Ladies and Gentlemen, Distinguished Guests
I am very honored to be here today to recognize those who have demonstrated true dedication and courage in the fight against corruption. These individuals represent the many men and women who work to bring justice and transparency to the population of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and, I hope after today, in spite of the clear trials that face those who lead this fight, even more will rise to the challenge. I’m going to speak for 10 minutes or so about this issue, not because our guests here at the U.S. Embassy today are the problem, but precisely because you are the solution. And in order to understand the importance of the contributions of our award winners today, it is important to examine the scope of the problem at hand.
I believe that corruption is one of the pivotal issues of our time, and in Bosnia and Herzegovina it is the cancer that is choking growth and progress. And so, the U.S. Embassy is devoting a week of activities to shine the spotlight on the scourge of corruption in Bosnia and Herzegovina and to encourage all citizens to engage in this most important fight. We chose this week because of the United Nations designation of December 9 as International Anti-Corruption Day. But because of the severity of the problem here in BiH, we decided that a day was not enough, and we needed a full week – and honestly, even that is not enough. And so, our mission will focus on anti-corruption activities as one of our key goals for 2016. Because unless we lift this scourge, everything else we are doing to help the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina advance will be in vain.
THE ECONOMIC IMPACT OF CORRUPTION
From the many people from every corner of this country whom I have met since my arrival nearly a year ago, I have heard how corruption pervades the very fabric of daily life for most citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Nearly 30 percent of people here admit to paying a bribe for government services which they have a right to receive – at no charge.They report paying bribes in order to receive jobs, healthcare, better educational services, or even final grades and report cards for their children. While in many countries corruption is primarily an urban problem, surveys show that in Bosnia and Herzegovina, bribery for public services is prevalent in both urban and rural areas.
While the impact of this type of corruption is immediately felt by families and businesses, there is another dimension of corruption’s damaging and corrosive influence that undermines the future and security of all the people in Bosnia and Herzegovina. How often do we hear news reports of missing funds, insolvent banks, procurement fraud, and mysterious payments? The reports are so common that they are no longer seen as news. But with each new scandal we must consider the consequences. Public funds that should support pensions, social programs and family savings are lost. Potential investors look elsewhere as everywhere they turn, another hand is held out demanding a bribe – investors have told me this personally – and the government fails to meet the basic needs of its people. By some estimates, Bosnia and Herzegovina loses 1.4 billion KM a year to corruption — that’s almost 8 percent of Gross Domestic Product! These funds should be used to support schools, infrastructure, and emergency workers; instead they line the pockets of those who believe they are not accountable under the law to the very citizens they supposedly represent.
According to a recent Center for Investigative Reporting report, 295 public contracts, valued at over 103.8 million KM, were awarded to companies that are owned or co-owned by politicians (what percent is this of public contracts?). A study by Analitika shows that 80 percent of businesses consider political links the only way to survive in the BiH market, and over 55 percent consider political patronage as acceptable. This is not the case in modern economies. And this must change in order for Bosnia and Herzegovina to move forward.
WHAT MUST BE DONE
No one believes that it will be easy, but we must redouble our efforts to combat corruption in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We know that countries that have the best economic growth are those that have good governance, and good governance comes — very simply — from rule of law, transparency, and a free and robust press and civil society.The U.S. Embassy works with key partners in the justice sector at all levels – from police to judges to prosecutors. We also support civil society in its efforts to advocate for and demand transparency. Yet our efforts alone are not enough. There are, and have been for many years, many programs, plans, and strategies, but until we truly begin to work together we will continue to fall short.
I believe there are three things that must happen for Bosnia and Herzegovina to make progress against corruption:
First, the justice system must be prepared to investigate and prosecute cases of corruption.Investigators, prosecutors and judges must be willing to tackle the hard cases and the rest of us must actively support those efforts. We also must be willing to support and protect those courageous individuals who stand up as whistleblowers.
Secondly, we must better coordinate our efforts to build the institutional capacity of the justice sector. There are many excellent programs working to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of the prosecutor’s offices and courts, yet without coordination — among the international community and with our BiH partners — we are not reaching our full potential.
Thirdly, we must do more to engage the public in the fight against corruption.
We must change the mindset of citizens here in Bosnia and Herzegovina, so that every man, woman and child understands that corruption is not normal, it is not a given, and it should not be accepted. A few weeks ago the cross curricula that covers anti-corruption, entrepreneurial learning and professional orientation was adopted and established in the official gazette. This is an important positive step because it will raise awareness on anti-corruption, especially in education.
We must do more to empower civil society and we must engage young people. They are the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina and must be empowered to act and speak out against corruption.
To further this goal, the Embassy will establish a partnership with the University of Sarajevo Law School Faculty and Criminal Justice, Criminology and Security Studies in early 2016 to engage their students as observers in courtrooms.
They will record the details of cases underway, and we will work with them and the university to share this information with the public via social media. Students have already shown great enthusiasm for this project, which means they are ready to engage and lead in the fight against corruption. We must look to more innovative programs to engage the youth of Bosnia and Herzegovina in building a society that is free of corruption and liberated to produce the jobs they so desperately need to build a future here in this wonderful country.
Robust rule of law is essential for Bosnia and Herzegovina to move forward and make progress on the path to membership in EU and NATO. Bosnia and Herzegovina has many good laws, but too many that have never been implemented to form a true legal structure. The government must also fully implement the Strategy and Action Plan to Combat Corruption. Without it, Bosnia and Herzegovina will always remain a poor neighbor of the European core. But with it, Bosnia will join as a full partner. BiH is at a crossroads – the years since the global financial crisis have been difficult, as economic growth averaged .2 percent from 2009 – 2014. But, if BiH leaders can engage on the economic reform agenda, focus on improvements to the legislative environment, root out the lethal cancer of corruption, and implement the IMF program, Moody’s Analytics and others estimate BiH could grow at 3 to 4 percent annually until 2020. Bosnia and Herzegovina has tremendous potential and a bright future.But progress is not inevitable; progress occurs only when courageous individuals seize the opportunity to change things for the better.
INTRO TO AWARD RECIPIENTS
And so, ladies and gentlemen, today we are gathered here to launch this anti-corruption initiative. We begin by recognizing those who have gone before us — these individuals dedicated to the fight against corruption. I urge all the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina to support their efforts, to commit themselves to this fight, and to hold their government representatives accountable. Before we announce this year’s recipients, I would like to recognize the efforts of the officials from the BiH Anti-Corruption Agency (APIK) who have joined us today. While their work has only just begun, I want to acknowledge their dedication and perseverance as they make efforts to coordinate anti-corruption efforts statewide. We support those efforts and look forward to collaborating with APIK in the future. I also want to thank Transparency International, the Center for Media Development and Analysis, and the Center for Investigative Journalism for participating in the nomination and selection of our awards.
AND ON TO THE AWARDS…
I am pleased to be able to recognize these outstanding individuals/NGOs that have made a significant contribution in countering corruption in Bosnia and Herzegovina.