcic, Director of CIN, opened and moderated the discussion, providing an overview of CSD and CIN’s collaboration and noting its comprehensive coverage. She regretfully noted the absence of representatives from the Council of Ministers, while commending the openness and cooperation of the Agency for Prevention of Corruption in BiH.
Mr. Holger Schroeder, Head of Operations at the EU Delegation to BiH, described anti-corruption as a high priority of the EU and reaffirmed that it will stay high on the political agenda during the accession process. He noted that corruption undermines the society, as a whole, and countering it is a long process that requires a sufficient will, which is not yet visible in BiH. He saw politicized institutions and agencies as the main obstruction to countering corruption, while fighting it was not possible without the help of civil society and a simultaneous bottom up process.
Ambassador Roderick Moore, Principal Deputy High Representative, applauded CIN and CSD’s efforts and stressed on the worrying trends in persistent corruption and citizens’ disbelief in the work of the system, notably, the justice system in punishing corruption. According to him, it is very disturbing that the very institutions that are supposed to prevent corruption and protect citizens are seen as highly corrupt. Yet, he shared a belief that these trends could change, provided the mechanisms and the necessary political will were there. Ambassador Moore also focused on the proactive role of citizens and the civil society in countering corruption and the necessary existence of a bottom-up process in doing so.
Mr. Dino Jahic, Deputy Editor at CIN, presented the work of CIN and the main corruption-related issues that have become apparent throughout their investigative work. CIN has investigated and gathered proof for a number of corruption cases, a precious few of which have resulted in some anti-corruption action from the responsible institutions. While highlighting some of the stories investigated by CIN and involving corruption (e.g., the energy sector and the Minister of Energy, privatization, site audits, etc.), he critiqued the very low responsiveness in investigating corruption cases from responsible institutions in the country.
Mr. Ruslan Stefanov, Director of the Economic Program at CSD, presented the report Countering Corruption in Bosnia and Herzegovina: a 2001-2011 Comparison. He noted that CSD has been monitoring corruption in Bulgaria for 15 years now using the state of the art Corruption Monitoring System (CMS). The current report is a follow up on CSD’s 2001 monitoring of corruption in the region within the South East Europe Legal Development Initiative. Mr. Stefanov note that the most salient feature of CMS was that it measures not only attitudes and perceptions, but also actual experiences (i.e. victimization) with corruption. In this respect he noted that CSD and CIN complemented each other’s efforts as CMS captures the administrative corruption while investigative reporting helps catch political (large scale) corruption. The report’s findings showed that during the past 10 years, corruption pressure in BiH has increased, while the actual participation of citizens in corrupt activities has subsided. It is, however, worrying that despite their reduced encounters with corruption, citizens perceive the phenomenon as ever more widespread and their trust in state institutions to fight corruption is fading. According to Mr. Stefanov, while eradicating corruption is a historically slow process, it is of paramount importance that the justice system restores citizens’ trust in the institution through punishing corruption at the highest level.
The policy forum proceeded with a panel of representatives of different anti-corruption stakeholders in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Mr. Sead Lisak, Director of the Agency for Prevention of Corruption, presented the work of the Agency and the numerous obstacles this anti-corruption institution has had and is still facing. Among the prominent ones were lack of capacity and financial difficulties, as well as of political will for coordinated effective action, fragmented governance structures, and numerous laws and strategic documents that are largely uncoordinated and remain mostly on paper. Mr. Lisak noted the importance of social perceptions and the role of the media in forming them, which ought to be supported by a process of demonstrated development of administrative capacity, placing very ambitious goals, and clearly demonstrating the will to achieve them.
Mr. Oleg Cavka, Prosecutor from BiH’s Prosecutor’s Office, presented the perspective of the law-enforcing institutions in the country. He shared the concern that, while having the necessary capacity, the state has failed to protect and ensure the security of these institutions’ representatives. He also noted that he did not see how his institution and Mr. Lisak’s would cooperate and expressed doubts that citizens are motivated and interested in reducing corruption.
Mr. Srdan Blagovcanin, Executive Director of Transparency International BiH, commended and confirmed the report findings, noting TI’s presence in BiH during the 10 years covered by the report. According to him, this was also a period during which corruption had been high on society’s agenda but very little has been done by the governments. He noted that it is a fact that there was almost no political will, and this was still the case today. Anti-corruption activities were almost entirely imposed by the international community and rarely launched as a result of a local initiative. He deemed adopted legislation worthless in the absence of actual enforcement and described a process of state capture in the country. Mr. Blagovcanin reaffirmed that the lack of prosecution of high officials is absolutely detrimental to public trust.
Mr. Edmond Dunga, Head of Secretariat of Regional Anti-corruption Initiative, gave an overview of the regional initiative that started in 1999, as part of the Stability Pact. The initial focus of the anti-corruption agenda was on signing agreements and developing legislation and setting up institutions. Still, there is a need and room for improvements and, importantly, monitoring and evaluation, yet, the agenda should be now more focused on working with relevant institutions (incl. newly created ones) at a more practical level.
During the discussion that followed the report presentation a number of issues raised, such as: the dysfunctional democratic system cannot provide a basis for countering corruption; slowed-down international pressure on fighting corruption; the lack of political accountability; the elements of hope in terms of eradicating corruption; the lack of change in political elites (largely remaining the same over the years after the war); citizens’ lack of interest in countering corruption via their participation in it; etc.