Efforts to stem corruption in the region's custom sector are working, but more needs to be done, analysts said.
By Ana Lovakovic for Southeast European Times in Sarajevo -- 27/05/13
Several police actions in the customs sectors have resulted in arrests in the region. [AFP]
Several countries in the region are intensifying their efforts against corruption in customs agencies, an institution that tops the list of the most fraudulent sectors, according to NGO Transparency International.
"In order to adequately confront this problem … we need stronger institutions, stronger justice and law enforcement," Srdjan Blagovcanin, from Transparency International Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), told SETimes.
"What we can do is diminish the factors that lie at the root of corruption. Low salaries, especially after last years' austerity measures, which saw public employees' salaries cut by 25 percent, and insufficient logistics, which sometimes forces police and customs officers to manage various situations by themselves and thus do a compromise with someone else," Vasile Lincu, the president of Pro Lex, the National Union of Policemen and Customs Officers in Romania, told SETimes.
At a conference of Balkan police ministers held in September 2012 in Sarajevo, Croatian Interior Minister Ranko Ostojic said police co-operation in the region could help reduce corruption in the sector.
"My commitment is to advance co-operation and to ensure that the police do their job," Ostojic told reporters.
The customs institutions in Macedonia, Serbia and BiH have enhanced their collaboration by introducing an open phone line to give citizens the ability to anonymously report any cases of bribery or extortion by customs officers.
In order to stop "leaking borders" and stem the outflow of money from sectors' budgets, anti-corruption forces have taken several actions resulting in the arrest of dozens of customs officers.
In BiH, the State Agency for Investigation and Protection carried out an action in March codenamed "Panama," which resulted in the arrest of 13 customs officers of the Indirect Taxation Authority of BiH on suspicion of being involved in the smuggling 3,000 tonnes of falsely declared coffee into BiH. Labeled as soy or clay, the shipments were able to avoid import duties.
"There are reasons to believe that in this way the budget of BiH was damaged by about 15 million euros," Ratko Kovacevic, an authority public relations office, told SETimes.
In January 2011, Romania staged a massive anti-corruption operation at various customs points, resulting in about 196 customs and border police officers being arrested.
Also, 62 officers and the then-head of the customs authority were indicted by anti-corruption prosecutors.
During the last year in Serbia, 24 custom officers were fired or fined for violating their official duties.
Despite these efforts, corruption still remains a problem, Lincu told SETimes.
"They wanted that operation to be a total clean-up of the institution, but that never happened. Corruption will always exist. Eradicating it is an entirely unrealistic objective," he said.
Blagovcanin said that although the increase in efforts is positive, it is not enough.
"In the fight against corruption, as well as in all other reform processes, [BiH] is at the very bottom in the region. We have seen that Croatia … made a huge step forward in combating corruption. Also, we are witnessing that now Serbia is trying to achieve something similar. In Bosnia, unfortunately, in this regard, very little happens. As a result of corruption, tens or hundreds of millions of euros of public funds are disappearing," Blagovcanin told SETimes.
Correspondents Paul Ciocoiu in Bucharest, Katica Djurovic in Belgrade, Biljana Lajmanovska in Skopje and Kruno Kratus in Osijek contributed to this report.
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