Ideology and ethnicity are no barriers as local politicians divvy up the loot.
By Bedrana Kaletovic for Southeast European Times in the Brcko District of Bosnia and Herzegovina -- 20/10/11
Brcko District centre. [Bedrana Kaletovic/SETimes]
Few in Brcko were surprised by the recent arrests of seven top officials. The city, which enjoys separate administrative status due to its importance as Bosnia and Herzegovina's (BiH) largest river port, has developed the reputation of being a hotbed of corruption.
Its city budget is larger than that of any other BiH municipality, including Sarajevo, but substantial amounts of revenue have allegedly ended up in the personal bank accounts of top officials and party coffers, rather than being directed towards post-war recovery and development.
"Operation Bingo", an extensive police operation initiated with the support of the city's top international official, District Supervisor Roderick Moore, aims to bust open the long-established networks of graft and nepotism.
Detained in early October were ex-mayor Dragan Pajico; public property chief Miron Buro and an official in his department, Sadem Plakalo; education department head Rizo Civic; joint works subsector chief Samir Corbaidzic; tax office official Miodrag Trifkovic and businessman Rino Bajer. They face charges of bribery, abuse of office, and counterfeiting public documents.
All are members either of Milorad Dodik's Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD) or the Party of Democratic Action (SDA). Although the two parties hold opposing ideological positions, some members appear to have found common ground in crime.
The SNSD has issued only a brief statement on thearrests, expressing hope authorities will show ''maximum professionalism and independence during the work''.
By contrast, the SDA has had much to say, with party leaders implying that a political witchhunt is under way.
"Unless such actions continue and bring to light all cases which allowed individuals millions in profits, we will begin to believe that this is an attack on the SDA, which has long been pointing to suspicious activities in the Brcko Disctrict," SDA President for the Brcko District Ahmet Dervisevic told SETimes.
Brcko residents say both parties are playing a double game, preserving a balance of interests.
"This is a mix of conspiracies and illegal activities in Brcko, because the most important functions in the city are held by SNSD and SDA members who are working together behind the scenes," one resident who requested anonymity told SETimes.
Another resident, Senad Sehic, said blackmail is at the centre of most government functions. "All the politicians know a lot about each other and have 'business relations' which encourage them to keep quiet and not mind each other's business."
Despite the arrests, many in Brcko are sceptical that the operation will yield long-term results.
"Citizens and voters are no fools; they see it all, but then the question arises whether even the biggest 'fish' were arrested," a Brcko reitiree said, suggesting that Bingo has only scratched the surface.