I recently heard about a German investor who wanted to spend several million marks developing an agro-industrial project in Bosnia and Herzegovina that would have employed hundreds of people. When he began to take the project forward, however, he discovered that he would have to bribe a long list of intermediate officials to get necessary approval. So he gave up and took his money to Poland, to a district where the land is less fertile than here, but where the business environment is less corrupt.
This is deeply distressing.
It should make every honest citizen of Bosnia and Herzegovina angry too.
Corruption is spawning poverty in this country even as it feathers the nest of crooked officials and politicians.
Until now, many citizens may simply have assumed that corruption is an inevitable part of life. That assumption, however, has given free rein to those who are corrupt.
The result has been catastrophic.
Bosnia and Herzegovina is getting more corrupt.
A recent report published by Transparency International ranked this country alongside Senegal and Zambia, in joint 99th place, in an international corruption table, well below Albania, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Croatia. This compares to 70th place for Bosnia and Herzegovina in 2003 and 88th place in 2005.
The report found that anti-corruption reforms that have been adopted have not been implemented.
This will change if citizens make corruption an election issue, and if citizens support those institutions that have shown a credible determination to do something about the problem.
The BiH Public Prosecutor’s Office and the State Court have started putting officials on trial for corruption. It won’t come as a surprise to anyone that the Prosecution and the Court have simultaneously become objects of intense political criticism.
But the encouraging truth is that, despite criticism and political pressure, judicial authorities at various levels have started to tackle corruption. They need popular support to continue this fight and they need the vocal and practical support of any politician who is really serious about cleaning up public life. It is simply not true that corruption cannot be stopped
It can be stopped.
In September last year the Council of Ministers adopted a long-term anti-corruption plan, and at the end of 2009 the Parliamentary Assembly enacted a law establishing an Agency for the Prevention of Corruption. Unfortunately, the appointment of the director of the Agency has been held up because of parliamentary manoeuvring which all together jeopardises the visa liberalisation process.
The laws and the institutions are in place – but they will only make a difference if the focus and approach of the political elite is fundamentally and decisively changed.
It can be changed by the electorate.
Corruption is costing tens of thousands of jobs because prospective investors will not put their money in a country where graft is so deeply embedded in the administrative and political system.
Corruption is eating into the fabric of daily life in every part of Bosnia and Herzegovina – when doctors refuse to treat patients until a gift has been given, when students pay money to pass exams, when building permits are granted only after a modest consideration for the planning official.
And if we are going to go after the petty officials who take small bribes, let’s also go after the political bigwigs who embezzle millions.
The fact is that too many politicians and responsible officials in Bosnia and Herzegovina are stealing and getting away with it. Those who are doing so are stealing from you.
On 3 October voters will have a golden opportunity to express their opinion about this grand theft.
If citizens channel their anger into political action, it will be possible to achieve real change, it will be possible to start attracting substantial investment to Bosnia and Herzegovina, creating jobs and reducing poverty.
This is why, as a priority, we must make corruption an election issue.
Valentin Inzko is High Representative and EU Special Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina.