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Here’s how anti-corruption reform stalls in a ‘fragile democracy’

For the past two months, the Covid-19 pandemic has understandably been the centerpiece of anti-corruption writings, on the FCPA Blog and in other publications. The emergence of corruption risks during emergencies negatively affects all countries, yet the impact on developing countries is undeniably greater.

Even in developed countries where the rule of law is strong, any debate about anti-corruption reform during an emergency on the scale of Covid-19 might seem superfluous, and a distraction from the emergency itself. The situation is far worse in developing countries. In “fragile democracies,” reform efforts were already sidetracked before Covid-19, by the ongoing political process. Kosovo is a prime example.

Since its declaration of independence in 2008, Kosovo has witnessed a number of short-lived coalition governments — over five in the last 12 years — with the latest government standing only 51 days. Frequently, a couple of months are needed to go from elections to the formation of the new government and a functional assembly. As a result, initiatives for new anti-corruption reforms always seem to pause. To compound the problem, reforms already put in place during a prior government don’t receive the required attention of the next government.

That’s been the situation with a number of anti-corruption initiatives in Kosovo, particularly since 2017. The amendment of two key pieces of legislation has been on hold during the two latest general elections in 2017 and 2019. One of the bills is intended to clarify the jurisdiction and enforcement abilities of Kosovo’s Anti-Corruption Agency, and enhance its role in prevention. The other bill  — the Law on Asset Declarations — would help create more transparency among public office holders and is also still pending.

Another way Kosovo’s “fragile democracy” has slowed reform is the deferral of the recommendations made in the GRECO-style Assessment carried out in 2018. (GRECO is the Group of States against Corruption, the Council of Europe’s anti-corruption monitoring body). The Assessment, which focuses on the effectiveness of Kosovo’s framework to prevent corruption among officials with top executive functions, contains numerous recommendations. However, the institutions that would be involved haven’t moved forward due to the absence of a stable government.

There was apparent progress when an important whistleblower protection law was adopted. However, it also has stalled, pending adoption of certain subordinate legal acts, which hinders those who may want to come forward.

These are only few of the anti-corruption reform initiatives affected as a result of Kosovo’s political instability. Although a commitment to combat corruption is a key requirement for Kosovo’s relations with the EU and the granting of a visa-free regime, crafting sustainable anti-corruption policies and implementing reforms always depends on the support from those in power. And of course, political support cannot be counted on when governments are constantly distracted by efforts to stay in power.

While Covid-19 may have slowed anti-corruption initiatives in the established democracies, in a country like Kosovo, Covid-19 is also a hurdle. But the longer-term challenge to those hoping for reform is a “fragile democracy” and its debilitating political impact.

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