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Sofia, 23-24 March 2001

Public-Private Partnerships in Assessing Corruption

Boyko Todorov, Coordinator, Southeast Europe Legal Development Initiative (SELDI)

I would like to share with you the main reasons behind our understanding of the role and significance of the cooperation between governmental institutions and civil society in assessing corruption in the countries of Southeast Europe (SEE).

The first one relates to the scale of the problem of corruption in these countries. Societies in SEE are faced with a corruption cultures that permeates all structures of the body politic and has become a systemic feature of their political structures. The spread of corruption throughout the whole spectrum of possible forms - from the usual bakshish for the traffic police to the entry of organized crime into the mainstream economies through corruption privatization practices - presents a challenge that goes beyond the effectiveness of traditional anti-corruption tools used separately. The systemic nature of corruption in SEE has become the major factor impeding their development efforts. It has distorted the restructuring of their economies, the modernization of their education systems and public health care, and has affected many social programs (e.g. public housing). All this has had a negative impact on the public's trust in the emerging democratic and market economy institutions and has bred disillusionment with reforms in general.

The second relevant aspect relates to the factors bringing about corruption on this scale. The institutionalization of corruption in the SEE countries cannot be explained by the national circumstances alone. A number of region-wide causes need to be taken into account if we are to comprehend the nature of the problem. In general, regional instability in the past ten years has undermined effective law enforcement throughout the region, has raised considerably the cost of regional trade, and thus the stakes of smuggling, which consequently has become a breeding ground for organized crime on a regional scale. Driving the SEE economies into the gray, and even criminal zone, has been the main dynamic behind high levels of corruption.

The gravity of the problem,therefore, calls for bold and radical measures if corruption is to be stemmed. These measures should upset already entrenched interests which fuel the institutionalization of corruption. For this to happen, broad public coalitions need to be formed both within countries, and region-wide. Traditional bureaucracies - be they national or international - cannot muster the type of public support needed if these reforms are to be successful.

However, support coming from a cross section of society, involving major public and private actors could only be enlisted in this process if society has a clear view of the severity of the problem. This, in our understanding, warrants the introduction of a new kind of corruption assessment which goes beyond traditional law enforcement methods. This new kind could only be successful if it is based on cooperation between the public institutions, involved in designing and implementing anti-corruption policies, and civil society institutions which are expected to generate civic support for these policies. For this to happen, the assessment on which these policies are based, needs to be carried out in a public-private partnership.

The interface between the role of governments and civil society in assessing corruption could be illustrated in the following way by superimposing the public sector (left circle) and NGO sector (right circle):

- Area 1: assessment related to measures for streamlining corruption prevention in law enforcement (customs, police, etc), prosecution (to the extent that - and if - it is part of the executive); this area is strictly (inter)governmental, assessment is confidential;

- Area 2 (the area of public-private cooperation): assessment of the institutional and legislative adequacy and efficiency (including performance of public administration and judiciary), international assistance evaluation, general evaluation of political and institutional reforms, etc.

- Area 3: monitoring by and of the media, monitoring of corruption inside civil society, monitoring of public attitudes (trust in institutions).
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