Dobro jutro, everyone. It is a pleasure to be with you today and to have the opportunity to congratulate Director Rahic and his team for their commitment to reforming public procurement and the progress they have achieved in adopting innovative digital solutions to make public procurement in Bosnia and Herzegovina more efficient and transparent. – I cannot overstate how important this transparency is.
The U.S. government is proud to count the Public Procurement Agency as a partner and to support its work, which is vital to reducing corruption in the delivery of services to citizens and to helping Bosnia and Herzegovina progress on its path toward integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions. Yesterday was a good day for Bosnia and Herzegovina. The European Union’s announcement is an opportunity, but it is a long road and means a lot of work.
Government institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina annually spend on average 3.3 billion Bosnian marks acquiring the goods and services they need to serve the public. This includes things like hiring a company to build a road, purchasing medical equipment for hospitals, or providing public schools with supplies. In other words, this is a core function that underpins the very fabric of a democratic society and public service. Vigilance is required to protect these valuable public resources from corruption and graft.
I am heartened to know that the Public Procurement Agency has embraced international best practices in its work. The agency has recognized the transformative potential of digitalization as a catalyst for greater efficiency, transparency, and accountability in public procurement. They have committed to adopting digital solutions that will save the government money that can be used on other important initiatives that benefit the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina — such as creating jobs for youth, elevating educational standards, protecting cultural heritage, and fostering innovation. And they have recognized that stronger systems are needed to combat the endemic corruption that plagues every corner of society in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Among the achievements we celebrate today, I am particularly proud of our work together to develop a new electronic-Centralized Public Procurement, and as all things it has an acronym – eCPP — system, which will reduce costs and make government purchasing more efficient and transparent. At the moment, for example, if there are 100 schools in a canton, each of those 100 schools is responsible for procuring its own paper, creating a high administrative burden, inconsistent pricing, and room for corrupt practices. Under this new centralized electronic system, the canton will be able to make one bulk procurement for all 100 schools, reducing time, costs, and irregularities.
The system will first roll out in Tuzla Canton, followed by Sarajevo, Zenica-Doboj, and Bosnian-Podrinje Canton Gorazde in the coming year. It should eventually extend to other cantons and government institutions at every administrative level across Bosnia and Herzegovina. All cantons should embrace this opportunity to become more responsible stewards of taxpayer money. I say responsible. They are responsible because the money does not belong to them; it does not belong to any political party either; it belongs to the public. And they have the responsibility to protect the money that belongs to the public, that belongs to their constituencies whose interests they claim to represent and protect. And if a canton or municipality does not embrace this more transparent system, it is a clear indication that they do not want taxpayers to know where these public resources are being spent.
The U.S. government has also worked with the Public Procurement Agency to draft a new rulebook on joint and centralized procurement in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This legal framework will enable the use of electronic centralized procurement practices such as the school example I previously mentioned and will help meet EU requirements. We encourage the Council of Ministers to adopt the procurement rulebook swiftly to help advance their own goal of EU accession.
We are also working together on a new electronic register of vendors’ past performance certificates, which will allow government agencies to easily review a company’s performance history with purchasers across the government before spending taxpayer money to purchase goods or services from them. You do not want to be working with an untrusted vendor. Soon, we will begin to work with the Public Procurement Agency to create an Open Data portal that will allow the public and civil society groups to monitor and ensure fairness in government procurements. These tools will empower government officials and citizens alike to track in-depth analytics and conduct real-time monitoring of public procurement processes to detect swiftly corrupt practices.
This is so important for BiH’s EU accession path. But it’s also important today. Because you need health care now, not in a few years, and you need it whether you are part of the European Union or not. You need the roads repaired today and tomorrow, not in a few years, and you need it whether you are part of the European Union or not.
I am delighted that the U.S. government is partnering with those at the forefront of the digital transformation of the public sector in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We will continue to help government institutions adopt game-changing digital solutions that promise to elevate the quality and efficiency of government services, fight corruption, and advance Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations.
The Public Procurement Agency has demonstrated that with leadership and commitment, innovation and reform in BiH government institutions is achievable. All public officials should take note. The digital era is upon us, whether we want it or not. I have so many social platforms I need to check all the time and it drives me crazy sometimes, but I have to do it. We need to embrace the positives it brings and apply them to increase efficiency and transparency and cut corruption. I implore all public institutions to embrace it to propel the country into a new age of efficient, transparent, and accountable governance.