On 20 June 2014 the SELDI network held an Policy Advocacy Workshop: Improving Governance in Southeast Europe: a Civil Society Update and New Public-Private Partnership Solutions in Istanbul, Turkey. During the workshop, the SELDI partners presented and discussed the preliminary findings of the regional Corruption Monitoring System and the national Corruption Assessment Reports carried out in nine countries in 2014. The discussion focused on the most pressing governance challenges in the region and on finding innovative public-private partnership solutions. Attendees witnessed first hand the results of the unique regional Corruption Monitoring System, which provides an overview of anti-corruption progress in Southeast Europe in the period 2001 – 2014.
During the opening session, Ms. Ayse Ustunel Yircali, Executive Director of the Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) welcomed the participants and presented the SELDI network aims and objectives in the anti-corruption area. Mr. Ruslan Stefanov from the Center for the Study of Democracy, Bulgaria, and Coordinator of the SELDI network expressed his hope that the national Corruption Assessment Reports will become key reference documents of anti-corruption in the region.
Mr. Bülent Tarhan, Chief Inspector at the Prime Minister’s Inspection Office, Turkey delivered a key note presentation on Turkey and highlighted six key corruption-related challenges:
- Any deviation from democracy rules increases corruption.
- Countries that have governance problems also have corruption problems.
- Equality of treatment should always be combined with justice.
- In Turkey and other countries all immunity provisions should be abolished in relation to corruption related crimes.
- Countering corruption requires not only political will (which is spontaneous), but also political determination (persistence, stability and credible commitment).
- The state should have good institutional set up to counter corruption crime. The question still stands if there should be one or many units tackling the problem. Mr. Tarhan pointed out that his personal preference is towards the coordination of a single body over all institutions ensuring their integrity. He also underlined that the countries should invest not only in institutions, but also in the people, in order to educate them and build social values.
Mr. Alexander Stoyanov, Director of Research at the Center for the Study of Democracy, Bulgaria and SELDI Secretariat presented the SELDI Corruption Monitoring System methodology. He stressed that corruption is a wide phenomenon that translates in many complex types of behaviours at different levels – administrative, political, etc. Mr. Stoyanov pointed out that the survey-based Corruption Monitoring System is one of the few instruments to objectively measure corruption, and produce data that is very different from the administrative and court statistics. In the SELDI Corruption Monitoring System the network is aiming to asess the preconditions, the actual experience, and the perceptions of corruption, as well as the government’s effectiveness in countering corruption. He presented a comparison of the corruption pressure results from the Corruption Monitoring System in the nine SELDI countries. The rest of the results will be presented during a SELI policy conference in Albania in October 2014. According the results, Croatia and Turkey have the lowest score of the indicator, and Albania and Bulgaria have the highest corruption pressure index and share population that admitted for being asked for a bribe.
Mr. Radu Cotici, Head of the Secretariat, Regional Anti-Corruption Initiative (RAI) presented the strategic anti-corruption directions of RAI for the period 2014-2015 in implementing the SEE 2020 Strategy. These target areas include transparent rules (corruption risk assessments), competitive procedures, revision and control, public awareness, regional cooperation. RAI has also set several additional targets related to asset disclosure and revealing any conflicts of interests. Mr. Cotici suggested that SELDI undertakes the preparation of regular ranking of countries based on qualitative indicators, for example on the level and effectiveness of SEE strategy implementation.
Ms Sanja Bojanic, Governance Team Leader, UNDP Montenegro spoke about the importance of the citizens’ participation in contributing to the princliple of good governsnce. She undelined that in the digital area, social tools create many opportunities for citizens` oversight. The NESTA social innovation tool, KOLBA Lab, KALLXO.com and BUDI ODGOVORN are just a few examples of initiatives by the citizens, trying to combine traditional with new digital tools in tackling corruption and the lack of transparency.
Ms Ezgi Ozdemir, Expert, Turkish Economic and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) presented the main corruption challenges in Turkey. According to the SELDI Corruption Monitoring System data 44% of the respondents in 2014 considered corruption the second most important problem for Turkey after unempolyment. Ms Ozdemir noted that while the Turkish Strategy and Action Plan for Preventing Corruption was adopted in 2009, there is still no information if the annual action plans have been implemented. TESEV recommended the adoption of a specific law on conflict of interest and a law on lobbying, and suggested amendment of the current law on asset declaration, as well as strengthened whistle blower protection to improve governance and reduce corruption risks. Ms Ezgi Ozdemir also underlined that the immunity rule for MPs should not obstruct investigation and prosecution to corruption crimes in Turkey. She highlighted the need of a Code of Ethics for the judiciary and also stated that Turkey will benefit from an independent body permanently tasked with anti-corruption policy development.
Mr. Alain Servantie, SELDI International Board Member shared some views on the latest developments in the anti-corruption policies and judiciary practices around Europe and in Turkey. He mentioned the Euro-scepticism observed in the run up and in the results from the 2014 European Parliamentary Elections, which puts more pressure on the national governments in countering corruption, and applying measures such as disclosure of assets. For example, in Europe the controlling of the use of funds for political party campaigns is receiving increased attention.
Ms. Jonida Narazani, Research Director, Albanian Center for Economic Research (ACER) kicked off the first session of the policy workshop and provided an introduction to the corruption assessment results in Albania. She underlined that by the end of June 2014 Albania is expected to be granted EU accession status which puts more pressure on countering corruption. In SELDI’s CMS Albanians ranked corruption as the most challenging problem in the country. The courts and the judiciary in particular are perceived as corrupt. Ms. Jonida Narazani underlined that it is of paramount importance that corruption cases be translated into convictions, and that there is room for more intensive collaboration and consultations with CSOs.
Ms. Leila Bičakčić, Executive Director, Center for Investigative Reporting (CIN), Bosnia and Herzegovina presented the preliminary SELDI CMS results for Bosnia and Herzegovina. Susceptibility to corruption has been lowering, and people have become more aware of the corruption issue according to the SELDI CMS. However the country is still considered a captured state. According to Ms. Bičakčić, 70% of the planned anti-corruption measures have not been completed and 20% have never started. There are numerous laws that are being amended at the moment, however not always in a way that would increase transparency and decrease corruption.
Mr. Munir Podumljak, Executive Director of the Partnership for Social Development (PSD), Croatia noted that the data from the CMS showed that in 2001-2014 corruption decreased, and it could be concluded that applied policies had been effective in cases such as bribes. However, he warned it should not be forgotten that there are many other challenges that Croatia is facing such as political integrity, intransparent budget formulation, etc. In that context, according to Mr. Podumljak, Croatia currently has the same corruption levels as ten years ago. Hence, policies should address a wider range of problems that affect citizens’ lives. In conclusion he described the CSO capture phenomenon, where governments use ‘friendly’ CSOs as ‘white-washing machines’, to present them in a better light to the public.
Mr. Premton Hyseni, Advanced Researcher, INSTITUTI RIINVEST, Kosovo pointed out the unique post conflict environment and foreign presence situation in Kosovo, whcih shapes the specific challenge of corruption in the country. He underscored that the CMS index on the spread of corruption in Kosovo is alarmingly high. The government has made substantial progress on red tape removal, and setting key anti-corruption institutions in place. Still, the developments are mainly formal, and the challange of policy implementation and enforcement of laws remains. According an INSTITUTI RIINVEST survey from 2013 a third of the sales are not reported for tax purposes, which is closely related to corruption and the existence of hidden economy.
Ms Valentina-Andreea Dimulescu, Project Coordinator, ANTICORRP and Researcher, European Policies and EU Funds, Romanian Academic Society (SAR) closed the panel by presenting results of a recent SAR study on corruption in the management of EU funds. Worldwide Governance indicators show that Romania has one of the lowest governance scores and is considered as corrupt. According to Ms Dimulescu the main challenge remains the persistence of high level corruption. She showed that financial fraud and other mismanagement is easy to detect, but difficult to prove. SAR also used a list of criteria to create a ‘black list’ of election candidates, and sent it to the relevant authorities and the media. As a result of SARs’ efforts, 98 black listed persons were withdrawn, but 104 black listed candidates still entered the parliament. This approach was recognized as good practice and adopted by other countries, with different levels of success.
Ms Emina Nuredoniska, Head of the Department for Civil Society and Democracy, Macedonian Center for International Cooperation (MCIC) opened the second session by noting that in the Republic of Macedonia corruption was ranked as only the fifth most prominent problem, due to the low awareness on the issue. Customs and the judiciary, followed by the police are considered as the most corrupt professional groups. There is a need of better whistleblower protection and currently there are legislative changes being prepared in that direction. There is also insufficient transparency of the preparation and implementation of the budget. There are also only few CSOs that work on the issue of anti-corruption. Ms Emina Nuredoniska expressed her hope that EU funds will increase the civil society activities in the area.
Ms Milica Kovacevic, Center for Democratic Transition (CDT), Montenegro noted that the country has had the same government for the last 23 years and this has determined most of the key developments in anti-corruption and/or lack thereof. According to the 2014 SELDI CMS, 79% of the respondents consider that the government is very or mainly unsuccessful in fighting corruption, and over half of the population believes that almost all or all officials are involved in corruption. Legislation is amended frequently, there are about 40 by-laws that in some way relate to anti-corruption, and there are several anti-corruption bodies, however the high expectations from their existence are still not met in practice. According to Ms Kovacevic, there are no high level investigations of corruption, despite the increase of the investigations number. Ms Kovacevic also highlighted the malpractice of using state aid for support of enterprises, that only increases public debt.
Mr. Marko Paunović, Executive Director, Center for Liberal-Democratic Studies, Serbia noted that there is some improvement in the victimization of corruption in the country, but little advance is achieved in countering the issue as a whole. Corruption pressure has decreased, however this could be explained by the lower number of people having contacts with the administration. According to him, judiciary is not politically independent and its competence should be increased. Mr. Paunović also mentioned some cases of political use of media, as well as social media censorship. Still, it should be noted that in Serbia there is specialized court, police and prosecutions for grand corruption and for organized crime. In terms of law enforcement, four former ministers were arrested over suspicion of abuse of office and corruption.
Ms Steluta Pavlov, Project Coordinator, Centre for Analysis and Prevention of Corruption (CAPC), Moldova presented her organisation’s experience in monitoring and corruption-proofing of draft legislation and demonstrated their electronic database. As instruments for the proofing CAPC uses legislation experts, theoretical and practical guidelines, and electronic template of preparing corruption proofing reports.
Mr. Ruslan Stefanov and Ms Daniela Mineva, Center for the Study of Democracy, SELDI Secretariat, Bulgaria concluded the session with a presentation on the current state of affairs of anti-corruption in Bulgaria. They underlined that the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM) was put in place in Bulgaria due to the fact that EC rightfully viewed Bulgaria as not ready for EU membership. The CMS data for Bulgaria for the period 1998-2014 showed that even EU member-states such as Bulgaria can still detioriate in terms of corruption, if it does not sustain its anti-corruption efforts. Peoples’ perception of the corruption spread has remained consistently high due to the corruption’ persistently high practical efficiency as a tool for solving private problems. Although Bulgaria has established many anti-corruption bodies, including specialized anti-corruption courts and police units, no real results have been achieved. The need of independent judiciary, and convitions for high level corruption, as well as an independent procecution operating outside of the judiciary was brought forward as an orvearching policy recommendation. Ms Mineva underlined that also in Bulgaria like in Croatia there are civil society capture risks.