“Corruption – an Imminent Threat to Human Rights”

Speech of Ambassador Jess Baily at Law Faculty, University of Cyril and Methodius

Skopje, December 11, 2017

Prime Minister Zaev, Mr. Ahmeti, Dr. Taravari, Mr. Silegov, my colleague Louisa Vinton, Professor Kalajdziev, and all the members of the Helsinki Committee staff, thank you very much for organizing this event and being here today.  It’s a great honor to be among you.

Corruption indeed, is like a cancer in society.  It eats away at public institutions, at people’s trust in government, and at economic opportunity.  And here in Macedonia, as we have seen, it is an obstacle keeping the country away from its highest aspirations and strategic objectives of joining the family of nations in NATO and the European Union.

And if a country fails to fight this cancer, it will continue to spread throughout all layers of society.  It cuts across party lines, international borders, and ethnic communities.  It weakens a nation’s security as institutions come under the influence of criminals and other malign actors.  Every dollar or denar that is diverted for personal enrichment is one that is not used to help educate students, to fund hospitals, and build roads.  And at the end, it is society’s most vulnerable citizens who are the hardest hit, as bribery takes a toll on family finances, as taxes are diverted, and as government services they depend on deteriorate.

Now I say these words with humility, as corruption exists in every country including my own.   The question is: what do you do about it?  There is no easy cure, but one thing is certain:  the fight against corruption requires the commitment of all members of society.  It requires clear rules and processes to promote integrity.  It requires transparency and accountability for those who transgress.  And most of all, it requires vigilant and vocal citizens, media, and businesses.

What happens at the top is critical.  Public institutions and leaders must be strong enough to implement laws effectively, aggressively, and impartially.  Political leaders must publically hold themselves and their parties accountable to breaking the cycle of corruption.  This means also breaking the cycle of only prosecuting officials from previous governments for corruption while ignoring abuses of members in ruling parties.  This means stopping the diversion of Macedonia’s economic potential into private pockets.

I welcome very much this initiative here today, and I welcome Prime Minister Zaev and government coalition members’ commitment to take firm and stern actions against corruption.   Your pledges show that you are ready to take Macedonia in a new direction, where the rule of law, not impunity, reigns.   But a pledge without action is just a piece of paper.   Leaders must set the example of integrity by their personal behavior; the opposite will only breed cynicism and apathy.  I urge the citizens of Macedonia to hold your leaders to the pledge they are making today and to closely monitor the government’s adherence to its commitments.

But at the end of the day, it’s not just about those in power.  Corruption begins with an individual choice, to seek a favor, to make a traffic ticket go away.   It takes two parties, remember, to make a bribe.  So everyone here should also take a pledge to have zero tolerance for corruption and bribery – and to live up to it.   In that way, you too will show your commitment to strengthening the rule of law and help move the country toward its strategic goals.  We understand this will not be easy, but know that the United States is your friend and partner in this effort and we stand ready to help you achieve your highest aspirations.

Thank you very much.