Ambassador Delawie Remarks at the Anti-Corruption Council Meeting

Ambassador Delawie Remarks at the Anti-Corruption Council Meeting, Friday, September 25, 2015

Thank you, Madame President, Mr. Prime Minister, Mr. Speaker, and other distinguished guests. I commend you for working together on a comprehensive, whole-of-society approach to Kosovo’s fight against corruption.

Since arriving in this country, I have made no secret of my priorities. I have said I would like to work together with the government and people of Kosovo to strengthen the rule of law, increase regional security, and promote economic growth. Progress in all these areas is vital for Kosovo to find its rightful place as a member of all key Euro-Atlantic groups. But none of these issues that I have addressed has generated more public interest than my remarks on the importance of fighting corruption.

That is not surprising. Opinion polls in Kosovo show that the public perceives corruption to be a major problem. International watchdogs such as Transparency International and the World Bank have reached the same conclusion. The 2013 World Bank Worldwide Governance Indicators on control of corruption placed Kosovo in the 31st percentile – the bottom third in the world. While this is somewhat better than Albania, it falls short of other regional competitors such as Montenegro, Macedonia, Serbia, and also Bosnia. Even worse, there has been little change in this indicator over the last decade. If you were a European investor, or even a member of the large Kosovo diaspora in Europe, looking to launch a project in the Western Balkans, you would be looking at these indicators; and the comparison does no favor to Kosovo’s desire to increase foreign investment.

Now, I am not here to complain about Kosovo or its people. I have had a wonderful experience since my arrival five weeks ago. And corruption is a global problem; no country is immune, including my own; I am not particularly proud of my country’s 85th percentile ranking on the same index. I think it should be 100. But sweeping this problem under the rug also does Kosovo no favors; in fact, it undermines Kosovo’s future.

Vice President Biden has noted that “corruption is a cancer … that eats away at a citizen’s faith in democracy, it diminishes the instinct for innovation and creativity; [and] … crowds out important national investments. It wastes the talent of entire generations. It scares away investments and jobs. And most importantly, it denies the people their dignity.”

With a problem this big, it would be easy to throw our hands in the air, say the problem is hopeless, and turn on a football game. But that would be wrong. Progress is possible. Macedonia has moved up the percentile rankings by a remarkable 20 percent over less than ten years. Kosovo can do this too, with the right legal framework, leadership engagement, tools, and motivation.

But there is no magic wand; fighting corruption requires lots of work in a lot of different areas. It requires a collaborative effort among government agencies, with civil society, and across international borders. The police, prosecutors, and the judiciary must work together to create an atmosphere where the people understand they can report corruption and where violators will be prosecuted and will go to jail. Whistleblowers must be protected. Transparency systems for things like public procurement must be developed, and used. There must be a change of culture in which all citizens refuse to accept corruption, and commit to becoming part of the solution.

The United States and our Embassy stand ready to help you in your efforts to fight corruption. In the past year, we have spent approximately 15 million dollars on programs to help strengthen the rule of law in Kosovo. This is an investment by the American people in Kosovo’s future. I intend to maintain this investment, and to work with all Kosovo institutions to assist in the battle to improve rule of law in Kosovo. We are happy to help, but as Speaker Veseli has said, this is a fight that must be led by the citizens and institutions of Kosovo themselves.

Thank you again for inviting me. I look forward to cooperating with you on these important efforts.