Local governments in BiH need to be much more open towards the citizens

Cities and municipalities in BiH fulfill just a little more than one third (36%) of the indicators for openness of local self-government units in terms of transparency, accessibility, integrity and awareness. The lack of government openness in BiH is noticeable in several fields, from inadequate implementation of FOI law, through insufficient insight into public spending, to continuous use of outdated channels of communication with the public.

The analysis of government openness in BiH, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo, based on the research conducted from October until the end of December 2016, puts BiH in the third place, behind Serbia and Montenegro. The overall results for local self-governments openness in the region are discouraging, as the fulfillment of the set indicators averages on 34% for the entire region.

The research of government openness and accountability was conducted by the regional network of civil society organizations “Action SEE”, within the Regional Openness Index, measuring the degree of openness of the institutions of Western Balkan countries to their citizens. It encompassed 36 local self-governments in BiH and 144 in the region, using over 60 indicators to determine the level of their openness. The research was done as a part of the project “Network for accountability, new technologies and openness of institutions in the Southeastern Europe”, financially supported by the EU; and the project “Using new media to promote government transparency”, supported by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

Out of the 36 analyzed municipalities in Bosnia & Herzegovina, the municipality of Centar Sarajevo meets the highest percentage of the openness indicators (66%), while the lowest score was recorded in municipality Glamoč, with only 5% of the indicators met.

The principle of accessibility is met with 35% fulfilled indicators overall. The best ranked local self-government is the city of Široki Brijeg with 66% of the indicators met, while the municipalities Petrovac (0%), Jezero and Glamoč (5% each) are ranked the lowest.

The research has pointed to the very uneven practices when it comes to the implementation of FOI law, such as publishing of index registries of documents in possession of municipalities, or publishing the contacts of persons in charge for FOI requests. The monitoring has also shown that some local self-governments have no official web pages at all. These and other findings show that stricter mechanisms are needed to ensure the implementation of the Law on free access to information, including establishment of an independent oversight body, whose decisions should be binding. It also points to the conclusion that local self-governments, besides using classic communication channels, should start using other, more up-to-date channels of communication, such as e-consultations and other available online mechanisms.

The principle of awareness is met with 46% of the set indicators in the local self-governments in BiH. About 59% of them perform the monitoring and evaluation of their work. There are rules and internal acts in place, which require the local mayors to report to local assemblies, and these rules and procedures are largely followed.

The research found that satisfying practices of strategic planning are present in only about 37% of cities and municipalities.

A little under half of analyzed local units (47%) has some form of development strategies, pointing to a worrying conclusion that more than half of local governments do not produce such strategies. The recommendations, therefore, particularly stress that openness strategies should be drafted and adopted, and their action plans implemented, in all municipalities and cities.

When it comes to the principle of integrity, the local self-governments in BiH fulfill only 18% of the indicators. Primary reason for such a low score is the lack of mechanisms for prevention of conflict of interests.

In the area of transparency, local units fulfill 37% of the set indicators. The cities and municipalities are not sufficiently transparent regarding the public budgets, organizational information, or the public procurement procedures. In this respect, the city of Široki Brijeg has the best rank with 72% of the indicators met, while the municipality of Glamoč holds the last place, with none of the indicators met, considering that this local unit has no official website.

Less than a half of cities and municipalities (42%) publishes data on their public servants, while budget transparency meets only 37% of the indicators. The citizens are not given an insight to the budgets through narrative and graphic presentations, which should be available through the “Citizens’ budget” documents. Only two of the 36 municipalities have published such documents – the municipality of Centar Sarajevo and Novi grad Sarajevo.

Budget transparency was the highest in the municipality of Gradačac (81% of the indicators met), Široki Brijeg (79%) and Centar Sarajevo (73%), while the lowest ranked municipalities, Jezero and Istočni Stari grad, both without official websites, meet 0% of the indicators for this criteria.

Local self-governments don’t have a practice of publishing plans of public procurements on their official websites. The calls, decisions and contracts on public procurements are mostly not available. Only 34% of cities and municipalities publishes any data regarding public procurement procedures.

The research points to the conclusion that strengthening of financial transparency of local self-governments needs much more attention, since the local institutions have a very uneven approaches to publishing of financial data and documents. There also a need to establish a consistent practice regarding budgets and publishing of documents such as budget plans, final accounts, etc. The publishing of “Citizens’ budget” documents should become standard practice. The procedures of public procurement need to be made available to the citizens, following the principle of proactive transparency. Information on the employees and internal organization of local self-governments should also be made public (with respect to the legal constraints). Additionally, the principle of publishing documents in open data format should be consistently followed by the institutions.

The analysis is available in English here.