In its 2021 report on Bosnia and Herzegovina, European Commission stated this country is at an early stage / has some level of preparation in the prevention and fight against corruption. No progress was made in this area over the reporting period, and corruption remains an issue of concern.
The report noted anti-corruption institutional framework continued to be ineffective as well as that the country lacks an adequate legal framework. No action has been taken towards the adoption of new anti-corruption strategic documents, and progress in high-level cases remains insignificant. In general, corruption remains widespread, and its negative effects, as well signs, of political capture continued to manifest strongly, directly affecting the wellbeing of citizens.
Ivana Korajlić, Executive Director at Transparency International in Bosnia and Herzegovina, explained that the 2021 Report reflects the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina in the fight against corruption since nothing has been done during the previous period. There was no progress in judicial reform, conflict of interest, public procurement, key laws necessary to fight corruption more effectively, and strategic framework, so the reports are getting stricter.
“The wording of the Report used to be more diplomatic but considering that absolutely nothing has been done for years and that there is no progress and that we lack crucial laws, the wording of the current Report is different – it clearly emphasized the deficiencies. However, I must say that the Report in Bosnia and Herzegovina did not resonate at all, that not even the Delegation of the European Union presented it here, and that no one paid attention to its findings,” she says.
Weak role of APIK and too many institutions
European Commission in its 2021 Report noted the functioning and coordination of corruption prevention bodies in BiH among themselves and with the Agency for Prevention of Corruption and Coordination of the Fight against Corruption (APIK) continued to be ineffective. It stated the independence of corruption prevention bodies set up at the cantonal level needs to be significantly strengthened, as do human and material resources. Besides, APIK should play a much more proactive role in implementing GRECO recommendations and aligning with international standards.
When it comes to APIK, Korajlić explained the problem is it has very few competencies, and even what it has within its competencies, it interprets that very narrowly.
“This institution has very few competencies. On the other hand, what is within their competence – the application of the Law on the Protection of Whistleblowers at the state level – has also proved problematic due to the very narrow interpretation of Whistleblowers, investing in whether someone reported something in good faith or not, and even refusing to protect those Whistleblowers who have been granted that status”, she notes.
She pointed out in Bosnia and Herzegovina there are too many institutions with a mandate to prevent corruption or coordinate the fight against corruption. Still, the results are almost non-existent because everything is somehow scattered, unharmonized, and without proper coordination.
“That is an indicator of the fact that going to the lower levels and accumulating these bodies does not necessarily mean that it will give any results. Especially when other key institutions in fighting corruption, such as the judiciary, institutions that enforce public procurement laws, conflicts of interest, party financing, etc. are generally not coordinated or in any way adequately covered by the Strategy’s obligations, or take APIK into account at all”, she explains.
Will the new Anti-Corruption Strategy bring changes?
One of the main problems in Bosnia and Herzegovina in fighting corruption is the lack of an adequate anti-corruption legal framework. As stated, the country made no progress in adopting a state-level law in the prevention of conflict of interest, in line with international and European standards. Furthermore, the legislation on political party financing and on freedom of access to information at state and entity levels needs to be aligned with international and European standards. The lack of harmonisation of legislation across the country continued to hamper results in this field.
Besides, no action was taken towards the adoption of new strategic documents at state and Federation entity levels. Thus, European Commission stated these documents need to be adopted and harmonised across the country. Adequate funding should be provided and strong monitoring mechanisms established to ensure their implementation should start with no delay.
Korajlić explained that although the implementation of the new Anti-Corruption Strategy should have started two years ago, this document is still on the agenda of the Council of Minister and it is still not adopted. According to her, constant delays of its adoption represent a consequence of the neglect of the institutions.
“Negligence of the institutions above all, a direct refusal to strategically regulate the area. The Strategy was on the agenda several times, but then, it was removed. Nobody has ever officially explained the reasons, but it is assumed that there are some inter-party fights for interests,” she says.
She added that these delays are also caused because the mandate of the Agency management has expired and the appointment of the new one is pending. Also, the Commission for Supervision of APIK is not working either, which shows where exactly is the fight against corruption is on the agenda of decision-makers in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Thus, she is not optimistic about changes the new Strategy would bring since the old one was not implemented either.
“I do not see a big difference between this period and the one in which the old Strategy was in force, given that the percentage of its implementation was very low. What the Agency put in its reports was better than the real situation in this area, given that some measures implemented by only one institution or two, counted as partially implemented, while the other 100 institutions did not do anything at all,” she says, adding that however, it is still not clear why the Strategy is not at least declaratively adopted.
The nature of the judiciary blocks prosecution of corruption
EC 2021 Report stated that efforts remain insufficient to establish a track record of proactive investigations, prosecutions and final convictions for corruption. Both judicial officeholders and political leaders within their respective remits have failed to tackle the generalised phenomenon of corruption and actively obstructed progress, leading to long-term stagnation and serious risk of backsliding in this field. Furthermore, the track record on prevention and repression of high-level corruption remains insignificant due to operational inefficiency and political interference.
According to Korajlić, when it comes to the prosecution of corruption, the nature of the functioning of the judiciary in BiH is a problem.
“The fact that you have so much prosecutorial discretion and political control over prosecutors’ offices means that these prosecutors can choose what they will prosecute, what they will not or which cases they will strategically ruin,” she explains.
Thus, the cases are treated very selectively, certain people are untouchable to prosecute, and officials are being prosecuted only if there is a politically appropriate moment, which affects prosecuting high-level corruption, as well.
“Then you have the situation of cases that have been qualified as high corruption because it is about high-level officials. Those are some kind misuses of very low importance, cases related to employment or something like that. I am not saying that that should not be processed, but that cannot be a priority in relation to the huge scandals for which there is evidence, for which applications are submitted, for which there are also whistleblowers who submitted applications, where tens of hundreds, millions are involved. This is being systematically obstructed,” she notes.
According to the report, Bosnia and Herzegovina should demonstrate progress towards establishing a track record on the repression and prevention of high-level corruption. To achieve that, Korajlić thinks the following needs to be taken.
“Judicial reform and strengthening accountability within the judiciary, independence of the judiciary is a key question in BiH. Neither the Strategy, nor the bodies, nor the Agency will bring us anything if we do not have a judiciary that will do its job,” Korajlić concludes.
This article was published as part of the project “Civil society for good governance and anti-corruption in southeast Europe: Capacity building for monitoring, advocacy and awareness-raising (SELDI)” funded by the European Union.