Thank you, Fisnik, and thank you to the Group for Legal and Political Studies. I am very appreciative of the great work that GLPS has done on this project and proud that the Embassy has been a partner through a Democracy Commission grant.
I am also glad to have the opportunity to be a part of this esteemed panel.
Since this is my first public appearance this week, I want to start out by talking about the elephant in the room. As you might have read over the weekend, there are some individuals in and around Kosovo—about 1,300 last time I looked—who have some strong feelings about me and my government’s positions here in Kosovo and who have supported a critical petition. My first reaction is that I am happy to live in a country like Kosovo where free speech is guaranteed by the constitution, one where each person is entitled to express his or her own view. And that includes the author and signers of the complaints about me.
My second reaction is that I make no apology for supporting democracy and non-violence in Kosovo. I stand by my statements that there is no room in democracy for tear gas or other forms of violence to be used as political tools. And I will continue to use my free speech rights to call out those who try to disrupt Kosovo’s democratic future.
Violence in the Assembly and the streets has hurt Kosovo in the world. It prevents the Assembly from doing its business. No debate can occur, and no legislation passed to address corruption and other important issues when the Assembly cannot meet.
My third reaction was one of puzzlement, since the petition said I did not care about corruption in Kosovo. Anyone that has read my Embassy’s website, listened to my full-length interviews, or attended events at which I have spoken since – or before – my arrival knows that addressing corruption, along with other Rule of Law challenges, is the first of my top three priorities during my time here.
Just in case there is any confusion, I will take this opportunity to restate my position. I believe corruption is a major problem for Kosovo. It prevents political progress, scares away jobs and investment, and, most importantly, cripples the morale of citizens who feel helpless to bring positive change. Corruption undermines the present and the future of Kosovo.
Initiatives that the U.S. Government supports like eProcurement and paperless processing of customs documents will eliminate important opportunities for corruption. Improved oversight of public expenditures, greater access to public information, and better collaboration between police and prosecutors are making it easier to identify and punish corrupt individuals. Every step helps.
But if we want to end corruption, we have dismantle it piece by piece—taking away the opportunities for corruption that some take advantage of and holding violators accountable.
Prosecutors and judges need to work hard to regain the public’s trust by pursuing corruption cases aggressively, and then securing convictions and sending violators to prison.
And if we truly want to stop corruption, the citizens of Kosovo have to say enough is enough. They need to come forward to identify and report corrupt practices. Those witnessing or suffering from corruption have a critical role in fighting it. As this panel well knows, police and prosecutors need hard facts for indictments and convictions. Corrupt officials cannot be held accountable by rumors or suspicion alone.
Citizens also need to hold politicians accountable during elections when their anti-corruption performance is inadequate. And no official who has been indicted or convicted of corruption or the misuse of public office should be allowed to exercise that office until – and unless — cleared of the charges.
I’ve said before, there is no magic wand—fighting corruption requires lots of work in lots of different areas, as my colleagues here on the panel can attest.
But the more time I spend talking to people across Kosovo—especially to youth and young professionals—the more I become convinced that corruption is one of the greatest threats to the future of Kosovo.
Kosovo needs more projects like this one that provide tangible steps for the government and civil society to combat corruption.
We need more opportunities like this to share ideas, but we also have to turn those ideas into realities.
Thank you again, Fisnik. Thank you to the panel, and I look forward to our discussion.