Eric Nelson, US Ambassador to Bosnia-Herzegovina: Message to the Citizens — “You Must Be the Agents of Change”

According to data from the IMF and other studies, the Balkans including NATO members Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Montenegro and Romania lost over $111.6 billion in illicit financial outflows to crime, corruption, and tax evasion between 2001 and 2010.

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Sarajevo: Eric Nelson, U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia-Herzegovina

October 21, 2020 | Washington, D.C. | Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina — Leaders advancing reforms in the Balkans and Eastern Europe have welcomed a poignant message relayed by Eric Nelson, US Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina, that engages and challenges local citizens in the post-war and former communist state to be a part of the reform process and to hold elected leaders accountable. Media groups in the Balkans including online sites in Croatia and Serbia, and other regional outlets such as Radio Free Europe have amplified the timely message to a much broader audience.

“The citizens of Bosnia, Croatia and other countries in the Balkan region welcome this bold and principled message relayed by US Ambassador Eric Nelson who is communicating the truth about rampant corruption, the absence of the rule of law, politically influenced judiciary and election irregularities,” said, Natasha Srdoc, co-founder, International Leaders Summit, co-host, America’s Roundtable and economist. “As long as the region’s political leaders remain above the law, protected by a corrupt judiciary, the citizens will not prosper. The priority is to establish the rule of law — best with visiting judges and prosecutors from strong rule of law countries. Thirty years have already been lost. Now is the time to act with this principled solution.”

Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia and Kosovo have received billions of dollars in US taxpayer aid and also through the significant costs of American-led military intervention during the 1990s in bringing to end genocide and forced deportation of ethnic groups from their private properties in the Balkans. While billions of taxpayer aid from the West were sent to the Balkan region, and continue to this day with support from both the European Union and U.S., illicit financial outflows continue to drain national treasuries and and hemorrhage local economies.

According to Global Financial Integrity’s study the Balkans lost over $111.6 billion in illicit financial outflows to crime, corruption, and tax evasion between 2001 and 2010.

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Washington, DC | Natasha Srdoc, co-founder, International Leaders Summit and Dr. Dev Kar, distinguished senior fellow and member of the executive advisory board of the International Leaders Summit are spearheading a new study on the Balkan region’s illicit financial outflows via crime, corruption and tax evasion.

Croatia has one the highest levels of illegal capital outflows in the Balkans at $35.6 billion for the years of 2005–2014, according to Dr. Dev Kar, distinguished senior fellow and member of the executive advisory board of the International Leaders Summit. Croatia’s illicit financial outflows via crime, corruption and tax evasion amounted to 73 percent of the nation’s 2015 GDP.

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The United States Government has long supported the citizens of BiH in their efforts to build a better future. We remain a true friend, committed to ensuring this support is effective and results driven — but the final achievement depends on the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The ultimate purpose of foreign aid is to end the need for assistance. We look forward to the day when BiH has moved beyond dependence on assistance to self-reliance. On October first, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) released the third iteration of the Journey to Self-Reliance Country Roadmaps on its public portal. USAID defines self-reliance as the capacity to plan, finance, and implement solutions to local development challenges, as well as the commitment to see these through effectively, inclusively and with accountability. Simply put, self-reliance means BiH managing its own challenges without guidance and financial assistance from the international community.

When we evaluate countries, we look at both the capacity to act and the commitment to action. Measures of BiH show it has a high degree of capacity for managing its own development. The institutions, staffed by adequately trained people, exist. Unfortunately, the data also show a low degree of commitment. This will not surprise most ordinary citizens who experience this daily. But as the U.S. relies on data, I’ll highlight a few of the findings.

Commitment is demonstrated in a variety of ways — sharing information with citizens, empowering people with tools to hold the government accountable, and fostering citizen participation in solving public problems. Sadly, indicators show all of these essential priorities have been declining in BiH since 2013.

Governments support democracy by embracing freedom of expression, freedom of association, rule of law, and the like. In these areas, too, BiH suffers. Perhaps of most concern as municipal elections approach, research shows the existence of registration fraud, systematic irregularities, vote buying and even election violence.

These broad attacks on the ability of citizens to ensure their government serves them hamper desperately needed reforms to limit leaders’ working to serve themselves. Without increased commitment on the part of government officials to change the landscape, the status quo, downward spiral will continue. Most urgently, the United States Government will continue to press leaders to take assertive action to reform the public sector and bolster the economy, especially now with the COVID-19 pandemic still raging. Such action should include depoliticization of state-owned enterprises (SOEs). SOEs are inefficient, political cash cows that help the ruling elites maintain their power, assert control over the electorate, and enrich themselves with resources that belong to you, the citizens of BiH.

BiH leaders can make progress when they want to. Change to the election law to restore the basic democratic right of Mostar citizens to vote and adoption of the long-delayed National War Crimes Processing Strategy are signs of hope. They demonstrate what commitment can accomplish.

Little will change however without you as ordinary citizens do your part — refusing to pay bribes, calling out waste, corruption and election irregularities, letting your voice be heard, and, most importantly, voting to hold your leaders accountable.

The better news is the data in the Country Roadmap also shows very high levels of citizen and civil society capacity. BiH’s journey to self-reliance can be much shorter if you take the responsibility to demand effective leadership, government transparency and accountability. On the other hand, the journey is stalled by citizens abstaining from elections or selling control of their and their children’s future for 100 KM per vote, an amount whose benefit evaporates within a few days.

The young people of this country do not want to remain mired in the past. The BiH of 2030 is far more important and interesting to them than the BiH of 1995. Collectively, citizens have the power to determine that future, to ensure that BiH takes its place as a stable and more prosperous member of the Euro-Atlantic community. Bosnia and Herzegovina’s success depends not on what the international community can do.

It will depend — in the words of President Kennedy — on “what you can do for your country.” Effective citizen supervision will ultimately replace international supervision. We believe in your desire to see, and citizens’ potential to reach, a prosperous Bosnia and Herzegovina. If you are willing to take the journey to self-reliance, the United States Government will be here to support you.

Eric Nelson, U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia-Herzegovina

Advancing Principled and Pro-Growth Solutions

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