It’s a pleasure to be here with my distinguished fellow panelists and it’s great to have you all here today to talk about my favorite and at the same time most hated issue that we work on here in Kosovo.
As Arian said, from my first day here, in fact, from my first time ever talking publicly about Kosovo, which was several months before I ever got here, corruption has been at the top of my list, it’s the top of the United States’ list as an issue to work on in Kosovo.
I’ve spoken many times about corruption as a pernicious tax on Kosovo’s growing business community. I’m sure you all know that far better than I do. Left unchecked, corruption erodes public trust, leaches away foreign investment, disincentives innovation and the necessary risk-taking that makes a small business grow, and drives talented young people away from a country that so desperately needs them. Even the perception of corruption can have this effect, dampening the entrepreneurial spirit that I’ve been so privileged to see day after day in Kosovo.
Everyone in this room knows these problems all too well, and knows that progress in growing Kosovo’s economy and progress towards fighting corruption are inextricably linked.
The challenges are real but they are not insurmountable. In fact, I think we have reason to be proud of the progress we’ve made in several areas, from backlog reduction in the courts to a greater demand for arbitration to resolve commercial disputes and so much more. And of course, our legal advisors continue to work extensively with the Kosovo police and judicial system so that they can more effectively fight corruption.
Strengthening the rule of law is essential to fighting corruption, but there are systemic issues of land titling, construction permitting, and public procurement that continue to harm economic growth. I was glad to see Prime Minister Haradinaj’s interest in public procurement issues at an AmCham meeting just last Monday. Tackling public procurement is going to require a huge effort from the central and municipal level governments, but also from the business community.
Making progress on any one of these issues won’t be a silver bullet, but stitched together, these and other efforts can start to form a culture of greater transparency and accountability that helps businesses in Kosovo to thrive.
All of you have a critical role to play. First and foremost, you can fight corruption by your absolute refusal to participate in anything less than fully ethical business practices. No jumping to the front of the line, no special deals.
And you can use your voice. Corruption hides in darkness, so light it up. Let the appropriate authorities know when you see evidence of it and speak up on the issues that affect you and your businesses – because these are the same forces holding back Kosovo’s economic growth and eroding opportunities for her people.
As I said when I spoke with you in June, I know that some of you may be each other’s competitors, but corruption in Kosovo affects everyone so this is an area where you need to work together. Discussions like this one are a good start, and I hope to see more cooperation among the business community on this issue.
There is a good statistic, or a bad one I guess, that in countries with endemic corruption, businesses face, on average, 10 percent higher costs. You and your employees and all of Kosovo deserve better than that. So raise your voices, work with civil society and honest brokers in government and your fellow citizens and insist, insist upon holding your leaders to account.
International Anti-Corruption Week is coming up in early December. We will have a big program and I’d certainly be very happy to see AmCham and AmCham members mark this important week as well.
There is no time to waste, so let’s keep fighting to ensure that all of you and all Kosovo’s citizens have the opportunity to reach the potential you’re working so hard to achieve.