Many Balkan governments struggle with corruption, which has been a problem for many states in the area for years, and one group has made recommendations on how to overcome this issue.
Conny Abel of Transparency International told Balkan Business Wire that nearly all western Balkan countries have severe problems with corruption.
“Corruption is seen as an enormous problem by the citizens of the Western Balkans and has been so for many years,” Abel said.
He cited a paper by Transparency International that identified three obstacles for good governance in Balkan countries: weak justice and law enforcement, captured political systems and media and civil society that are under threat.
“With all of the improvements made in legislation in most of the western Balkan countries over the past years … we are still facing a desolate situation when it comes to sanctioning corruption and abuse of office and to true rule of law,” Abel said. “It is understood that the reason for this is the widespread phenomenon of capture of important government functions and services, if not of the entire state, by predatory elites. This capture has been identified elsewhere as a key impediment to democratic, social and economic progress in the region. Such state capture … arguably presents the most severe form of corruption, as key segments … are being abused for private gain and proper implementation of rule of law is prevented.”
Abel said Transparency International has made recommendations for solutions for these countries and detailed some of them, including strengthening the professionalization of law enforcement offices with merit-based appointments and background checks for candidates running for office.
“To overcome state capture is not at all easy, but this needs to be the focus if rule of law shall ever be properly established in the Western Balkans," Abel said.
This rampant corruption also hurts business. In 2016, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime surveyed Balkan businesses to identify some of the results of political corruption, which many consider to be a hampering factor in regional trade.
The U.N. report examined business corruption and crime in the western Balkans and the impact of bribery and other crime on private enterprise. The study showed, for example, that around 10 percent of businesses having contact with public officials had paid a bribe over the time period which the survey covered. Details in the report showed that the majority of bribes are not business-initiated but initiated by a public official or a third party.
Governments in these countries will have to “fix their houses” to truly take advantage of the potential of their local economies, Abel said.