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Bosnia: Clinton Administration Sees Hope In Fighting Corruption

Bosnia went from three-and-a-half years of war to a society nominally at peace but in reality riddled with crime and corruption, which can be nearly as destructive. A report by the U.S. Congress said the root cause is a lack of will by Bosnia's political leaders. But an official of the administration of U.S. President Bill Clinton said the American government is now addressing these problems. RFE/RL's correspondent Andrew F. Tully reports.

Washington, 20 July 2000 (RFE/RL) - Investigators for the U.S. Congress are painting a bleak picture of lawlessness in Bosnia, and place the blame squarely on the country's political leaders.

But a representative of the U.S. administration says the investigators' report is too pessimistic. He says it does not take into consideration new American initiatives that he says can reduce crime and corruption in Bosnia.

Two weeks ago, the General Accounting Office (GAO) -- which conducts investigations for the U.S. Congress -- issued a report calling corruption and crime rampant in Bosnia. On Wednesday, the International Relations Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives -- the lower house of Congress -- held a hearing to explore the report's findings.

Harold Johnson is the GAO's associate director of international relations and trade, who directed the preparation of the report. He told the Committee that Bosnia's three ethnic groups -- Serbs, Croats and Muslims -- maintain separate political organizations that are the source of the country's lawlessness.

"Bosnia's nationalistic political parties continue to control all aspects of the government, the judiciary and the economy. Thus they maintain the personal and financial power over their members and authoritarian control over the country."

Johnson said underground networks that began during the war have become smuggling enterprises for goods ranging from narcotics to prostitutes. And now, he says, Bosnia's political leaders have "little incentive" to fight corruption because that would reduce their own power.

The GAO official cited several initiatives by the U.S. and the EU to improve law enforcement in Bosnia, but said they have accomplished little because of a lack of will by the country's leaders.

"These and other efforts have had only minimal impact on the problem, partly because high-level Bosnian officials have not demonstrated a sufficient commitment to fighting crime and corruption."

Johnson said one of the most important ways to invigorate any transitional economy -- especially one that has recently been through a war -- is to attract foreign investment. But the GAO official said investors -- particularly banks -- are reluctant to commit large amounts of cash to a country where corruption is the normal way of doing business.

Accompanying Johnson was another GAO official who worked on the report, David Bruno. He said that until Bosnia gets crime and corruption under control, the country will remain dependent on the aid of foreign governments.

"Large-scale foreign investment is unlikely. As we mentioned in our report, corruption is one of the main reasons why investment -- foreign investment and even domestic investment -- by private entrepreneurs hasn't accelerated and, in fact, taken the place of assistance."

James Pardew is the special adviser to U.S. President Bill Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on democracy in the Balkans. He appeared at the hearing to give the Clinton administration's response to the report.

Pardew, an official with the U.S. State Department, conceded that much of the GAO's report is accurate. But he said it does not consider the administration's planning for the future. He stressed that America's first priority after three-and-a-half years of war has been to rebuild the country. Now, he said, the administration is turning its attention to helping restore Bosnia's political, economic and law-enforcement infrastructures.

"Fighting corruption and crime requires action in two general areas. The first is reform of the political and economic structure. The second is establishing the rule of law with effective enforcement. Bosnia must achieve major progress in both of these areas if it is to counter current levels of corruption and crime."

And Pardew said there are now politicians in the country who are prepared to work toward that goal.

"There are, however, democratic, reform-minded leaders in Bosnia, and we want to work with them. And our message to the people of Bosnia in the run-up to the parliamentary elections this November is that they deserve -- they often deserve better and should use the elections in November as an opportunity for change."

Pardew recited a long list of programs that the U.S. and European countries have initiated, particularly those designed to strengthen Bosnia's judiciary and police. They include carefully screening candidates for judgeships and removing judicial nominations from the control of ethnic political parties. As for police, Pardue said there are programs for training officers and making sure they are properly paid so they are less inclined to take bribes.

The GAO report made a point of saying that very little assistance from foreign governments disappeared, despite Bosnian corruption and only nominal oversight by allied governments. It did, however, cite the loss of about $900,000 in operating funds for the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo. Still, it conceded that this was a very small proportion of the $1,000 million that the American government has spent on Bosnia since 1995.

And at the close of the hearing, Pardew said that because the money was lost because of a bank failure, he believes that the full amount can be recovered.