The fight against corruption

Aleksandar Krzalovski

With the adoption of the constitutional changes in our country and the ratification of the Prespa Agreement in the Greek Parliament, we can at least conclude that the road to Euro-Atlantic integration of Macedonia is now open. After all, that was the whole purpose of reaching this agreement and the whole process that followed from its signing to date. And all this was done in the hope of a better life, perspective and expected prosperity for all our citizens.

But the road to it will not be easy, and it can prove to be very distant. While NATO membership is expected to happen relatively quickly, that is, the process of ratification of the protocol for the accession of Macedonia (more precisely North Macedonia) into membership should begin in the next month or two, and be ratified by Greece first, and end in about a year (at best by the end of the year) with the ratification in the parliaments of all 29 current NATO members However, membership in the European Union will be an entirely different, and certainly a long story.
Starting from the EU Enlargement Strategy and the announcement by the European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, that some countries from the Balkans (primarily Montenegro and Serbia) can be expected to become members at the earliest in 2025; through the upcoming European Parliament elections (and due to which, because of the opposition of France and the Netherlands to the EU enlargement, we did not receive an explicit date for the start of negotiations last year, yet only hope that it could happen this year in June); to the current pre-election situation and the subtle messages of the Europeans – that now is the time to take on the reforms, and not for early general elections (which suggests that if the Government decides to accept the opposition’s proposal and schedules early general elections along with the presidential, we will probably have to forget about the start date for negotiations with the EU in June). A little digression with regard to the last issue – I would bet that there won’t be early general elections after all!
If we take it “for granted” that NATO membership is already a done deal (among other things, because all our obligations have been completed and the process of admission does not depend on us), what remains for us is to turn to the piled up tasks of the Priebe report and a “million” other reports (such as the European Union, the regular Independent Corruption Indexes of Transparency International, Reporters Without Borders for Freedom of Speech and Media, Freedom House for Democracy) and plans such as the Blueprint Document of domestic civil organizations, or by our own government – Plan 3-6-9 and Plan 18!

They set out the main priorities that the Government (as well as the entire country) should deal with, starting from security service reforms (or in other words – eavesdropping), through the judiciary (despite the millions of euros and dollars spent so far in countless projects of USAID and the European Union and the costly foreign consultants that had been managing this past decade, maybe even longer), public administration, the media, etc. All of this is important and we don’t know what to do with it, and so far something has been done only in the field of security structures, wearing then the law on the formation of a new, so-called OTA – Operational technical agency. But, probably for the public, and now for the MPs in the Assembly, the fight against corruption has been given priority, with the (hasty) adoption of the new law on prevention of corruption and conflict of interests, as well as the subsequent publication of the announcement for the election of members of the Commission of Anticorruption which is in progress.

Unfortunately, as it is with most things in our country, instead of a thorough and systematic approach, everything is being done quickly, ad hoc and overnight, under pressure and with great opportunities for mistakes, inconsistencies, and completely wrong solutions. After a year of “cooking up” the new law, it was passed this week with the consent of the opposition, after the government accepted 10 of their 20 requests / amendments. And that would be fine and desirable to achieve the much desired consensus at least for something in our polarized society.
The question is, as well as with the Amnesty Law and similar other procedures that were made to provide enough votes for the constitutional changes, what was the “price”, ie which solutions were accepted and at the expense of weakening the law and / or the competencies of the future Anti-Corruption Commission.

From what could be immediately noticed by the adoption of the law, some of these things complicate the procedure for insight into party accounts in elections or the exclusion from the possibility of reporting to all former members of the Anti-Corruption Commission. Although there are arguments for such solutions, most arguments are against (ie in favor of a broader scope of Commission responsibilities and a greater choice of proven professionals in this field), so the question is whether and why this was necessary at all.

Another question is why were these laws passed now? The first simple explanation (given by the Assembly) is that there are (at least) presidential elections and there should be an Anti-Corruption Commission for them. And that’s fine – but it could have been since this year. The second explanation is the EU pressure for reforms, of which this is most often mentioned by the EU delegation here. But the EU speaks this from the time of the Priebe report, but it seems now also mentions the “whip” or the standard threat, that this is one of the three conditions of the EU’s enlargement conclusions, and if there is no law and anti-corruption commission, there is no recommendation for the start of the negotiations (no matter how we pushed the Prespa Agreement). A third (logical) explanation is that this thing should not have disrupted the process of constitutional changes, and so – like many other things, it is left behind after that vote. Arno, however, months have been lost without a functioning Anti-Corruption Commission, in the end, a law that has oversights and illogicalities. And that is so, it is enough to look at the site of Academic, where they make refined versions of the laws (unofficial but useful), as well as comments on such omissions, so this law can be seen no less from 38 problems, from typographical errors and wrong words, to references to wrong members (in one case, and on their own) – which are probably forgotten to correct after “the midnight harmonization” of the parties before the vote.

All in all, insufficiently serious, not to mention frivolously, it all raises the question of the political will to really work on the fight against corruption and the commitment of the parties to tackle this problem, which throughout all years of transition is among the top five in the country, and in recent years has become the main cause of civil discontent and the people shouting “No justice, no peace”.

Another, probably more challenging, will be the election of members of the new Anti-Corruption Commission. It is certainly good that criteria have been raised and the selection process improved, among other things by public hearing of candidates (with TV broadcast). But, on the other hand, the question is whether there will be enough candidates that would meet these criteria, that is, the capacity of the country to produce sufficiently suitable candidates. With the publishing of the announcement, part of the colleagues from the civil society sector, who have been dealing with this issue for years and should be excellent candidates, consider that they do not meet all the criteria and they do not want to apply at all. Secondly, and having theoretical (or in practice – we’ll see by Tuesday) enough candidates – it’s a question of whether they will apply at all? Among other things, due to the small political will of the parties and the expected large obstructions in the work, some of them think it would be like “fighting windmills”. But the announcement has already been announced and the deadline is short (another problem with the rush), so soon (next week) we will see whether, and with what capacities, Macedonia could fight corruption.

How the process with the law went does not give much hope for optimism on this issue, but, let’s see who will apply and who will be elected to the Anti-Corruption Commission, and afterwards we will, however, wish them a lot of success in the work – progress in the fight against corruption, climbing the scale of the Corruption Index (to climb higher than the 62nd place that we reached many years ago), large numbers to start appearing on the dial on the Arch of Macedonia) and eradicate petty corruption from the public administration (as they say, “one hundred” in euros, for any document you need and you are entitled to, but you don’t want to wait until the last possible deadline in order to get it).

Views expressed in this article are personal views of the author and do not represent the editorial policy of Nezavisen Vesnik