By Linda Karadaku
The arrest of the head of Kosovo’s anti-corruption task force on corruption charges has brought a renewed focus on graft and bribery among public officials — an issue plaguing the Western Balkans for years.
While the arrest of Special Prosecutor Nazmi Mustafi on corruption charges is the most egregious example, Kosovo is not alone in confronting the problem. Earlier this month in Romania, Laszlo Borbely resigned as environment minister resigned after prosecutors sought to lift his immunity in order to start a criminal prosecution for corruption. Media reports indicate that Borbely is suspected of giving several contracts to a company without public tenders for refurbishing work in his personal apartment. He has denied wrongdoing.
And in Croatia, prosecutors on April 4th charged former Interior Minister Ivica Kirin with corruption charges that they say cost the country more than 2.5m euros, according to AFP.
Corruption is a normal part of life for many in the region, according to the UN, which noted in a 2011 report that one in six citizens of the region has direct or indirect exposure to bribery with a public official on a yearly basis.
“For the countries of the Western Balkans, corruption is an issue of particular concern, because of its detrimental impact on their social and economic development,” the UN Office of Drugs and Crime said in its report. “Corruption is a major concern of ordinary citizens in the region.”
The arrest of Mustafi is a particular embarrassment for Pristina because he was the person – appointed by Prime Minister Hashim Thaci in 2010 — to put an end to corruption. Instead, prosecutors say, he profited from it.
“Mustafi’s arrest is an alarm for everyone,” Hasan Preteni, the director of the Kosovo Anti-Corruption Agency, an independent institution that implements state policies for combating and preventing corruption, told SETimes.
In a news release, the Kosovo government said that the justice system is independent from the government. “The government of the Republic of Kosovo has not defined the composition of the prosecutors [task force], but supported its foundation and function in the fight against corruption.”
The disciplinary commission of the Kosovo prosecutorial council suspended Mustafi on April 4th after he was ordered to spend 30 days in detention.
Preteni thinks there is no widespread corruption in Kosovo, but that there is “corruption at the highest levels, where there is more budget, capital investment, and greedy people.”
“Is it corruption or organised crime? I think it’s more organised crime. No official can be involved in corruption without accomplices. It requires several officials in a tendering procedure,” Preteni said.
The UN report suggests otherwise, however. Its scientific study shows that an estimated 11.1% of Kosovo’s population had been bribed in the last 12 months before the report. Bribery is more prevalent in Albania (19.3% of the population bribed), Bosnia and Herzegovina (20.7%) and Croatia (11.2%). Fewer bribes are taken in Montenegro (9.7%), Serbia (9.3%) and Macedonia (6.2%).
Driton Zogiani, from Pristina, said that Mustafi’s arrest makes people suspect the whole system is corrupt. “When the head of an anti-corruption task force is corrupt, what are the rest like?” Zogiani told SETimes.
Ramiz Osaj, another Pristina citizen, says he is disappointed, and that the arrest has also shaken his trust in the country’s institutions.
“It seems everyone who comes to power will become corrupt sooner or later. They are careful at the beginning, but then they become worse. There are people, officials, who do not turn to corruption, but these are rare,” Osaj told SETimes.
“Corruption is affecting every area; one of the biggest risks is that the citizens lose trust in the institutions,” Preteni said.