Putting an end to illegal double-dipping restores both fairness and funds to the pension system.
By Ana Lovakovic for Southeast European Times in Sarajevo -- 17/01/13
Officials are promising to prosecute veterans who are illegally drawing two pensions. [AFP]
Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) are revising veterans' benefits for combatants in the 1992-95 war and announced those who have double-dipped and received pensions from both countries will be criminally prosecuted.
The authorities said they suspect most of the people who illegally received two pensions -- members of the Croatian Army or the Croatian Defence Council (HVO) who fought in BiH -- have done so largely in the past six years.
Croatia's President Ivo Josipovic welcomed the decision and said it will relieve the two pension systems.
"This is not a military matter but a matter of unfairness in the pensions system. Any individual can receive only one pension," Josipovic said.
The FBiH ministry of veteran's affairs began an audit in which it discovered that Ljubo Cosic Rojs, retired HVO lieutenant-general, received pensions from both countries in the amount of 2000 euros per month.
Rojs' right to the pensions was immediately denied.
Zivko Budimir, president of FBiH, was also on the list for having received two pensions but stopped the practice when he assumed the post in 2010.
The authorities said the lists of all HVO members will be reviewed and compared to the original lists in Croatia.
"The fighters were compensated based on having been awarded Croatia's three-leaf medal by former President Franjo Tudjman. We have evidence some of them falsified documents, particularly in central Bosnia, to gain certain rights in Croatia. Those who were exercising rights on the basis of the three-leaf medal will be excluded from exercising the same rights in BiH," Zukan Helez, minister for veterans affairs in the FBiH government, told SETimes.
Candidates for a pension based on veteran status in BiH have to sign a statement that they are not also receiving a pension from Croatia. Those who could receive pensions from both countries have to choose one country.
The BiH authorities said they will file criminal charges for giving false statements about acquiring illegally obtained assets.
"Anyone who is not on the original list will be prosecuted according to FBiH's criminal law. Sanctions range from fines to imprisonment, depending on the gravity of the case, and the offenders will have to return all illegally collected money," the FBiH ministry told SETimes in a statement.
"But before the lists of individuals are finalised, nobody can say precisely how many people have been using double benefits or how much it has cost BiH's state and entity budgets. We expect to find out that number by February," Zukan Helez, minister for veterans' affairs in the FBiH government, told SETimes.
"I can say the cost is at least several million euros annually -- a big expense for FBiH, which has a deficit anyway," Helez added.
The development is important for several reasons, said Adis Arapovic, analyst at the Center for Civic Initiatives, an NGO based in Sarajevo.
"In addition to saving money in the budget and reducing public expenditures, the case also restores confidence in the rule of law," Arapovic told SETimes.
Arapovic said the public is sensitive to double standards and especially in time of economic crisis, when many former soldiers receive no compensation at all while others receive double.
Nearly 6,000 former combatants in FBiH are not paid any compensation.
"Those who get the double benefits are close to the ruling elites who were born during the last war, but the time has come to clear out the inheritance of the war," Arapovic said.