Legislative branch in Bosnia and Herzegovina has a lot of work to do on its openness to the citizens

Analysis of openness and accountability of the legislative authorities conducted by the regional network of NGOs “ActionSEE”, within the project “Network for responsibility, new technologies and openness of institutions in South East Europe”, showed that the legislative branch of government in BiH meets just over half (51%) of indicators of openness. The research was conducted from October to December 2016 in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo.

Regional Index of Openness measures the degree of openness of parliaments based on four principles: (1) transparency, (2) accessibility, (3) integrity and (4) awareness.

The transparency principle is fulfilled if organizational information, budget and public procurement procedures, are published and publicly available. The accessibility principle relates to providing and abiding the procedures related to freedom of information and strengthening interaction with the citizens. Integrity encapsulates mechanisms for prevention of corruption, carrying out the ethical code practices and regulation of lobbying. The last principle, awareness, includes monitoring and evaluation of institutions’ policies.

In the analysis, the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina is presented as a summed up score of five legislative institutions: both houses of the Parliamentary Assembly of BiH, both houses of the Parliament of Federation of BiH, and the National Assembly of Republika Srpska.

The legislative institutions fulfilled only 48% of indicators concerning the principle of accessibility, with the most indicators being fulfilled in terms of access to information (53%) and the least when it comes to the interaction with the citizens (a little under 37%).

In general, as showed by the analysis, public involvement in the work of these institutions is minimal, and communication mechanisms are mostly a one-way street, usually provided through contact-forms on the websites (which are sometimes not fully functional). Parliaments in Bosnia and Herzegovina do not use (readily available) two-way means of communication such as social networks and online petitions.

“It is necessary to maximize the efforts to open communication channels between citizens and the parliament, and to adopt a systematic and proactive approach in regards to public involvement in the work of parliaments. Parliaments need to be more open to work together with experts and CSOs, and they need to create and actively promote mechanisms for citizen involvement in parliamentary work. Freedom of access to information needs to be additionally secured by strengthening the legislation, through establishment of more firm mechanisms for oversight of implementation of FOI law, including the establishment of an independent body whose decisions would be obligatory for the institutions”, the analysis states.

When it comes to the transparency criteria, the analyzed institutions have had positive results in 51% of indicators. The best results within this criteria are recorded in transparency of public procurements, with a little more than 63% of indicators fulfilled. On the other hand, budget transparency has the weakest result, with only 33% of indicators fulfilled.

Bosnian parliaments have very uneven practices when it comes to publishing the budgets and the reports on budget spending. For example, the National Assembly of Republika Srpska published the budgets in the last three years; both houses of the state parliament published only the budget for the last year; the House of Peoples of the FBiH Parliament published the budgets for the last two years, and the House of Representatives of the FBiH Parliament does not have any budgets published for the past three years. Particularly concerning is the fact that none of these institutions pays sufficient attention to the reports on budget spending – according to the research, only one of these five institutions, the National assembly of Republika Srpska, published a final budget account on its webpage (only for the last year). Citizens’ budget is not published (or produced) by any of these institutions.

The parliaments are also not transparent enough when it comes to reporting on their plans and their implementation. Again, it is worth noting that the practices in this area are also non-consistent across the parliaments. Information pertaining the work of MPs (attendance records, voting records, transcripts and recordings of sessions) are also not consistently published.

“Budget transparency is at alarmingly low level. Drafts and budget plans, adopted budget documents and the reports on budget spending, must be made available to the public through continued and even practices. which should be established in all parliaments. It is also necessary to establish continuous practice of publishing the work programmes and reports on implementation of these programmes; reports on work of all parliamentary bodies and regular reports on activities of MPs”, state some of the recommendations from the analysis.

When it comes to the efficiency criteria, the legislative branch fulfills around 57% of the indicators, but there are a lot of differences within this criteria’s sub-fields.

The analysis recommends establishment of systemic mechanisms for estimating the effects of the regulations that are adopted, while it also states that these processes should be regulated in a way it would guarantee their efficiency and transparency. These processes should also enable the participation of the public when it comes to evaluating the impact of laws and other regulations which are in the parliamentary procedure.

When it comes to integrity of Bosnian legislative branch, it meets just a little more than 50% of the indicators. The weakest result is recorded in the regulation of lobbying, where none of the observed institutions fulfills a single indicator, since this issue is not legally regulated in Bosnia and Herzegovina at all. Adoption and publishing of ethical codes is also unsatisfactory, since the observed institutions fulfill only 44% of the indicators in this respect.

“All parliamentary bodies must adopt their own codes of ethics. Existing codes of ethics need to be revised, harmonized and consistently implemented. Codes of ethics must provide clear procedures of oversight over their implementation. Publishing the data on implementing the codes of ethics, including all the inquiries started in regards to breaking said codes, should be made mandatory”, state the most important recommendations from the analysis conducted by the ActionSEE network.

The analysis was conducted as a part of the “Network for accountability, new technologies and institutional openness in South-Eastern Europe” project with financial support from the EU and the project “Using new media for promoting government transparency” which is supported by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). The analysis is available for download on the following link.