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Corruption one of the biggest challenges of BiH on its EU and NATO path

Text: Muamer Selimbegovic

SARAJEVO, December 7 (FENA) - All present corruption in the public and private sectors in Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of the biggest challenges on its path to Euro-Atlantic integration, and it works like a plague that devastates the state and society and has a huge impact on the everyday life of citizens, creating serious consequences for the overall socio-economic development of the country, it was highlighted today at a conference in Sarajevo organized by the Anti-Corruption Agency (APIK) on the occasion of 9 December, International Anti-Corruption Day, with the aim of considering key activities in the field of prevention and fight against corruption in BiH, primarily in the context of meeting international standards and establishing an efficient system in this extremely important area.

APIK Director Hasim Šabotić said that despite the existence of a legal framework for the fight against corruption, year after year, we are witnessing an increase in the rate of corruption in all spheres of life in BiH.

“It is a devastating fact that citizens of BiH have lost confidence in the institutions, that they rate as  the most corrupted those who should fight corruption and that they do not expect that anything in this regard could change,” said Šabotić, addressing the media during the conference break.

He added that such a situation negatively affects the readiness of citizens to report corruption, and the reasons for not reporting are the fear for personal security or loss of work, the possibility of retaliation or labeling, corruption of institutions, poor protection of whistleblowers, lack of evidence, lack of the rule of law, lack of an adequate system that protects those who report corruption, etc.

In this context, Director of APIK noted that the Agency, which has very limited competences and minimum number of employees, cannot confront such a serious problem on its own, and invited the competent institutions, stakeholders and the authorities in BiH to finally turn words into deeds, and called on international partners to provide the necessary assistance in terms of more efficient suppression of corruption.

Head of the EU Delegation and EU Special Representative to BiH, Ambassador Lars Gunnar Wigemark, pointed to the devastating effects of corruption in BiH, focusing on three key elements in the fight against this social phenomenon.

He stressed that it is high time for the BiH PA to adopt the law on conflict of interest, which was not done by the previous convocation, and that BiH should take all necessary measures and demonstrate credible results on the process of corruption cases at the highest level, and that BiH should focus on meeting the conditions which will be contained in the opinion of the European Commission, stating that the fight against corruption, together with the rule of law, is at the top of the priorities and obligations of our country.

Head of the OSCE Mission to BiH, Ambassador Bruce G. Berton told reporters that corruption has led to decline in investments, and a drop in confidence in state institutions, and has had negative repercussions on the country's long-term stability.

He concluded that despite some progress in the creation of legal framework and institutions building, there was no expected progress in combating and sanctioning corruption, and has urged political leaders and citizens in BiH to more energetically engage in solving this huge problem.

Ambassador of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to Bosnia and Herzegovina Matthew Field emphasized that corruption continues to be one of the biggest challenges for BiH on its EU and NATO path.

“The UK stands side by side with everyone in BiH who are committed to fighting corruption. It is time for serious reforms. The fight against corruption is not a struggle of one person alone, and in order to make the change, the elected politicians need to conduct reforms that reflect the needs and priorities of all citizens in BiH,” said Ambassador Field.

Ambassador of the Republic of Italy to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Nicola Minasi, said that corruption in BiH is a social phenomenon that affects every margin of society and every citizen.

He assessed that the growth of trust in the work of public institutions is directly connected with the fight against corruption, and highlighted the willingness of Italy as this year's OSCE’s presiding country to provide the necessary assistance in this regard.

Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Christiane Hohmann, said that the same criticism is being repeated over and over again, and this year the only conclusion that emerges is that corruption is far too much present in BiH, from the highest to the lowest levels.

Hohmann believes that corruption in BiH is a cancer of the society that must be fought resolutely in order to ensure that every citizen in BiH has adequate services, without the circumstances that force them to engage in corruptive activities in order to meet their needs.

Deputy Head of Mission of the Embassy of the United States of America to Bosnia and Herzegovina Ellen J. Germain noted that corruption permeates and corrodes BiH society; it slows down its development and undermines BiH's EU accession potential, and, most importantly, jeopardizes progress in the issues that are crucial for improving citizens’ lives.

She noted that protectionism and nepotism are widespread phenomena in the public sector and the institutions of BiH, and that the spending of public funds is not transparent and that it is often negotiated "behind closed doors".

“We are still waiting for the crucial reforms, in particular, stricter laws in the field of conflict of interest. Therefore, the United States urges the authorities in BiH to stop with delays and take concrete steps in the fight against corruption and take responsibility for the future of the country and its citizens,” stressed Germain.

Acting Director of the Transparency International BiH Ivana Korajlić, pointed out that, unfortunately, the same observations are being noted year after year and that there is no progress in the fight against corruption in BiH, whether being the case with the legal framework, the implementation of laws or the establishment of a minimum of independence of the institutions that are there to implement anti-corruption laws, or prosecute corruption cases.