Macedonian education whistleblower scores big win
Almost three years after local media called him an “overnight public hero and role model”, Gjorgji Ilievski has finally gotten justice. An appeals court in Skopje has ruled that officials have a duty to investigate allegations of corruption raised by North Macedonia’s former education inspector.
North Macedonia passed one of Eastern Europe’s first whistleblower protection laws in 2015, which on paper contains many good practices. It has been widely hailed as a groundbreaking measure to tackle corruption in the fragile Balkan country notorious for its political cronyism.
When it came time to investigate Ilievsky’s case and protect him from reprisals, however, the law was absent – and so were the officials charged with enforcing it.
Ilievski was chief inspector of the Macedonian education ministry in April 2019 when he learned that three well-connected politicians – including the education minister himself – had wrongly obtained professorships and other titles academics at Tetovo State University.
Ilievski informed numerous public authorities of the irregularities, including his supervisor, prosecutors, financial police and the State Commission for the Prevention of Corruption (SCPC). Ilievski said he was pressured to shut up and withdraw his reports, and he was warned because he has a family and children, the South East Europe Coalition for the Protection of Whistleblowers reported.
Ilievski was transferred, threatened with demotion and no longer given a work assignment. Meanwhile, one of the politicians he accused of misconduct is now a member of parliament, and another is deputy justice minister.
The SCPC, which has a primary duty to investigate corruption and protect whistleblowers, did neither. The agency said it was under no obligation to investigate the alleged misconduct of the three politicians. And he said Ilievski was not entitled to whistleblower protection because of a murky bureaucratic technicality — namely, failing to complete the proper paperwork.
On December 15, a higher administrative court overturned a lower court’s decision and ruled that the SCPC’s decision not to investigate the case was incorrect. The court did not rule on Ilievski’s whistleblower status since he did not formally request protection.
Ilievsky celebrated the victory in a long letter to the Macedonian public. “I am proud because you readers have given me full support to endure. You have written a petition with over 5,000 signatures under the title ‘Stop Crime and Corruption’. Journalists have brought me unforgettable and strong support.
“Their goal was to break me, but my strength and spirit could not be broken,” Ilievski wrote. “I passed so I’m proud, and will I continue to uncover all educational crimes.”
Now retired with a full pension, Ilievski wrote the book “The Rot of the System in Macedonia” and is preparing a second one. “Many people in Macedonia hold high-ranking positions without having proper degrees, or even with fake degrees,” he told WNN via a translator. “I have no intention of giving up my fight for a better quality education.”
“We have an institutional crisis and a normative crisis. Connected to all this is corruption and crime,” Ilievski said in a national television interview January 21. “The crisis is that all of our institutions are partisan.”