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Macedonia Mired In Corruption

Rampant corruption is beginning to undermine the very foundations of Macedonian society.
By Veton Latifi

In a stable democracy with a healthy economy, corruption can do untold damage. In a "fledgling" democracy like Macedonia, the effect is even more corrosive.


But while the media has exposed many instances of corruption involving senior party or government officials, the authorities have been slow to acknowledge the extent of the problem or take concrete steps to combat it.


Huge scope for corruption emerged during Macedonia's transformation from public to private ownership, through the work of various commissions, the distribution of foreign investment and credit, and more recently in the provision of invalidity pensions.


The Kosovo crisis offered ever more fertile ground for venality, with some policemen and humanitarian workers allegedly demanding bribes to shelter refugees in the camps or arrange evacuation to third countries.


The interior ministry recently confirmed that corruption in Macedonia extends to company directors, customs officials, tax inspectors, soccer referees, doctors and even teachers.


Yet the ministry's anti-corruption department has only uncovered 147 cases in the past three and a half years, involving 170 suspects. That represents only 0.6-1.3 per cent of general crime in Macedonia, or 13-30 per cent of economic crime.


The Macedonian police argue that the constitution prevents them from bugging and covert filming, tactics they say they have to employ in order to gather evidence against powerful figures in political and financial circles.


Out of 1,056 corruption-related charges the police have levelled against officials in the past three years, 64 per cent have been rejected for lack of proof. And less than a third of those actually taken to court have been convicted.


Last year, Balkans Stability Pact meetings in Sarajevo, Geneva, Bari and Oslo dwelt on the issue of corruption in south-eastern Europe, which was deemed to be not only destabilising for democratic institutions and a direct threat to human rights and freedom, but also a direct challenge to the Stability Pact itself.


As a result, the Macedonian government has been prompted to sign all the existing international conventions against corruption and introduce its own measures. Yet like the government before it, this administration has shown little genuine will to grapple with the problem.


Anti-corruption laws will not be passed before December because, according to the premier, the government has more important matters to attend to first.


The lack of concrete legislation is not the only problem. A lack of co-ordination among police, the prosecutor's office and various inspectorates has facilitated the spread of organised crime. In the name of efficiency, Parliamentary Speaker Savo Klimovski appealed directly to the Prosecutor General, Stavre Giokov, not to take steps against officials who were the subject of various reports submitted separately by different ministries.


At the same time, Klimovski hinted at resistance to an anti-corruption drive within "certain structures of the current authorities who are themselves involved in crime."


Macedonian Prime Minister Lubço Georgievksi and the "For Changes" coalition were elected with a pledge to fight organised crime. As a result their record is under some scrutiny.


In the past two years, the government launched investigations which resulted in charges against senior officials from the previous administration. Opposition parties dismissed the cases as "political revenge", but now the premier is focusing on his own party. "We have concrete documents and evidence that some people in the ranks of VMRO-DPMNE have been involved in crime, " he said. "I will not tolerate that behaviour, nor risk the popularity of my party for such people."


Of course, this is not the first declaration of war against organised crime. The former premier and leader of the LSDM, Branko Cërvenkovski, also vowed to slay the "octopus" of corruption, but not only did he fail to make any significant progress, he also lost power very soon after.


It remains to be seen if the current premier will have any more success against a growing "parallel system" which is slowly starting to undermine the foundations of Macedonian society.


Veton Latifi is a political analyst and freelance journalist from Macedonia


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