Corruption is pervasive in this country and citizens are disgusted. Large-scale corruption is destroying an already fragile economy, while petty corruption makes peoples’ lives harder every day. Even when corrupt actors and actions are identified, reports say that up to 70 percent of corruption investigations are dismissed.
Surveys show that BiH is perceived as having the worst corruption problem among all the republics of the former Yugoslavia, driving away investment needed to expand businesses, create jobs, and improve lives. I’ve talked to business people since I’ve been here who say they’re giving up; some are selling out. Others, including young and energetic entrepreneurs, tell me they will never pay the bribes asked of them and if that means closing down, laying off workers, and moving abroad, they’re ready. I don’t know if this is bravado, but I know their frustration is heartfelt. Research shows that corruption wastes 47km every second in this country. That is over 4 million km a day not being spent on education, infrastructure, healthcare, and other basic needs.
Corruption doesn’t happen only in BiH. We even see it in America. But the difference is, other countries have the tools to fight corruption. Whistleblower laws are implemented. Public enterprises are audited and inspected, and any abuse they find corrected. Police have investigative units and cases are actively prosecuted. Journalists and civil society watchdogs track, investigate, and report what business and political leaders are doing in order to keep them honest. BiH has made noticeable strides in some of these areas. I am impressed by the diligent research and oversight I see coming out of organizations like ACCOUNT, the Center for Investigative Journalism, and CCI among others, who want their fellow citizens to know the truth. Likewise, some of the in-depth investigative press reporting has been crucial to informing voters as elections approach. BiH needs more of its citizens to take up this effort.
But overall, BiH institutions have not been up to the task of stamping out corruption. According to Transparency International, there were fewer successful corruption prosecutions last year than in any year since they started monitoring such cases. The system is getting worse, not better.
As long as a university degree, or a job, or a bed in a hospital can be bought with a bribe, this country faces a serious corruption problem. Nobody wants to have to pay a bribe, but that is the reality that so many citizens live with every day. To add insult to injury, not only does the typical citizen have to pull cash out of his wallet for services taxes should fund, there is less in the wallet to begin with because investors are reluctant to do business in BiH. They don’t want to deal with the hassle of corruption and don’t have to; if they invest anywhere else in the region, they are better off.
All the hard work of journalists and NGOs, all the risks average citizens take to make abuses public, will not lead to a better quality of life for citizens of BiH until police, prosecutors and courts start taking corruption cases seriously. Judicial reforms are way overdue and laws already in place need to be implemented. People have the right to expect their government to protect them from criminals and bring the criminals to justice.
Citizens can’t fight corruption alone. But there are things you can do right now, like organizing against corrupt conduct, and most importantly, using the ballot box to hold politicians accountable. Next weekend, you have the chance to choose candidates with integrity. Leaders who will protect your interests and not their party coffers. Choose wisely.