Challenges and Obstacles on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Path to a Corruption-Free Society

International Anti-Corruption Day has been celebrated since 2003 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the United Nations Convention against Corruption in a special resolution. This highlighted the issue of corruption and emphasized the necessity of a daily fight against it. The Convention is a legally binding anti-corruption instrument that provides a framework for combating this negative social phenomenon and problem. December 9 is used to raise awareness about the importance of implementing the Convention, inform the public about the consequences of corruption, and promote anti-corruption mechanisms. Corruption not only causes economic, social, and political harm but also undermines democratic principles and institutions.

Every year, the Institute for Youth Development KULT joins numerous NGOs, international organizations, countries, and individuals worldwide in marking International Anti-Corruption Day. Through our work and various events with young people, the Institute has drawn attention to the many negative consequences of corruption, particularly its impact on the lives and opportunities available to young people in BiH. Young people primarily associate corruption with the employment process, where they feel that their chances of getting a job through a public call are slim due to the prevalence of corruption in public institutions when it comes to employment. A survey on the position and needs of young people conducted by the Institute for Youth Development KULT revealed that nearly 90 percent believe bribery is a common practice for securing jobs in public administration in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with almost 60 percent convinced that bribery occurs in most cases. Young people also observe corruption in other areas, including health, justice, education, and security.

A survey by the Institute on the position of young people in Bosnia and Herzegovina showed that over 50 percent of young people want to leave the country, with corruption cited as one of the main reasons. In the survey, young people ranked corruption as the fourth biggest problem, following unemployment, the rising cost of living, and the overall economic situation in the country.

Reports and data from numerous international bodies and organizations highlight corruption as one of the main problems in Bosnia and Herzegovina. In June 2023, the Group of States against Corruption (GRECO) of the Council of Europe published a report identifying ongoing corruption problems in BiH, along with the failure to implement previous recommendations. New recommendations urge BiH authorities to improve whistleblower protection, establish a unified anti-corruption plan nationwide, and strengthen the System for managing conflicts of interest among high-level officials.

According to Transparency International and its annual Corruption Perceptions Index, the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina has further deteriorated in 2022, and our country is now classified as one of the countries deteriorating most rapidly due to a dramatic rise in corruption. Bosnia and Herzegovina is the lowest ranked among the Western Balkans countries, and it ranks third worst overall in Europe, just behind Ukraine and Russia. Additional reports highlight that Bosnia and Herzegovina is facing serious issues with administrative and high-level corruption, which significantly impact the economy and social stability.

One of the main reasons for the deterioration of the situation in BiH regarding the fight against corruption is the lack of laws that impose sufficient punishments and sanctions on perpetrators of corrupt acts. BiH lacks an anti-corruption strategy or policy of any kind. The decentralized judicial and security system in Bosnia and Herzegovina creates fertile ground for various types of crime. This is only exacerbated by the inability and ineffectiveness of the state and other levels of government in addressing corruption.

The public does not trust elected representatives or employees of the judiciary or institutions in charge of security. The lack of trust can be attributed to the small number of cases where individuals accused of corruption were prosecuted or received adequate punishments. A significant concern is the prevalence of “high-level corruption” in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the absence of any confirmed indictments in 2022. The lack of progress in processing corruption cases particularly affects the perceptions of young people, who see little improvement in the fight against corruption. This undermines their trust in institutions responsible for combating corruption and discourages them from reporting corrupt activities out of fear for their safety. Young people’s fears are often caused by the lack of a built-in system for protecting corruption whistleblowers.

A more efficient and effective fight against corruption begins with investing in the education system, teaching young people about the detrimental effects of corruption, and how to recognize its various forms starting from the final grades of primary school. This knowledge would be further developed throughout secondary and higher education. Currently, higher education curricula offer very little information about corruption and its impact on social, economic, and political life. This topic is not perceived as crucial for BiH’s overall progress.

Corruption is an underrepresented topic even in informal education, although some non-governmental and international organizations in BiH are focused on anti-corruption. What young people lack is education and information about the various forms of corruption and strategies to combat it. Currently, non-governmental international organizations primarily focus on activities that do not directly engage young people or involve workshops where high school students, college students, and members of non-governmental organizations could learn about corruption as a harmful social phenomenon with devastating effects across all aspects of life.

In the past two years, the Institute has been actively working on the “Say NO to Corruption” initiative in Sarajevo Canton to fill this information gap and provide anti-corruption content to young people. More than 300 young people participated in over 15 successful events and activities where they learned about combating corruption. Interactive activities for young people, such as quizzes, roleplaying, and the corruption ABC, were used to deepen their knowledge about corruption.

Progress in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s fight against corruption hinges on the collaboration of various stakeholders. The youth sector has the potential to lead advocacy efforts in this area and include anti-corruption in everyday interactions with young people. When formal education doesn’t provide opportunities to introduce new content to young people, youth organizations can take the lead by tailoring this topic to young people and creating different types of content. These initiatives can serve as catalysts for change and may eventually lead to proposals for government institutions. Youth education should serve as the foundation for all subsequent activities and goals. Comprehensive education on the topic, including examples of different forms of corruption, illustrating its consequences with everyday examples, and engaging in discussions with relevant bodies and institutions responsible for combating corruption, can help shift attention towards effective problem-solving in both the public and private sectors, as well as within civil society.

In our search for helpful examples, we can look to some European Union countries that have successfully improved policies and programs and reduced corruption. This was achieved through building a robust education system and effectively engaging with young people, ensuring that corruption no longer threatens institutions and society. Alarms have been sounding in Bosnia and Herzegovina for quite some time, and ignoring the current situation could lead to unfathomable consequences. Among other negative consequences, a significant number of young people have already left Bosnia and Herzegovina. This underscores the urgency and importance of taking immediate action, including a comprehensive system restructuring and more effective measures to combat corruption involving both government institutions and citizens.

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