The SELDI Report on Combating Corruption in Southeast Europe: Good News/Bad News

In an earlier post I cataloged several studies evaluating anticorruption policies in different regions or by different agencies and promised to summarize each for time-pressed readers.  Today I review a report by the Southeast Europe Leadership for Development and Integrity (SELDI), Anticorruption Reloaded: Assessment of Southest Europe, on the state of corruption in nine states:  Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Turkey.  SELDI is a coalition of 17 civil society organizations from the nine countries with one, the Center for the Study of Democracy in Sofia, serving as its secretariat.  The 250 page report was authored by the Center based on extensive consultations with SELDI members, assessments in each of the nine countries, and comparisons of surveys on corruption taken in 2001 and 2002 with the results of identical surveys taken in 2014.

The good news?  The report provides an exhaustive analysis of corruption trends in the nine countries, what each has done to reduce corruption, and what more needs to be done.  The focus is on critical, but often overlooked issues: corruption in the legislature and the courts, weaknesses in public financial management and how they fuel corruption.  The empirical and qualitative data are weaved together skillfully to provide a detailed picture of each country along with specific recommendations.  The really good news?  The existence of civil society organizations in these nine countries capable of producing such a high quality report.

The bad news?

Here the report speaks for itself:

*”Anticorruption and good governance reforms [in the nine countries] are not consolidated, corruption among elected politicians and judges seems to be increasing and the enforcement of anticorruption legislation is haphazard” (p.12).

*”The experience with corruption in . . . [the nine countries] is very high.  Even in Turkey and Croatia, where levels of administrative corruption are lowest in the region . . . [it] is well beyond the average levels registered by Eurobarometer surveys in the EU” (p. 12).

*While all countries have adopted a national anticorruption strategy, “implementation . . . is generally hampered by insufficient resources and commitment at the senior government level” (p. 13).

* “Common to all SELDI countries is the compromised autonomy of the various oversight and law enforcement bodies” (p. 13).

* “The establishment and functioning of [specialized anticorruption agencies] has been plagued by a number of difficulties [including] limited institutional capacity – budget, personnel – despite declared intentions to the opposite” (p.14).

*Nor does SELDI let itself and its members off the hook: “Non-governmental organizations in Southeast Europe . . . are still a long way from translating public demands into effective advocacy for policies and from standing up to corruption. . . . (pp. 16 – 17).”

The report’s chapter on the courts in SELDI countries is particularly damning.  “Judicial self-government has spiraled out of control and has turned into corporatism with all the associated corruption risks. . . . Today the judiciary . . . has been as effectively captured as the other branches of government” No anticorruption policy can succeed without a strong, capable judiciary cable of sanctioning those who take a bribe or otherwise cheat or steal their government. Yet, “the capacity of the judiciary in the region to enforce anticorruption legislation . . . has been undermined by a number of problems that have exerted their influence cumulatively.”  Among the critical issues the report notes are “insufficient capacity,” “low professionalism,” and a large “backlog of cases” (pp. 15 – 16).

As with the other sections of the report, the critique is followed by detailed, sensible recommendations.  To repairing the judiciary’s ills, the recommendations run from restructuring the bodies that govern the judiciary to reduce corporatism and capture to improving the ways judges are appointed and promoted to better reporting on what disciplinary measures are taken against corrupt judges.  More robust ethics codes and better enforcement of income and asset declaration laws are also advocated.  Again as with the other sections of the report, these recommendations follow a section discussing the particular problems of the judiciary in each of the nine countries.

So the bad news is that little progress has been over the past decade in tackling corruption in the nine countries even with the high quality analysis SELDI provides.  But I think the good news will ultimately overtake the bad in Southeastern Europe.  The dedication and sophistication of civil society groups like those that belong to SEDLDI, coupled with the growing democratic trends in the region, emphasized by last Sunday’s results in Turkey, surely augur well for the long run.

1 thought on “The SELDI Report on Combating Corruption in Southeast Europe: Good News/Bad News

  1. Another fantastic post. Brings me back to that feeling I had when I spent a year in Bulgaria before law school: a general sense of hopefulness without much hard evidence to base it on, except for the optimism of my amazing colleagues in the civil society.

    Quick thought: Slovenia, which shares much culture and history with the Balkans countries, seems to have developed a strong anticorruption culture and institutional network. I remember reading a great piece by Gabriel Kuris on the subject and being pretty impressed, yet perplexed — link below. (He also does a number of other country-specific surveys in the Balkans in case anyone is curious).

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