Politika: New institutions holdup the fight against corruption

September 29, 2008

Instead of giving wider powers to the existing anticorruption bodies, the government revokes them and establishes new ones.

Verica Barać, president of the Anti Corruption Council

The Law on Agency for the fight against corruption hasn’t been proposed in order to improve the fight against corruption. On the contrary, Republic Committee for Resolving Conflicts of Interests is revoked and a new body (Agency) is to be established by this law. This law simply covers real government’s intentions, which can easily be seen from the simple fact that they are not going to adopt the Law on the Fight against Corruption which would make possible system approach to the issue according to the National Strategy for the Fight against Corruption. Instead, this Law provides establishing of a new body which is to replace existing bodies and to bring the fight against corruption at the beginning again, says Verica Barac, president of the Anti Corruption Council, stressing that neither Republic Committee for Resolving Conflicts of Interests nor the Council or some other relevant institutions didn’t take part in drafting this Law.     

The matter regarding the Law on Agency for the Fight against Corruption is the best example how Serbian authorities treat state institutions. When they want to cover bad conditions in which those institutions act, when the institutions are unable to even start working, or when the authorities want to cover their role in devastation of those institutions, the government propose a new Law which foresees the abolition of currently existing institutions and foundation of new ones, says Mrs. Barac. 

Do you think that the purpose of this Law is to impede functioning of institutions for the fight against corruption?

Its key role is resolving of conflicts of interests, but we have already had this law which is in practice for three years now and the Committee has acted very well. It is clear for all these years that the shortages in Law have been the key issue here – The Committee isn’t authorized to check data from disclosure reports on property and income or to disclose them. It just imposes moral penalties. Instead of amending this law in order to improve it and to increase Committee’s authorities and possibilities to perform, the government is doing something which is not permitted – it revokes the body that practically has just began acting in order to create a new one. 

Judiciary, for example, does not belong to newly appointed institutions, and still there are a lot of complaints regarding their work.

There are numerous mechanisms through which the government tries to destabilize institutions. The repeal of existing institutions in order to found new ones is one of those mechanisms. As regards to prosecutors’ office, they are controlled by the state – republic prosecutor has been in acting status for eight years now. How can we expect those people on high positions or very powerful people to be responsible for corruption felonies if they are facing prosecutors insecure in they own positions?     

You have already mentioned some shortages in the Law on Prevention of Conflict of Interest. Regarding regulatory bodies, what is your opinion on “holes” in legislation, apart from that whether the efficient control has been disabled on purpose or as a result of lack of understanding?

Sometimes it is the intent, sometimes lack of understanding. As regards to conflict of interest, the Committee has sent some very good suggestions to the government in order to improve the law and showed the immunity regarding political pressure. The Committee proved to be a very reliable body, because it is not easy at all to influence nine independent individuals. Moreover, the Committee is responsible to the Assembly which is, in a way, protection from the executive power which is the key problem regarding institutions’ work. Some other mechanisms for work disabling could be noticed in the case of State Audit Office, which, perhaps, should be the key issue of this discussion. Why that institution still hasn’t begun with its work, while everyone is talking about Agency for the Fight against Corruption? 


It is because the efficient and accurate work of State Audit Office can cause a lot of changes, because they are in charge for financial flows, as well as control of public finance, public funds and public companies. However, instead of asking for an explanation regarding State Audit which still hasn’t begun working, we all let political parties to amuse us with some Agency for the Fight against Corruption which has been given some tasks unable to perform or some undefined powers like in the chapter regarding financing of political parties. It is only mentioned in powers listing, but not in the elaboration of the Act. In the same time, the existing Law on Financing of Political Parties which provides political parties to keep their finances undisclosed is still in force. If we add the non working Audit Office, it is obvious that there isn’t a qualified institution able to control financial reports issued by political parties and that the government tries to seduce us with foundation of a brand new body which basically can not change a thing, while the institutions with system importance do not have basic operative conditions.

Do you mean both Audit Office and…

Principally, yes, but please keep in mind the case regarding Securities Commission; How did the government devastate it in one day time when all were pressured to resign? But, when they showed readiness to obey government’s orders, they all kept their jobs like nothing happened. There was no decision regarding their resignations and afterwards all the illegal proceedings regarding takeover of C-market and Port of Belgrade went without any resistance of the Commission. As regards to the Commission for Protection of Competition - after they issued the decision regarding Delta, the government issued a draft for a new Law on Protection of Competition providing that the Commission will be replaced, although it has completed less than half of its term of office. Of course, it wasn’t carried out till the end, but it was enough to ruin an institution. The government has been doing the same with the Committee for Resolving Conflicts of Interests. The Committee has been only working for nine months, when the government issued the first draft of Law on Agency which provides Committee’s elimination.   

Speaking about this piece of legislation, you have also mentioned a problem regarding the director of the Agency, who is, in your opinion, much easier to manipulate comparing with several members of a particular body. But, for example, RRA is the collective body and there were some serious disputes of its decisions.

The rule is that it is much harder to influence a body composed of several members. We still haven’t found a way for creating stable institutions.

A simple fact that the Agency will be run by the director instead of some collective organ, although the Agency will also have its Board, doesn’t automatically mean bad solution, does it?

It is certainly worse for the anti corruption combat. Of course, it doesn’t mean that those people are not under pressure too. But the experience of the Committee for Resolving of Conflicts of Interests has shown so far that such an institution is a very good solution that should be improved. It is not easy at all to find the solution for institutions’ building, but it is more than clear that everything is done in order to obtain some political points, and basically nothing is about to change.

Biljana Baković

"I am not looking for a job at the Agency"

On the question was she going to apply for the job at the Agency, she replied she wasn’t and added that the future of the Anti Corruption Council shouldn’t be linked with the Agency issue. 

According to the idea of Djindjic’s government, the Council was not supposed to be an institution that employs civil servants. It was meant to be an institution composed of people of integrity, independent individuals with their own professions who were in position to point out all the problems regarding corruption to the government. Whether the Council will continue working or not is the question for the government and their judgment on the issue if they need an advisory body for the corruption matters, but establishing of the Agency is totally different issue – the issue of devastation of currently existing institutions and founding of new ones without any particular reason. The Council sent the government its reasons two years ago arguing the intention of the government to form the Agency for the Fight against Corruption. These reasons are still relevant.  

It is clear, but perhaps precisely you with all your experience.
If the government wanted to continue combating corruption based on experiences of the Committee and the Council, it wouldn’t adopt a new piece of legislation. Obviously they had in mind some other people to be appointed at the Agency. Moreover, political parties are pressured from the inside to employ their own members. That is why the Agency’s staff will amount 150 people. The committee has 15 employees and does 80% of work laid down in the Law on Agency for the Fight against Corruption.


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