On February 14, citizens of Kosovo cast their vote for parliamentary elections. That day, Kosovo witnessed deep democratization where a grass-root movement named Vetevendosje (“self-determination” in English) won the elections with the highest percentage any one party has ever reached since the war in 1999. Built upon the platform to free the country from corruption, this victory may be a turning point for the anti-corruption reform for the region and the small country of Kosovo.
Since its independence in 2008, corruption has been perceived as systemic and endemic, being a major challenge for the country, ranking on Transparency International’s 2020 CPI ranking 104 out of 180 jurisdictions, with a score of 36. The anti-corruption reforms have not been successful so far for many reasons, including political instability. The new government, however, is expected to have a full lifespan. Hence hopes for the situation to change remain high.
This will all depend on five variables:
1. Despite promises to fight corruption, the winning party’s anti-corruption reform program is based on two elements: vetting of law enforcement bodies and an anti-mafia law. Neither of the two actions will work unless all system elements are functioning cumulatively. The new government must first and foremost put in place a clear policy and a roadmap for reform, avoiding one-off ad hoc initiatives as happened in the past.
The first step to this would be to pursue the Functional Review of the Rule of Law Sector, which is the most comprehensive analysis to date in Kosovo aimed at structural reforms in the rule of law area. It addresses shortcomings in the justice sector and proposes measures for improvement. A specific Chapter dedicated to anti-corruption reforms offers an analysis of the anti-corruption institutional framework and provides recommendations on future reforms. Therefore, conducting anti-corruption reforms in a structured and coordinated way is the first step forward.
2. The reference for designing an anti-corruption policy must inherently be based on international standards, including UNCAC and Council of Europe conventions. The ultimate objective must be a membership to mechanisms such as GRECO and MONEYVAL. Peer pressure generated by such mechanisms could increase the sense of accountability and influence progress.
3. While most of the past reforms have related to amending and adopting new pieces of legislation, it is high time to put those laws into action. As shown in various reports, Kosovo has never suffered from lack of legislation in the area of anti-corruption, nor does the country lack institutions to enforce legislation, with about 19 established so far. The main problems remain implementing the laws through institutions which have clarity in their mandates.
4. Building institutional integrity and ethics in a country that has to cope with invisible family ties, nepotism, and patronage networks is an enormous challenge. Although the leader of the new governing party enjoys the status of a clean and uncorrupted figure, his success will largely depend on the will to set up a government that will lead by example.
5. Finally, building coalitions with Civil Society must be part of the anti-corruption agenda. Civil Society in Kosovo has proven to be a wheel for change on many occasions in the past — for example, in the process of developing and adopting new legislation or reacting against actions to undermine anti-corruption efforts.
Changing a country’s reputation from heavily corrupt to clean is never easy. But in Kosovo, the hopes for determination of Vetevendosje (self determination) to have a lasting impact are high.