Ambassador Baily Anti-Corruption Speech at UKLO Faculty of Security

December 4, 2017

Mr. Dean, thank you so much for that welcome and thank you all for being here- faculty members and most of all students.

I’d like to begin by congratulating this faculty for its 40th anniversary in preparing students and advancing knowledge about security issues, and helping develop the professional capabilities of the security sector across all its components of police, intelligence, military, and now diplomacy as well.

As you know, the U.S. has been a strong supporter of Macedonia’s aspirations to be a prosperous, secure, prosperous, and inclusive democracy, fully embedded in EU, in NATO and other transatlantic institutions.  A part of that, a very important part of that, is the strong security partnership our two nations enjoy.  That’s security in the sense of military to military cooperation, in intelligence and in law enforcement matters; it goes across the full spectrum.

And I think you saw in Washington, for those of you who were following the news, a strong reinforcement of that relationship last week.  It began with Secretary of State Tillerson giving a speech on U.S.-European relations.  He spoke to the ironclad commitments the United States has to its friends and allies in Europe in security matters. It’s in defense of our values, he said, the rule of law, representative government, the separation of powers – those underline these security commitments.  And they are steadfast, and they are strong, and you will see him speaking about those as the week goes on, as he attends a diplomatic foreign policy dialogue with the European Union, NATO foreign ministers meeting in Brussels and then moves on to the OSCE ministerial conference in Vienna this week.

So it is a big week to discuss European security.  But, it is also a big week to talk about the U.S.- Macedonia relationship.  Foreign Minister Dimitrov was in Washington, where he met with Secretary of State Tillerson, but also with the National Security Advisor and many others.  Here in Skopje, you had the defense ministerial meeting of the A-5, which is the regional cooperation group between the United States and the Western Balkans focused on security matters and particularly NATO integration. And if you needed a reminder of how our law enforcement and intelligence cooperation works, I think you saw at the end of the week with a very important arrest and takedown of a major producer of illegal synthetic drugs in Tetovo, and that was the result of cooperation between our two nations.

In all those statements of Secretary Tillerson about cooperation, you will find one very clear message:  that values matter.  Upholding the rule of law and fighting corruption are a key and important task for this region.  You will hear this message from European partners, you will see it from policy experts, you will read it in summit statements.

Why?  Because corruption undermines trust in government, it stunts economic growth and prosperity, and it makes institutions –in particular security institutions — weak and vulnerable to outside malign influences.

That’s what I want to talk to all of you today, about corruption, about the rule of law, and it’s particularly appropriate as the world looks at International Anti-Corruption Day at the end of this week.

Macedonia is at an inflection point.  The country is embarking on reforms to strengthen democratic institutions and put itself back on the clear track toward NATO and EU membership.  But, as noted, widespread corruption and weak rule of law impedes these efforts.

And – since we are talking to a student audience here – all too often, young people are the victims of corruption.  They inherit broken systems, broken trust, and lost opportunities.  This often leaves you with a difficult choice:  do you leave the country to find better opportunities elsewhere, or do you stay and end this cycle?  Many of your peers have rejected corruption in droves literally by leaving the country. You are here, and you have decided by the choice of your profession to, I think, do something about it.

Corruption exists in every society – mine, yours, EU, Asia, Africa.  The question though is whether people act to stop it, or just allow it eat away at the social fabric.  There is no easy solution, but one thing is certain:  the fight against corruption requires the determination of all members of society.

I’d like to highlight four categories of how this works.  First of all, leadership matters.  Leaders, in politics, in business, in the judiciary, in academia – must model integrity, they must uphold the values in word and in act, and they must take responsibility for their actions. Citizens matter.  After all, it takes two parties to make a bribe.  It all starts with an individual choice:  of whether to follow the rule or cut the corner, whether for personal gain, convenience, or to avoid some sort of retribution.

Perceptions matter.  How people think you are acting can be as important as what you do.

And finally, it is possible to change the system, to make sure that people are held accountable, that no one enjoys impunity, and that there are consequences.  But this requires political will, strong institutions, and citizen involvement.

I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you five stories about some of these issues.  Some of them are directly related to your line of work, some of them may seem a little distant, but I hope they illustrate the points.

Leadership is critical and leaders must set an example of integrity.  On my desk, and indeed in my folder right there, I keep a copy of an article that was published in an American magazine called The Atlantic monthly and titled, “What Was Volkswagen Thinking?”  The article discusses how, starting in 2006, Volkswagen illegally installed software to help their diesel vehicles evade emissions standards.  You probably have heard about this story.

I think the most common interesting reaction is to think to ourselves, “How could the executives of Volkswagen intentionally plan to do something so dishonest? What were they thinking?”

The article explains how this comes about in an organization.  It explains a concept called “the normalization of deviance,” or how a cultural drift in a group takes a circumstance that is clearly “not okay,” not permissible, and slowly changes the rules to classify it as something “okay,” permissible.  Over time, Volkswagen’s executives in doing this placed short-term gain and success above the standards of honesty and integrity and the possibility of serious long-term risks.  This lack of personal accountability trickles down through the organization to employees and throughout the company.  When the deception was eventually uncovered in 2013, in the United States alone it led to Volkswagen agreeing to pay a $4.3 billion settlement.  That’s larger than the budget of the Republic of Macedonia.

In addition, six executives of the company face federal charges for misconduct, and billions and billions of dollars were lost to individual shareholders.

There is a cautionary tale for all leaders here – political, business, academic.  Each has a responsibility to set an example of personal accountability for their organization.  Perceptions matter, and trust evaporates quickly.  Think about how you would react in this circumstance.  It takes leadership and a strong will to uphold values.

Citizens matter too.  They make individual choices and they can speak up and expose corrupt systems.  In the United States in 2014, a math teacher in Florida was stripped of his teaching license after he was found taking bribes from students in exchange for better grades. Students would staple money onto their tests – sometimes up to $70, so this teacher would raise their grade.  One student even claimed he had used “10 dollars and a car wash coupon” to get his better grade.

So, if a car wash coupon could ensure a top score, why would anyone go to that school?  Luckily, some students realized the harm in this.  They realized the quality of education they were receiving was diminished because of this teacher’s actions.  Finally, one brave student stood up, came forward and admitted to the school’s principal that he paid this teacher for a better grade.  That teacher is never allowed to teach again.

We cannot call out government for corrupt practices in awarding large contracts and shady business deals if we are willing to make a traffic fine or a bad grade disappear, or to call a friend or a family member to make a business license or a job easier to obtain.

The mere perception of corruption also limits economic opportunities, and I heard this once a couple of years ago in Skopje. I was at an event and I met a young IT expert who had just returned from abroad, I can’t remember where.  He had a friend who had tried to start a new business in Skopje, a restaurant as it turns out.  And this friend kept having to go through the mill of getting permits, and licenses, and permissions, first from the municipality, and then the City of Skopje, and the whole process was so depressing to him, he had to pay so many little fees, official and not, here and there, that the restaurant never came to fruition.  But the real impact was not just on this one guy who tried to start a restaurant.  It was also on his friend who wanted to start an IT business here.  And without even starting the process of building his business, he decided to take it elsewhere, to take it abroad, because the perception of corruption just kept him from wanting to do this.  Anyone starting a new business already faces enough obstacles, and corruption just adds to the pile.

So this kind of thing really, literally sucks the innovative energy out of the economy and limits your job opportunities, or for a foreign investor, they choose to go elsewhere, where the rules are clear and they are fairly enforced.

Now, political culture can change and strong democratic institutions can enforce laws and norms in a fair and non-partisan way.  For those of you who have read American history, you have probably heard about a man named “Boss Tweed.”  He was one of the most corrupt political figures in U.S. history.  He was from New York City and through his political machine, he ran the city for 15 years in the 19th century.   He brazenly skimmed money off construction and printing contracts, bought prime land at discounts, fixed stock deals for railroad owners, and even bribed members of the opposition to keep the whole game going along.  He built a huge mansion in Manhattan.

Now, that doesn’t happen so easily in New York.  In 2015—remember New York has a population of roughly 30 million people, so this is a big group of people — the speaker of the New York state legislature, Sheldon Silver, used his position as one of the most powerful politicians in the state to obtain millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks.  Mr. Silver earned the money outside government by saying he was a personal injury lawyer, but federal prosecutors found his law practice was pure fiction, and it was created to mask about $4 million in payoffs by people with business before the legislature.

The same week he was convicted of these crimes, Dean Skelos, the majority leader in the New York State Senate was accused of using his political position to pressure businesses into providing his son with hundreds of thousands of dollars for “consulting fees” which were never provided.  Both Silver and Skelos were prosecuted in a federal court for their crimes and convicted, as I said, the same week.  They were in opposite political parties.  And in fairness, I must say, in full disclosure, that case is under appeal right now.  But the point is that individual legislators are clearly susceptible to corruption, but independent law enforcement and judicial powers of the United States can enforce laws equally, regardless of the offender’s political party.  Now this system didn’t come about overnight, it took time and determination to build it and it requires eternal vigilance to uphold it.

Now, my last story comes from here and I hadn’t really thought about including it until it was told to me last week.  And I raise it for all of you to think about, as students who will very likely become public officials.  Remember, you will need to set an example, make individual choices, manage perceptions, and make sure institutions function properly.

Here’s what I heard.  Members on the State Election Commission voted themselves extra pay, a total of four months’ salary extra, for their work on the October 2017 elections, which just concluded.  They had received five months extra salary after the December 2016 elections.  The votes within the Commission were unanimous – all parties, all ethnicities.  Commission staff members got lesser bonuses.

I am a civil servant.  I support rewarding civil servants who perform above and beyond normal expectations.  But I have questions about this one.

The State Election Commission is an independent agency.  Perhaps this action was even legal.  But, the vote took place behind closed doors, out of the public eye.  For an agency that has many needs, what does it say about leadership priorities?

Most importantly: why am I raising this?  What does it say about the values of the organization itself?  Where was the whistleblower, the investigative journalist, or parliamentary oversight committee?

What would you all do in this situation?   Remember:  corruption and abuse of office depend on many people just shrugging their shoulders in resignation. 

Macedonian citizens I speak with have high hopes for change in their public institutions.  They want, and should expect, clean public finances, a responsive police force, and a fair and orderly provision of municipal services, of health, of education.

So, on the occasion of World Anti-Corruption Day, I want to encourage you to take the opportunity to imagine a world without corruption and to work for a Macedonia where the rule of law, not corruption, is the norm.

As I noted, corrupt and abusive practices exist and have existed in my country; they exist everywhere.  But over time, we have built systems to stop it, to identify it, and to punish it.  Strong democratic institutions like independent enforcement agencies and an independent judiciary make corruption more difficult, but most importantly it is not an acceptable societal practice.

Remember, stopping corruption starts with an individual choice, whether you are a political leader, a public servant, a businessman, or an ordinary citizen.

As future public servants, all of you in this room, you have the opportunity to set the example by what you say and more importantly by what you do.  Lead by example, whether you are the lowest rank in the department or a director.  It will not always be easy, but it is the right thing to do for your country.  And I can assure you that the United States will be there to help you along the way.

Thank you very much!