Corruption in the Balkans can be reduced to a minimum over the next decade BTA - 2000/10/18
As international commitments are assumed to adhere strictly to anti-corruption policies, the level of corruption in the Balkans can be reduced to a minimum over the next decade, according to Frederic Wehrle, Stability Pact Anti-Corruption Initiative Coordinator of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development. He took part in a roundtable on corruption within the South-East Europe Economic Forum which opened here on Monday. The expert argued that good laws are not the only conditions to curb corruption. He cited the example of Romania, where corruption is punishable by 15 years' imprisonment, compared to 10 years in the US and France and 5 years in Germany. Wehrle said that implementation of the law requires an institutional framework and political will. Bulgaria is most advanced among the countries of the region in anti-corruption legislation, the expert said. In 1993 US companies lost 60,000 million dollars from transacting with companies in Western Europe where legislation is more lax to bribery of foreigners, said political scientist Ivan Krustev of the Centre for Liberal Strategies. At that time, in Germany and France bribes of foreign government officials were allowed as tax-deductible expense. The major corruption scandals, the ones in Bulgaria included, erupt around small off-shore companies which take the upper hand of the major foreign investors. "Those who win are not the ones who give the largest bribe but those who know when and how to give it so that it be accepted," Krustev said. He also called into question the privatization method which prioritizes price. "Strategic investors rarely offer the highest price, and the properties are thus awarded to small offshore companies, he said. A couple of weeks ago the World Bank concluded that the fight against corruption can hardly be expected to produce an early result, Krustev said. He does not think that such results can be achieved by just lifting licensing, authorization and registration requirements. According to Krustev, corruption in Bulgaria has already turned into an "explanation" of the transition - of how some people got rich in weeks and others got poor in months. Bulgarians have come to perceive privatisation itself as synonymous with corruption, the political scientist said. He warned that fighting corruption could be used as a pretext for a repressive policy or become an election campaign issue. "When the State cannot guarantee security, the political and economic class buys it on corruption money," Krustev said. "If all transactions in a country are fraught with corruption, nationalization lies ahead for that country," he added. According to Tihomir Bezlov of the Center for the Study of Democracy, the incidence of everyday-level bribery is decreasing. "Fearing exposure, bureaucrats take less," Bezlov said. To make up for it, a new form of corruption is emerging: bribe in exchange for welfare benefits.

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