Ambassador Sattler, Director Salčin, distinguished guests from civil society. It is my honor to be with you here and to be part of this conference.
Let me begin by saying that I am glad this event was organized jointly by the Public Procurement Agency and civil society. This shows a great level of trust and maturity in cooperation between government and non-government experts.
I commend the management of the Public Procurement Agency for its progressive approach and for involving experts from civil society in the working group to improve the Public Procurement Law. It has made the process of changing the law more inclusive and professional, and is a good start for improving the law. I hope the changes will be adopted soon. I look forward to our future cooperation.
Public procurement violations in BiH
Public procurement comprises one of the largest portions of economic activity in this country worth over 3 billion KM annually; and public procurement is frequently cited as part of the overall corruption problem here.
The second most common violation in public procurement is conflict of interest. Because of a weak legal framework and weak supervision, public procurements in BiH are used for private profiteering by politically privileged individuals. This is a violation of the public trust and is a crime against citizens although BiH law does not recognize it as such.
I understand that citizens may not really see corruption in public procurement firsthand or in their everyday lives. But they feel it. They feel it through the weak economy, the lack of jobs, the wasted budgets, and the poor quality of services.
Civil society and media: Part of the solution
The U.S. government supports civil society and investigative journalists because they represent the citizens. Civil society does citizens a great service when they demand more transparency and accountability in the public procurement system of this country. They are the voice of citizens and a valuable source of expertise and are ready to partner with the government in reform processes.
Our partnership with civil society will expand to demand key anti-corruption reforms, including public procurement. Most importantly we want to directly help those citizens who want to report and fight against corruption in their communities. They might not know how, or doubt that they can make a change. We want to empower them to build a culture that rejects corruption.
We will continue to support investigative journalists who every day reveal stories on misspending and corruption affecting every segment of life. Those brave journalists need to be protected from political pressure or threats.
Justice institutions: Champions of Change
The U.S. government will continue its work with prosecutors and judges choosing carefully those justice institutions that show improvements and process a significant number of corruption cases. Our goal is to improve the performance of justice institutions in dealing with corruption and cases involving economic crimes, to foster transparency and responsiveness of the justice institutions, and increase their ability to be free from improper external influences.
Time to act and remove opportunities for abuse
Progress in Bosnia and Herzegovina is stalled by inadequate legal solutions and the lack of transparency in public procurement. The way to remove opportunities for abuse is to make every procurement truly public and truly competitive – through the e-procurement system – and to make the stakes of corruption too high – with strict oversight and penalties.
The U.S. government will stand by BiH institutions, businesses, civil society, investigative journalists, and other brave and decisive individuals in their genuine attempts to protect public funding from private pillage, to improve the lives of the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
We know we cannot wait for political will to initiate reform in BiH. We need to find other ways to move reforms ahead. Active and informed citizens should hold government officials accountable, even if it includes blaming and shaming individuals and institutions who participate in corrupt and non-transparent practices. However, I am happy to note that we have positive examples of government champions, including those of you in this room today who combat corruption and promote transparency.
I hope this conference will result in some concrete proposals on how to move forward and how the U.S. Government could further help Bosnia and Herzegovina moving in the right directions. Thank you.