Rare optimism in Serbia as corruption drops | Zarko Petrovic

22 Feb 2013

an anti-corruption sign Photo: Kenny Miller / Creative Commons

Public support for Serbia’s crackdown on corruption increased sharply in 2012, and confidence in state institutions is also rising. A new UNDP Corruption Benchmarking survey shows:

—Twice as many citizens say their country is “on the right path,” while 25 percent say corruption decreased in the second half of the year

—41 percent say corruption will decrease further in the next 12 months

—The fraction of people who reportedly paid bribes fell to 8 percent, down sharply. In the vast majority of instances, bribes were not solicited; they were paid to get a service, or avoid a problem such as a traffic ticket

—40 percent of Serbians say they “would not pay” if solicited for a bribe, while 33 percent said they would look for help elsewhere

—71 percent endorsed “severe punishment” and 79 percent want “harsh legal sanctions” against graft and abuse

Taken together, these findings may reflect public intolerance resulting from growing empowerment and increased trust in government.

How do we account for this change?

A new government committed to change, promoting transparency, good governance, and accountability — because it’s good for investment, good for business, good for jobs.

Donors historically encourage countries to exhibit “will, conviction, commitment, and leadership in the fight against corruption.” The new government here responded by embracing a zero-tolerance policy in August 2012, and the authorities are delivering: They have opened 150 corruption probes since taking office, and have made a series of high-profile arrests.

Strong and deliberate enforcement demonstrates government will to fight corruption. When executed under the law, this builds a powerful foundation for integrity and democratic governance over time.

Much work remains, and Serbia’s newly empowered and hopeful citizens appear likely to demand that it be done.

UNDP’s work in Serbia focuses on strengthening democratic, transparent governance. At the national level, it has included strengthening whistleblower protection and targeted training and capacity building. At the local level, it includes piloting “citizens’ charters”—codes of conduct for municipal authorities, and creating an index for measuring accountability and transparency.

These and other initiatives promote integrity in the public and private sectors, and make Serbia a better place to live and work. Momentum is growing, and the direction is positive. Governance is improving, and trust and confidence are on the rise.

Optimism is a truly rare sentiment in Serbia. But we have seen enough real and recent progress to agree—Serbia is on an encouraging path.

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