By Ljilja Cvekic
BELGRADE, July 12 (Serbia Today) – After years of failing to conquer corruption, deeply rooted in the state and society, Serbia hopes it has set now the right tool to win the difficult and long battle, of which depend both the country’s European Union aspirations and desperately needed foreign investments.
The top anti-corruption body, elected by the Parliament, will be in charge of controlling the state administration and identifying conflicts of private and public interests with an authority to demand prosecution, propose sanctions and amend laws.
“Every government, even the most democratic one, has to be strongly controlled, since it can easily fall into tyranny and disrespect of law,” University professor Cedomir Cupic, head of the Anti-Corruption Committee, told Serbia Today in an interview on Friday. “The highlight in the battle against corruption should be on laws and independent institutions, and not on a good will of any politician.”
As in other former socialist countries, corruption has flourished in Serbia in 1990’s with start of the period of transition and privatization of state-owned and public companies, worsened by economic and social crisis, wars in territories of ex-Yugoslavia and the international sanctions, when corruption, fraud and law evasion were considered a survival art.
“Causes of corruption are authoritarian governments – tyrannies, dictatorships – and poverty,” Cupic says. “Wherever there is a power that is above the law, there are also possibilities for corruptive actions. The logic of that power is the following: If the one above me can violate the law, I can also violate it for those who are below. And that is how the pyramid of corrupted power is being created.”
The European Union has warned Serbia on several occasions that it needed to take tough measures to fight corruption and organized crime.
Thomas Hammarberg, the human rights commissioner at the Council of Europe, has said corruption remained widespread, presenting a serious problem, “despite the fact that the fight against corruption has been a priority for all Serbian governments since 2002.”
“The widespread perception of corruption in the public and private sector seriously undermines citizens’ trust in the proper functioning of state institutions and in political decision-making processes,” he wrote in his report.
Although Serbia has adopted several laws and established a number of various bodies for control of conflict of interests, political parties funding or use of budget funds, without possibilities to have sanctioning of perpetrators as a consequence, all proposals for prosecution ended up as complaints ignored by the government.
Cupic said the adopted laws have proved to be insignificant and limited, such as the law on prevention of the conflict of interests, since it provided just an appeal to ethics without setting sanctions.
He quoted German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, who believed that well structured political order should not use repressive measures, but said that in certain social and political situations when law existed but did not function, it was necessary to provide strong criminal sanctions to stop destruction of both the society and the state.
According to Serbia’s law, sentences for corruption are between six months to five years in prison or fines from 50,000 to 500,000 dinars ($770 to $7700). The Anti-Corruption Agency, as an independent state body, will have the power to decide whether the criminal act or misdemeanor has been committed and the prosecutor’s office and the court will be obliged to act.
The Committee, as the body that supervises and controls the Agency, has also the authority to pass the new laws and amendments to the existing ones to the parliament.
“I would like to see the MPs who would speak and vote against stronger sanctions in the country with such high level of corruption,” Cupic said.
Britain has managed to solve its problem with soccer thugs not by building the high fences but by extremely strong sentences – faced with a 10-year prison sentence, not a single fan is ready to run onto the soccer field.
“Wherever powerful laws and the rule of law exist, the chances for corruption are brought down to minimum.”