All of the Balkan states have been troubled by public accusations of government corruption since the breakup of Yugoslavia. In a sense this is a good thing, because it means that people now have expectations that their governments should not be corrupt and also that people feel safe in voicing their concerns and their dissatisfaction. This is a significant improvement over the past and one that should not be easily overlooked.
The path forward, almost everyone agrees, requires a reduction in government corruption. Government will never be completely honest, because governments are made up of human beings. If we can’t change human nature, how do we reduce corruption?
The simple answer, but not necessarily the best one, is prosecution. Seeing their fellow bureaucrats hauled off to jail has a positive effect in keeping government employees honest. However, prosecution of corrupt government employees is an expensive and difficult process which is more often driven by politics than by an honest search for justice.
A better answer is to reduce the power of bureaucrats over individuals. A government with extensive power over the lives of individuals will be more corrupt than a government with limited power over the lives of individuals.
The World Bank’s Doing Business rankings lists Montenegro as 161 out of 183 nations for dealing with construction permits. The difficult construction permit process enables government employees to demand bribes from permit seekers. Improving, simplifying, and streamlining the process for obtaining construction permits would reduce opportunities and motivation for corruption.
Transparency is another tool for reducing corruption. As many government activities as possible should be done in full view of the public. In the modern day this is made easy by publishing government transactions on the web. Few government employees will be willing to demand bribes when their decisions are conducted in full view of the public.
There is great risk in reducing corruption through prosecution before streamlined and efficient government processes are in place. Bribery happens because it works. One person pays another person to get something done for them, and it gets done. If we make bribery impossible, the system may break down entirely. If the government employee has the power to approve a building permit, but no motivation to do so, we may find ourselves in a position where building permits simply are not issued. If we fix the process, prosecution becomes irrelevant.