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Empowering the Anticorruption Fight in North Macedonia

North Macedonia is persistently plagued with the problem of corruption. The country scored 37/100 on the 2018 Corruption Perception Index, and is continuously ranked as a highly-corrupted country.

Weak, incompetent and politicized institutions have been one of the key reasons for the persistence of this problem. The lack of integrity and professionalism of previous compositions of the Anticorruption Commission, driven by political control of their member selection and work, had drastically curtailed the prevention of, and fight against, corruption. Previously, the Parliament had elected commissioners who were unqualified for the post, who had refused to scrutinize the former Prime Minister’s assets, didn’t show up to work, double-charged their travel expenses and did a number of other acts that prevented the fight against corruption, instead of corruption itself.

This had to change.

On January 17, the Macedonian Parliament consensually adopted the new Law for Prevention of Corruption and Conflict of Interests. IRI, through its USAID funded program, supported this law, from its conception through implementation. This systemic law is a key component in the country’s anticorruption system and strengthens the ability of North Macedonia’s institutions to prevent, fight corruption and safeguard good governance.

The Law introduces two key reforms that pave the way for a stronger fight against corruption. First, it introduces a public, transparent, merit-based selection of members for the State Commission for Prevention of Corruption (i.e. Anticorruption Commission), the first time such a selection process has been implemented in any of the 173 public bodies in the country. Secondly, it strengthens both the competences of the Anticorruption Commission, and its position in the chain of institutions responsible for combating corruption, giving it the tools and instruments to enact anticorruption measures more strongly.

Public and Transparent Process of Selection of Anticorruption Commission Members

The new eligibility criteria for commissioners paves the way for more qualified, objective and professional individuals to be appointed to the Anticorruption Commission.

Commissioners can no longer be individuals who have taken part in politics, either through serving in Parliament, government, or as political donors, and must have proven experience in work related to anti-corruption, rule of law or good governance.

This has been made possible by the Parliament’s new process for selecting Commission members, which contains an unprecedented level of transparency. This innovative and pioneering process of selection introduces a new layer of public input by bringing civil society into the process in order to decrease politization, increase trust in the selection process and ensure candidates have been properly scrutinized. By publishing the list of all applicants, their eligibility and broadcasting their interviews, the government ensured full transparency of the selection process, allowing the public to independently judge the candidates and their selection by Parliament.

The selection of the first Commission under this law took place at the beginning of February and ended with the appointment of the seven highest-ranked candidates. Such process of appointing public officials happened for the first time and is laying the foundation for replication for other public appointments by the Parliament and the Government.  

Strengthened Competences of the Anticorruption Commission

The Commission’s power is significantly strengthened as it now oversees political party funding, monitors election campaign financing, investigates bank accounts of public officials under suspicion, and issue fines for the first time since its establishment. As never before, the Commission now has access to the databases of 17 state institutions, enabling it to cross-check any reports it receives. This new power and authority is necessary for the Commission to protect how citizens’ money is spent and how public offices are used.

It Takes a Number of Dedicated Individuals to Pass Successful Reform

Despite the notorious incompetence and inefficiency of the previous Commission, reforming the area of anticorruption was not in the government’s agenda.

In a conversation between IRI and representatives of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev’s cabinet, IRI raised the idea about the need for reform of the anticorruption legislation and creating a basis for electing truly competent anticorruption commissioners. The idea was welcomed by the Prime Minister who expressed political will– the key element to any reform.  

Working with the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), IRI facilitated the process of developing new anticorruption legislation, engaging all relevant stakeholders and ensuring the due process was followed. Drafting the new law involved a number of dedicated and competent individuals, including the members of the MoJ Working Group, anticorruption experts, representatives of the civil society organization Anticorruption Platform, representatives of the Commission’s administrative body, IRI staff, as well as a number of other individuals who gave their valuable input during the lengthy drafting process. IRI took an active role in the drafting process, providing suggestions, researching various policy options and helping the MoJ engage the public through the legislative web portals and through a public discussion.

Consensual Support Meant Some Policy Solutions Lost Some Strength

The MoJ did face some challenges in finalizing and passing the Law. Several months passed from when the Working Group finalized the text of the Law until it had been submitted to Parliament. Inter-party negotiations to gain support for the Law led to a weakening of some of its policy solutions, but did not affect the law significantly.

Interviewing of candidates for the Macedonian State Commission for Prevention of Corruption by the MPs, civil society and journalist associations, February 5, 2018.

Now that the Law has been adopted and the Parliament has demonstrated the political will to select and appoint highly qualified, objective individuals, the fight against corruption has begun. Although the Anticorruption Commission faces high expectations and looming challenges, the new Commission’s initial steps and statements are encouraging. In a radical departure from its past performance, the new Commission has immediately opened cases investigating nepotism of 18 officials, including eight MPs - all of whom, except one, voted for this Commission.