Survey data on countries in the region reveal attitudes towards the harmful consequences of corruption.
By Linda Karadaku for Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 23/05/12
On average, two in three adults worldwide perceive corruption as being widespread in businesses in their countries, but the percentage is even higher in the Balkans, according to a Gallup report released earlier this month.
Gallup's poll indicates that corruption in business is perceived as a significant issue because it stymies development and foreign investments, as well as fosters income inequality and wellbeing.
In the Balkans, the percentage of those polled who consider corruption widespread in businesses is highest in Croatia and Romania -- 93% and 91% respectively -- but Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) and Serbia trail closely with 89% and 87%, as do Greece with 85% and Kosovo with 83%.
It is lowest in Montenegro, 63%, which is the average for EU member states. The survey is based on 2011 data.
"The Balkans is not the only or the most corrupt region worldwide, but corrupt habits and structures are quite entrenched," Cornelia Abel, programme co-ordinator for Southeastern Europe at Transparency International, told SETimes.
Abel cited the drastic changes in the social-political system and lack of political will to strengthen institutions, as well as rule of law, as major contributing factors.
"[They] resulted in the lack of reforms or their very slow implementation, which was largely if not fully driven by the aim to join the EU and improve economic opportunities," Abel said.
Other factors include international sanctions against Serbia in the late 1990s, which further paved the way for organised crime and corruption to flourish, she added.
"Kosovo faces significant corruption, including high-level political corruption as well as the low-level 'bribes-for-small-money' variety in the daily functioning of society," Armend Mazreku, researcher at the Kosovo NGO FOL (Speak up), told SETimes.
FOL published a report in mid-May on corruption in Kosovo for the first three months of 2012.
"It is not only damaging economic development, but also the state-building processes, democratisation and the establishment of qualitative governance which serves the general wellbeing of the citizens," Mazreku said.
"Reform is needed -- to be fair it has partially been accomplished -- but there is a need for accountability of public officials balanced by the need for less political interference in the specific decisions regarding contracts," George Mills, EULEX anti-corruption expert in Kosovo, told SETimes.
But Merita Mustafa of the Kosovo Democratic Institute argues corruption's roots are in politics, which makes efforts to confront the issue -- including in businesses that finance it -- an impossible task.
"Politicians' involvement in corruption makes it impossible for them to undertake the necessary actions to fight this phenomenon, because they would have to fight themselves," Mustafa told SETimes.
Ramadan Ilazi, co-founder of FOL, said corruption in Kosovo is unfortunately transforming into an acceptable culture of governance and of interaction between citizens and institutions.
"This is widely a result of the lack of commitment from the international community to truly establish rule of law in Kosovo," Ilazi told SETimes.
Business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs said they rely on a stable environment, but widespread corruption makes it difficult to estimate the risks involved in starting new enterprises.
"Some people are getting rich overnight, and I can hardly make it through the month," Marjan Berisha, a shop owner in Gjakova, Kosovo, told SETimes.
Halit Gashi, a 26-year-old Pristina resident, said people seeking employment, not only businesses and public institutions, are affected because corruption skews the employment market.
"[To find a job] you need either to know someone or to bribe someone," Gashi told SETimes. "Everyone is saying let's fight corruption, but it seems they are not serious about it."