The President of the Republic of North Macedonia, Stevo Pendarovski, addressed today the Third Plenary Session of the National Convention on the European Union in the Republic of North Macedonia (NCEU-MK).

Below is the integral text of President Pendarovski’s address.

Respected attendees,

I gladly accepted the invitation to address this Conference and talk about corruption as a national and global destructive phenomenon.

Corruption is a disease of the society, which, like any serious illness, if left untreated, affects the whole body, penetrates deep into all pores of social life and has unpredictable consequences on democracy, which requires decades to heal.

 

Corruption, as antithesis of the rule of law, destroys the foundations of democracy and violates the basic principles of human rights protection. Corruption is a problem faced by almost all states and often requires a joint response. Not even the countries that have reached the highest democratic level in their development are immune to cases of severe corruption.

But I am not saying this as an excuse for everything we, as a state, have not done so far.

In the past almost 20 years, as a member of the Group of States against Corruption – GRECO, in our country, 5 reports have been conducted to assess the situation with the national anti-corruption policies. We achieved the best results in implementing GRECO’s recommendations in 2002 and 2005, and then, starting from 2010 until today, the results were getting weaker, reaching only the “satisfactory” level of implementation in the last report.

This is an indication that something is wrong with the implementation of the therapy, that more vigor and dedication is required to produce concrete results. Citizens have been expecting this from us for years. They rightly believe that the state institutions paid for by their money do not do their job well and that, consequently, we have not yet achieved satisfactory results in the fight against crime and corruption.

We need to systematically tackle corruption and establish a value system in line with the European standards and criteria, which requires a clear expression of will of all relevant political actors in the country.

I also believe that ensuring transparency and effective coordination and cooperation between institutions will contribute to reducing corruption and, at the same time, consolidating democracy. Awareness of the existence of a problem is the first step. The louder we talk about it, the greater the risk for those who keep it alive. Here, the role of the free and professional media is of paramount importance.

Economic development and zero tolerance for corruption must be highest priorities for any government. Successfully addressing these challenges requires uniting the potential and support of all of us, the government, the opposition, the business sector, the civil society organizations, and the media. The rule of law must not be an empty phrase, which, indeed, has become less and less trusted by citizens over the years. The legal, judicial and prosecutorial system must provide adequate, thorough and timely response, fully protected from political interference.

In this context, I have spoken several times of the current case “Racket” in the past, but now let me reiterate – this affair is a crucial test of the rule of law system and therefore needs to be resolved thoroughly, to the end. In doing so, not for Europe’s sake, but, above all, for our own sake, we must not tolerate any possible side effects.

In the last 28 years since we have been an independent state, there is one overwhelming fact that does not support the thesis that we have succeeded in building a rule of law on solid foundations. That is, we have very few high-profile corruption cases ruled and appropriate sanctions ordered, and we all know that there have been many such abuses. This fact, unfortunately, speaks to the fact that high level crime and corruption have been concealed in our country for many years, and instead of a fierce reaction by the rule of law, we have established a culture of impunity.

High corruption is one of the unwanted products of the unnatural link between politics and business. Wherever there is political interference in the business, the economy suffers, that is, few prosper in extremely dubious circumstances while the people suffer. I am convinced that there is no one but us, the politicians, who are obliged to build an environment for business growth, but our competence should end here. Any excess of competence, by definition, means corruption.

Of course, one of our priorities should be to establish and maintain political stability and legal predictability as a key factor in building trust between the public and private sectors.

Ladies and gentlemen,

I can only agree with GRECO’s findings that the State Commission for Prevention of Corruption should play very important role in the national anti-corruption policy. This Commission has been criticized in the past several times, rightly, for lack of independence, weak mandate or inertia over its responsibilities. Today, we have an Anti-Corruption Commission that has all the necessary prerequisites to set an example for all other institutions in the fight against corruption. I want to encourage the members of the State Commission to continue their work in the fight against all cases of corruption and conflict of interest. To this end, they will have my public support even for alleged cases against me or my closest associates.

The results of the work of the Anti-Corruption Commission so far give hope that the situation is changing for the better. I believe that every responsible politician, both from the government and the opposition, now and in the future, should give maximum support to the efforts of the institutions to fight corruption for the culture of impunity to become a history in our country.

The efforts of the Anti-Corruption Commission are however not enough. Their work should be followed and continued by a well-prepared public prosecution and an independent judiciary. The final court decisions made in a transparent manner should contribute to building a new culture and a new environment in which politicians will not be considered a special category of people for whom the laws are not applicable.

Respected attendees,

NATO membership and the opening of negotiations with the European Union are certain for the Republic of North Macedonia. We will open the chapters of accession negotiations very soon and we will need to show results in the fight against corruption if we want further progress. Truthfully, I regret that in these nearly 30 years of independence, we have not been far more effective at dealing with this evil.

I am convinced that we should not wait for another day. As a state, as a nation, we have no more time to lose. We cannot afford the luxury of having a superficial or relaxed approach to corruption.

If we want young people to stay at home, if we want to live in a society with a certain future, if we really want the rule of law to be our top priority, then a basic precondition is to engage in an uncompromised fight against corruption.

Thank you.

 

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