International donors, meeting in Brussels, have pledged a hefty $515 million to Macedonia for 2002. It is more than twice the sum the meeting's sponsors, the European Union and the World Bank, had requested.
It was a good day for Macedonia. The donors' conference was organized to reward the small Balkan country for implementing a peace agreement that ended seven months of fighting last year between government forces and ethnic Albanian insurgents.
The sponsors had asked for pledges of $228 million to rein in Macedonia's growing budget deficit, rebuild infrastructure damaged by the fighting, and cover the costs of implementing the peace accord. But to their surprise, the donors pledged $274 million for these categories.
And, in addition, they agreed to give another $241 million for general economic development of the country.
The World Bank's Christian Poortman expressed elation at the conference's results. "All in all, no question, bottom line, a very successful conference and one that I think was a vote of confidence in the whole process of post-conflict development, recovery and long-term development associated with the longer term development of the economy. So, a very good outcome," Christian Poortman said.
Before the meeting, some donor representatives said Macedonia must pursue sound budget policies, move toward economic reforms and crack down on corruption.
A Brussels-based research organization, the International Crisis Group, issued a report on the eve of the conference that called widespread graft in Macedonia a threat to the viability of the state.
The group's representative in Macedonia, Edward Joseph, says political leaders of the Macedonian majority and the ethnic-Albanian minority are siphoning off government funds despite their differences on other issues. "It is a one third, two thirds split of the spoils. Did this prevent war from breaking out last year? It did not, and after a year's time we find essentially the same arrangement is in place, advancing the decay of the very institutions that this quarter of a billion dollars are meant to support," he said.
E.U. representative Reinhard Priebe shrugs off the criticism, saying corruption is a cultural issue. He says it is not as easy to change cultures as it is to build highways.
Macedonian Finance Minister Nikola Gruevski says corruption is not exclusive to Macedonia. But he promises to carefully monitor how the millions Macedonia will be getting are spent.