This blog post was published under the 2015 to 2024 Conservative government

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Matt Field

British Diplomat

Part of UK in Bosnia and Herzegovina

7th December 2018

Corruption has a cost … and it is paid by citizens

9 December is International Day for the Fight Against Corruption. No one in Bosnia and Herzegovina needs to be told about the damage done by this poison. Since I took over as British Ambassador here three months ago, it is probably the single subject I have heard most about in my conversations with people. Corruption is not unique to BiH, and found in many countries trying to transition to more open and fair societies. But it reaches far into daily life, and is a major driver of the exodus of qualified and talented people, looking to live their lives elsewhere.

What do we mean when we talk about corruption? It is the school teacher who finds she has to bribe her primary school director to keep her job. It is the civil servant who is told to join a political party in order to progress. It is the expectant mother who has to pay her gynecologist to provide the care she is entitled to. It is the university student who knows they will never get the same grades as the student next to them, because they do not have connections. It is the criminal case that falls apart when evidence gets ‘mislaid’. And it is the business that is hit with additional inspections and buried with mountains of paperwork until they ‘grease the wheels’ of the local administration.

We can put a number on what people think of these problems, with the help of experts such as Transparency International. 83% of BiH people think political parties are corrupt, 81% the judiciary, 80% health services. In 2017 BiH ranked 91st in the world in perception of corruption. Only 12% of people think the government is effective in the fight against corruption.

The final cost of corruption is harder to total, but it includes millions in corrupt government spending, in stolen funds, and in missed foreign investments. And this price is always falls to the taxpayer, the citizen, who does not receive the quality public services for which they pay.

BiH is not unique in its challenges. The UK is far from perfect in many respects. And both our civil society and independent media play a vital role in shining a light on corrupt practices and individuals. In recent examples ranging from multi-million pound government contracts to parliamentarians’ expense claims, public reactions have led to swift reactions, resignations and punishments.

So what can we do about this? Change is possible – in under a decade Georgia went from 133rd to 55th on the same perception list. In many cases, BiH has the legal framework, plans and institutions in place to tackle corruption. But they only work if they are implemented, monitored and independent of political control. And there is a real need for clear standards of ethical behaviour, applied to everyone working with public money.

The UK wants to help, along with other partners including the EU, US and Germany. Tackling corruption will be a golden thread running through all of our bilateral assistance to BiH, with an emphasis on transparency and accountability. The UK will focus efforts, with institutions and non-government partners, to:

  • Improve laws relating to conflict of interest, protection of whistle blowers, and political party financing
  • Enforce codes of ethical behaviour for public officials, and make recruitment processes transparent and merit-based
  • Simplify business processes, through ‘one stop shops’ and reduced red tape, to create a more predictable and attractive place to invest
  • Develop judicial and prosecutor capacity in handling complex cases, including illicit finance, and the ability to seize and recover illegal assets
  • Make public spending more transparent and available to the public, especially digitally
  • Support freedom of media, especially investigative journalism
  • Encourage new administrations to prioritise the fight against corruption in their new programmes

Above all, I want us all to listen to what citizens, civil society and independent media have to say. And it is up to you the public to hold your elected representatives to account.

The fight against corruption is central to the Euro-Atlantic path. Without progress in this field, BiH will not be able to move ahead. But more importantly, BiH citizens will continue to be frustrated, robbed of the services and future they deserve. The UK joins you in demanding better – and will provide practical support along the way. Let us know what else we can do to help on, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram .