A revision to the change of ownership is the expected next step in suspect privatisations.
By Bedrana Kaletovic and Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Sarajevo and Belgrade -- 19/01/13
Workers of the privatised manufacturing giant Konjuh seek protection of their rights from the Tuzla cantonal government. [Bedrana Kaletovic/SETimes]
BiH and Serbian authorities have frequently privatised public enterprises inexpensively under questionable conditions and without thought for the fate of millions of workers who end up losing their jobs and then need government assistance to survive, according to experts.
The BiH government is seeking to audit questionable privatisations via an audit process as well as by creating better laws, though so far without results.
"No one has ever been held responsible for the poor privatisations even when it was common knowledge the solution lies in the prosecution of those responsible," Zijad Dzafic, professor of economics, told SETimes.
Privatisations in the former Yugoslavia began in 1990 but the 1992-95 war disrupted them in BiH. Since then, privatisations have frequently been suspect, and the new owners and capital sources are often not known.
Auditors now examine the circumstances of the sale of enterprises, but also whether the new owners adhere to the signed contracts.
The audits uncovered more than 140 cases of illegal privatisation in BiH since 2006, but the authorities have not sanctioned the violators, prompting frequent strikes by fired workers.
"We went on hunger strikes several times. The government cannot help us because the company is now privately owned, and we do not actually know who the owner is and to whom we should complain," Mujo Gavranovic, a worker in the former Yugoslav furniture manufacturing giant Konjuh, told SETimes.
The buyers usually have agreed to pay the company's debts towards the workers and keep them employed for two years.
"A further scenario always included the closing of companies, selling its property and its attractive location where private buildings were constructed," Ranka Misic, president of the labor union of Republika Srpska, told SETimes.
"We [are beginning to] see accountability in the management of privatised companies, but should not troubleshoot at their address. Our government, especially in the FBiH, is still not ready to solve many of the existing problems in an economically reasonable way," Dzafic said.
By contrast, about 2,350 enterprises have been privatised in Serbia, but the country's privatisation agency has cancelled a third due to irregularities and other issues.
"At present, we are reviewing 19 cases related to corruption in privatisation," Jelisaveta Vasilic, member of the Anti-Corruption Council, one of Serbia's two anti-corruption bodies, told SETimes.
The 19 cases are part of the 24 questionable privatisations flagged by the EU Parliament. Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic has led the efforts to audit the 24 enterprises which include the Port of Belgrade, Sartid, Mobtel and Vojvodina Roads.
Most notably, the authorities arrested tycoon Miroslav Miskovic, who was involved in the privatisation of the Port of Belgrade, among other suspect privatisations.
"These cases are the government's priority but we will soon know what will happen next -- whether it will build institutional frameworks. The investigating authorities have to work in a systematic way and not wait for external permissions," Nemanja Nenadic, programme director of Transparency Serbia, told SETimes.
Serbia's justice ministry said it created a draft for a new strategy to fight corruption, and it includes all the competent authorities, independent regulatory bodies, NGOs and the private sector organisations.
Serbia's anti-corruption agency and other ministries are now reviewing the strategy prior to a joint working group finalising the text.
"The strategy is going to regulate all areas related to the privatisation process in order to strengthen the control mechanism and transparency of the process," the justice ministry told SETimes in a statement.
It will give the anti-corruption agency greater powers to investigate false reports of assets and revenue-asset imbalances. Moreover, the strategy envisages the law governing compensation for damages as a consequence of corruption.