A parliamentary commission has been appointed to investigate donor funds allocated for post-war reconstruction.
By Anes Alic for Southeast European Times in Sarajevo -- 17/04/12
A preliminary report of an earlier parliamentary commission demanded an investigation into widespread international donations embezzlement. [Reuters]
After 15 years of donations to Bosnia and Herzegovina's (BiH) post-war reconstruction fund, it remains unclear exactly how much money the country has received from various donors, or how the funds were spent, prompting the formation of a fourth consecutive parliamentary commission to answer such questions.
The commission is tasked with investigating the use of foreign donations, credits and budget funds earmarked for reconstruction. The commission will also recommend measures for moving forward after its investigation, identifying and prosecuting those involved in misuse of funds.
Three previous commissions failed to complete their work, largely due to obstruction from politicians. One commission, in 2010, issued a preliminary report that the country had received 3.8 billion euros in donations from foreign countries and organisations, but only 1.7 billion euros had been documented. About 300 NGOs that were recipients of that aid are no longer existence. Parliament has never deliberated on the findings of this report, nor has it been made public.
The current commission was initially formed in 2010, but the appointment of its members was stalled while political leaders haggled over the formation of new state institutions following the October 2010 general elections. Typically, the commission would have a four-year mandate. Despite the fact that it was not functional its first two years, it must wrap up work by mid-2014.
Semsudin Mehmedovic, the commission's deputy president, expects to face the same obstacles as commission predecessors, yet he remains optimistic that this time there will be greater success.
"In order to determine how much money was donated and how was it spent, we are planning to make documentation requests obligatory for both foreign donors and local institutions," Mehmedovic told SETimes.
Sefer Halilovic, leader of the opposition Bosnia-Herzegovina Patriotic Party (BPS) and the chairman of the previous commission, told SETimes that his commission's findings did not necessarily mean that those who failed to respond to queries were guilty of corruption, but it did raise doubts.
"The commission I chaired established that from 1996 to 2010, Bosnia and Herzegovina received 3.8 billion euros donated by Western European countries, the US, UN, Muslim countries and various world aid organisations. We suspect that it represents only 30% of the total sum donated to our country since the end of the war. It is clear that a lot of that money ended up in the private sector, or in the accounts of political parties. For the sake of BiH's reputation, the foreign taxpayers and BiH citizens, we must uncover where that money went," Halilovic said.
He added that he had sent his preliminary report to the BiH Prosecutor's Office and the State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA), demanding an investigation into widespread donation embezzlement.
"We discovered that some ministries and other state institutions had illegally opened bank accounts in Western countries where they deposited the donations. In addition, there are cases in which local NGOs with close ties to political parties would use foreign donations to buy companies, such as gas stations, and register them in the names of family members, or disperse the money to various private bank accounts," Halilovic said.
As a member of the opposition in the previous government, Halilovic tried to convince the ruling parties to form the third investigating commission, but the allocation of 15,000 euros for the commission's work was highly disputed. After the commission was agreed upon, the funding and the green light for naming its members came about only four months before its mandate expired.
"I can't say that we experienced political pressure or threats, but the strategy of the ruling parties was and certainly still is, to stall the commission's work," Halilovic said.
He adds that the new commission might make more progress than the previous ones, as it still has a year and a half on its mandate, but he doubts that the investigation could be completed even with five additional mandates, due to the sensitive nature of the task. Instead, Halilovic recommends that an independent body be assigned to investigate foreign donation transparency.
The Initiative for Better and Humane Inclusion (IBHI), a local NGO, conducted a study in 2007, estimating that the total expenditures of the international community in humanitarian aid, peace implementation, and economic reconstruction was 49 billion euros from 1995 to 2000.
IBHI director Zarko Papic said that amount also included international peacekeepers and other costs related to the international community's operations in the country. He said direct aid for reconstruction, including humanitarian aid, was somewhere between 16 and 20 billion euros.
"When you compare this number with the state commission's 3.8 billion euros you can see the extent of embezzlement of donations, as much of this was not even registered," Papic told SETimes.