Reuters Macedonian corruption tougher to solve than war
Thursday November 1, 12:42 PM
Macedonian corruption tougher to solve than war
By Kole Casule
SKOPJE (Reuters) Macedonians and ethnic Albanians are on course toward
ratifying a peace accord but a blight that contributed to the conflict --
corruption -- defies solution.
Macedonia, one of the former Yugoslav republics, is swamped by graft, a
tradition inherited from unaccountable communist and royalist regimes and
which mars almost every facet of life.
"It criminalises society and creates a negative value system that people
accept as a way of achieving individual rights," said Zoran Jacev, president
of the Macedonia chapter of Transparency International, a non-governmental
organisation dedicated to fighting corruption.
Experts say graft has reached alarming proportions, laying waste to the
legal, regulated part of the economy and setting back Skopje's chances of
foreign aid for reconstruction.
There are no figures on how much money the state loses to graft, in part
because it is not specifically outlawed.
But hardly a permit or document can be issued without having to bribe
someone in a country where the average monthly wage hovers at a meagre $155
and unemployment exceeds 35 percent.
People routinely offer cash to get a building permit, renew a driving
licence, import goods, start a business, dodge a tax bill or even get a job
in the civil service.
During the conflict with ethnic Albanian rebels that ended with an August
peace settlement, reserve recruits could avoid army call-ups by paying 3,000
German marks ($1,400) to a military doctor to be pronounced unfit.
"Most corrupt are the courts, public services -- and soccer referees," said
Ljupco Zikov, owner of business weekly Kapital.
He cited cases where people avoided prosecution or sentencing by having the
"right connections" in the judiciary, or referees who have made decisions
which helped inferior teams win games in exchange for cash.
During the seven-month ethnic Albanian insurgency that brought Macedonia to
the brink of civil war, public life was buffeted by corruption scandals
involving top officials.
In May, the defence minister was forced to quit over accusations that he
transferred ministry money to the private account of a relative.
The official explanation was that he resigned over "moral issues". His case
is being reviewed by the courts, not on charges of corruption, because they
do not exist under Macedonian law, but of a lesser "misuse of public
In another case, local media exposed a state official's chauffeur who
overnight became co-owner of a prominent bank.
"Nobody trusts state institutions because that's where the corruption comes
from," Zikov said.
Experts say graft is bred by a "top-down" management of state institutions,
where directors and their aides exercise unlimited power to decide even
minor -- but potentially lucrative -- operational matters.
A 1998 parliamentary inquiry found that cut-price canned beef past its "use
by" date had been imported for the army by defence ministry aides who
invoiced it at full price and then pocketed the difference. No charges were
The most recent poll on corruption, carried out at the end of last year,
before ethnic Albanians revolted, showed people felt more threatened by
graft than deteriorating inter-ethnic relations.
"Two basic factors in the ethnic crisis are graft and organised crime," said
Slagana Taseva, an anti-corruption expert who advises non-governmental
Minority Albanians took up arms in February this year in what they described
as a struggle for better civil rights.
GUERRILLAS TARGETED CORRUPT COMPATRIOTS TOO
But experts, both Macedonian and ethnic Albanian, agree that the guerrillas
were also fighting corruption among ethnic Albanian party leaders who had
been participating in government for years.
The border region where the insurgency began was a well-known route for
smuggled cigarettes and alcohol that local media said was controlled by
ethnic Albanian political figures.
"In some ways it was a revolution against our own politicians," said a
senior official from the Albanian Party for Democratic Prosperity (PDP) who
wanted to remain nameless.
Both Albanian parties given roles in past Macedonian governments promised to
deliver better rights for their people but failed to do so.
"It was an internal conflict. Both Albanian political leaders seemed corrupt
so the only alternative was Ali Ahmeti," the PDP official said, referring to
the leader of the now disbanded National Liberation Army.
People in Macedonia are well aware of the corrosive effect of corruption but
believe there is little to be done because there is no law against it or
even an anti-graft strategy.
"We have no vision in Macedonia as to what should be done against it,"
Anti-graft legislation was drafted by justice ministry experts in 1998 but
parliament has still not acted on it.
"The problem is not that nobody speaks of corruption. They all do. But
nobody takes any measures. I haven't seen any analysis what should be done
to battle this evil," Jacev said.
Macedonia's former partners in federal Yugoslavia, such as Serbia and
Croatia, have adopted anti-corruption legislation and formed special task
forces to fight organised crime.
But in Macedonia this year, a unit in the interior ministry formed to crack
down on gangsterism and its allies in government was dismantled without