Lack of Transparency on Bosnia Flood Cash Slated

A report by a group of Bosnian NGOs highlights the concerning lack of hard information on how flood reconstruction money was spent.

House near the Bosnian city of Maglaj abandoned after massive floods and landslides in 2014 | Photo: Flickr

A new report by Brana [Dam], a coalition of 23 NGOs formed at the end of 2014 to monitor the transparency of recovery projects and international donations used in Bosnia after the floods, highlights the lack of transparency on use of reconstruction money. “Reviewing the spending of the funds done through government institutions [where public institutions appear as implementing bodies of reconstruction projects], we can say that we know where and how only 54 per cent of the funds were spent … while we do not have enough information about the remaining 46 per cent,” the report reads.

During 2015, Brana monitored the use of 380,320,238.29 KM [around €194 million], provided by donor organisations and Bosnian institutions for reconstruction. Of this sum, 195 million KM [€99 million] was allocated directly through government institutions, whose transparency Brana has especially criticised.

“The fact that we don’t have enough information about 46 per cent of the funds spent through Bosnian institutions basically means that we are not able to trace the entire process of spending, from the allocation of the funds to the contractors and final beneficiaries,” Ana Lucic, coordinator of Brana, told BIRN.

Transparency improved when it came to tracking the use of funds allocated by international donors, however. “We know where and how 90 per cent of these funds were spent,” the report says. “We don’t have all the data about realization of the remaining 10 per cent because these projects that are still ongoing,” it adds.

As Lucic told BIRN earlier last week, international donations represented only 17 per cent of the total aid promised to Bosnia after the floods of May 2014. According to Brana, a total of 1,580,472,698.85 KM [around €806 million] was pledged at the donors’ conference organised in Brussels in July 2014. But most of this sum, around 1.3 billion KM [€667 million], came in the form of international loans. Moreover, of this figure, Bosnia received only 494,186,189.25 KM [€252 million], or 37.5 per cent.

The devastating floods that hit Bosnia and Serbia in May 2014 cost more than 60 lives and inflicted damage worth billions of euros. The cost of the damage for Bosnia alone was set at some 2 billion euro. At the peak of the crisis, more than 1 million Bosnians were affected by flooding and landslides.

Reconstruction started after the donors’ conference, but almost two years on, the process remains incomplete. At the end of October 2015, as BIRN reported, state institutions had rebuilt only half of the 45,000 houses destroyed or damaged by floods and landslides in 2014. Members of civil society voiced concern about the potential mismanagement of public funds. A year after the floods there was no accurate, fact-based information on the spending of donated funds,” the Brana report says.

According to Lucic, the biggest obstacle to transparency concerning international aid to Bosnia was the lack of a centralised system of data. “To conduct our research, we had to seek relevant information at every level of Bosnian public administration – it was an administrative nightmare”, Lucic told BIRN. He added that a centralised system for the collection of data would also help avoid duplicate funding of the same project.

“When information is not centralised, it’s very easy for a person who suffered, let’s say, €150,000 of damages, to get refunded by €300,000 by seeking the same reimbursement from different levels of the administration or from international organisations,” Lucic said. Another obstacle to efficient reconstruction, according to the report, was that most flood victims “were not properly informed about assistance delivery possibilities, open public calls and conditions for applying”.

Lucic explained that this was because most calls were published on the internet. “It was unrealistic to expect people who had been obliged to leave their homes and who were displaced to have constant access to the internet,” Lucic told BIRN, adding that this should be changed to improve the conditions of access to international aid in future.

Balkan Insight 

10 February 2016