While the head of a development agency and the senior American military advisor have distinct responsibilities and partners, we have both personally witnessed the same failure of the governments in Bosnia and Herzegovina, at all levels, to serve the needs of citizens. The tragedy of the floods stripped families of the two things that they need most – safe housing and productive employment. But the politicians of BiH have shown themselves incapable or unwilling to meet the international community even half way, preferring to focus on their standard approach of cronyism, party advantage, back room deals, and blame shifting.
At the donor conference held in July, the international community pledged over 800 million Euros in assistance for the flood-affected areas. More than 100 million Euros of this money has already been spent or programmed by the international community in the immediate aftermath of the humanitarian disaster and now in the recovery effort. However, international institutions have offered more than half a billion Euros in assistance to the government of BiH for purposes of flood relief and recovery. Little to none has reached citizens or municipalities in need. Four months after the initial floods, politicians throughout BiH have no real plans, or even serious ideas, to offer for recovery. Flood victims have seen little to nothing except for empty promises and excuses from their leaders. These same leaders instead quickly apply international assistance to fill their coffers to cover existing budget shortfalls that are the result of their policies, with little directed for flood response. Now they ask for full payment of remaining funds?
Every student in the flood affected areas will be able to return to school this month. This is because the European Union and United Nations have moved quickly to repair schools. Thousands of businesses and farms will be able to return to productive work. This is because USAID, the Swedish government, the Norwegian government, and others moved quickly to restart businesses. Essential infrastructure like bridges, water supplies, and roads are being repaired due to the collective efforts of the international community. But what have BiHâ€™s own government bodies done?
There have been some clear bright spots. The Armed Forces of BiH as well as many civil protection personnel, first responders, and volunteers were courageous and active in the immediate aftermath of the flood. The AF BiH have sustained their engagement and are currently conducting demining, clearing roads, and repairing infrastructure where approved. The Ministry of Finance and Central Bank moved quickly to release funds to USAID to ensure that our most essential work could be completed. We are grateful for that, as are BiH citizens.
In affected areas, rafting clubs, local groups, diaspora, and select municipal leaders all reached out to help one another regardless of ethnic background, religion, or political party. Unfortunately, these efforts were dismissed by politicians who have built their personal empires on the constant narrative of ethnic disharmony and dysfunction, past grievances, and victimization. Citizens of this country recognize these as political tactics used throughout history to manipulate, divide and control people. They know their politicians are using fear and insecurity to avoid transparency and accountability. This is hardly the recipe for the prosperous and successful future the children of BiH deserve.
US Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis famously said that “sunlight is the best disinfectant.” While we clearly need more sunshine, he was not talking about the weather. His message was that transparency is the best assurance that public policy is executed in the public interest. The international community can account for all of our expenditures. Can the BiH politicians say the same? The citizens know the truth, and must be prepared to demand better.
Octoberâ€™s elections are the time for all citizens to be heard and to choose the course for their future. The floods revealed countless examples of the best of the ordinary people in BiH in their response, but the worst of their politicians. Citizens in BiH deserve more â€“ for themselves, their children, and grandchildren. The only way to get it is by demanding accountability â€“ and holding the winners in the next elections to that standard.