Last Friday, (May 29th 2020), European Commission Delegation to Bosnia and Herzegovina has organized a public debate on the anniversary of the Opinion on Bosnia and Herzegovina's EU membership application. Debate was accessible through Zoom and participants discussed the necessary developments on 14 key priority areas with regard to democracy, the rule of law, public administration and fundamental rights.
During that time, just few kilometers away, Prime Minister of the Bosnian entity, Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Fadil Novalić, director of the Federal Department of Civilian Protection, Fahrudin Solak and young entrepreneur Fikret Hodžić were kept in facilities of State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA), where they were questioned on suspicious procurement of 100 Chinese respirators for 10,5 millions KM (around 5,25 millions of Euros). There have been reasons to believe that they have used money from the Government for Federal Department to procure (which is not in the power of this agency) through Hodžić company 100 respirators marked with Beijing Aerospace Changfeng ACM812A, which are not suitable for usage in the Emergency Rooms in hospitals, making them completely unusable in treatment of difficult conditions caused by Covid-19. Hodžić company does not have the license to procure medical supplies and equipment and its primary work is in fruit production and processing.
This is just one of the affairs connected to embezzlement of public funds during the recent pandemic. Beside this, among the most interesting is the procurement of mobile hospital for almost 2,5 millions of Euros by Republika Srpska, the other Bosnian entity, described by one of the opposition leaders as wedding tent. If we add the suspicious procurement of Covid-19 tests by the company registered for furniture trading, procurement of protection masks and viziers for prices that are significantly higher that their value, procurement of nylon protection suits for prices of suits suitable and expensive as those that are worn on prom night, and procurement of hand thermometers for the price of a TV … it seems that there was not one public procurement that was not used as a possibility for abuse of power and embezzlement of public funds in the midst of pandemic.
But what does this have to do with the anniversary of the Opinion on Bosnia and Herzegovina's EU membership application? Apparently none, there is no connection except that the investigative hearing of the Prime Minister was held on the anniversary of the publication of the document which stated that public procurement are one of the key areas where Bosnia and Herzegovina needs to address in fighting the corruption.
It is clearly stated in the part of the Opinion which addresses the corruption “all levels of government show signs of political capture directly affecting the daily life of citizens, notably in health, education, employment and public procurement matters.” If we look which areas are recognized and stressed as neuralgic key spots in fighting the corruption in BiH, Brussels officials who have worked on the document after what we have seen during the Covid-19 pandemic have full right to feel as true visionaries.
Of four key areas for corruption in BIH, stressed by the European Commission, at least three have offered citizens an ultimate experience of corruption and complete lack of understanding of government for the needs of citizens. Alongside the affairs on public procurement, EC was right that there are problems in health sector and particularly employment, mostly in appointment of persons prone to corruption and lacking expertise to the positions where they could put citizens lives in danger.
Beside ruthlessly precise detection of areas that will be confirmed as prone to corruption during the pandemic, equally interesting part of the quote from the Opinion is the one where it is said that all levels of government show signs of political control (translation into Bosnian). In the original of the Opinion in the English language, it says „all levels of government show signs of political capture“, meaning that the expression ‘political capture’ have been translated as political control, loosing the real meaning of this message in the translation.
Political capture is far more than political control and in its full meaning, this expression is all about the captured state. There are many definitions of this term, and they usually describe that the extent of the corruption in the government is jeopardizing the process of decision making which is fully under control of particular interests of individuals or groups. Captured state is prioritizing private interests over interests of community without asking for a price, and unless it manages to deal with such corrupted interests, it is loosing its ability to address the basic needs of citizens and transforms into the condition called the failed state.
Since we are aware that exactly one year before the European Commission visionary announced in its Opinion what the Covid-19 pandemic will reveal, we need to ask the question on why is anyone surprised with the extent of the crime that was committed under the mask of worry for the state of public health and ruthlessness with which officials gambled with it. With the presumption of innocence, it is impossible not to ask the question - have the involved in the Chinese respirators affairs ever wondered what would have happened if the Covid-19 infection spread to such extent that survival of people depended on unusable respirators?
Perhaps only human casualties would make BiH corrupted political elites to seriously take Brussels recommendations and not ignore them as usual, as well as how their i implementation is vitally important for Bosnia and Herzegovina and its citizens. We still have to wait to see what the judicial epilogue of this affair would be and whether any of the 14 preconditions for opening of the negotiations with the EU would be fulfilled in the months and years to come. Especially the ones connected to corruption and organized crime.
Until then, the state will survive, captured or not - Bosnia and Herzegovina will receive 300 millions from 3,3 billions of EU support package for regional countries in addressing the consequences of the pandemic. Unlike requests and recommendations, grants and credits have always been welcomed with the BH.political elite, they need them as the Covid-19 patient needs a respirator. It is the duty of citizens of this country to imagine whether Bosnia will ever recover enough to be taken off life support and allowed to breathe.
In cooperation of two web portals, Remarker and Sbunker, a series of analysis will be published in the upcoming period in order to promote a critical debate on the current situation in the region of the Western Balkans.
After last messages received from one of the most influential members of the EU, France, the region has faced one of the greatest challenges in the last 30 years, when countries in the Western Balkans began their difficult path, first into conflicts and then in the process of democratization and european integration.
The goal of Remarker and Sbunker is to support better understanding of the current trends in the countries of the Western Balkans and raise the awareness on necessity of european integration process, straightening the process of democratization and the rule of law as necessary preconditions for permanent peace and stability in the region.
You may find the Albanian version here and the Serbian version here.