State Coordinator for Public Administration Reform Dragan Ćuzulan spoke for the e-bilten of the Public Administration Reform Coordinator’s Office, in which, among other things, he referred to the meeting of the Special Group for Public Administration Reform, as well as the formation of a political body that should manage the reform of public administration.

The meeting of the Special Group for Public Administration Reform was held in June. The European Commission supported the continuation of public administration reform, but also asked Bosnia and Herzegovina to speed up its path to the EU. What is it about?

This is already the sixth meeting of the Special Group for Public Administration Reform formed for the purpose of implementing the Stabilization and Association Agreement, and it was an opportunity to put activities related to the realization of one of the 14 key priorities from the Opinion into the focus of discussions with the European Commission at the ministerial and technical level, as well as the implementation of recommendations from previous meetings of the PAR Special Group, which is of particular importance now that BiH has received candidate status. I must say that it is difficult to talk, when insufficient work has been done, because there is a lack of instruments for carrying out reforms, that is, finances, and there is a lack of political support, the adoption of appropriate laws, and the reform of public administration is not sufficiently in focus.

The European Commission welcomed the adoption of the nationwide Public Finance Management Strategy in BiH 2021-2025, which made a step forward in the implementation of priority number 14 from the Opinion, as well as the extension of the validity period of the Strategic Framework for Public Administration Reform and the Action Plan until 2027, which implemented recommendation from the Report of the Commission on Bosnia and Herzegovina for the year 2022.

What we did not do in the past period, but we are on the way to complete the establishment of the body for political coordination, which will have the task of guiding the reform. A stronger political structure and support were lacking in the past period. Also, we have not established a functional operational structure for implementing the reform and our results show that 14 percent of the planned activities from the Action Plan have been implemented so far.

Also, the expectations of the European Commission are that the authorities in BiH in the coming period will focus on revising the existing Action Plan for public administration reform, establishing an effective coordination structure with the political body for decision-making, greater financial ownership and sustainability of public administration reform, and harmonizing the law on state service with the principle of merit. The commission expressed its readiness to support further public administration reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and this is the support we have and are counting on. We are expected to ensure regular monitoring and reporting on the implementation of the Strategic Framework, to harmonize civil service laws with the principle of merit and other SIGMA principles in this area, to improve the process of planning and adopting policies, to adopt the Law on Electronic Identification, and services electronic transaction trust etc.

Considering the fact that the European Commission stated in its report for last year that BiH is in the early stages of public administration reform, I call on all institutions to take all necessary measures and steps in order to fulfill the reform goals faster. On the way to integration into the European Union, we owe our citizens a reformed public administration, which will work on the basis of transparent, open, clear procedures and provide faster, better, higher quality services, electronic services with lower costs and a shorter time for public services.

Basically, I see public administration as a service that must make life easier for our citizens. It makes me uncomfortable when I see that people stand for hours in front of registry, land registry and other offices and counters, in order to get a single piece of paper, while in other countries citizens can access documents with one click on the keyboard. All that can change, we have to harmonize our legislation, and when we talk about the digitization of public administration, it is devastating that we were the first in the region to pass the Law on Electronic Signatures, and that all the countries in the region have overtaken us. An example to Bosnia and Herzegovina can be Estonia, which introduced the e-citizen portal and fully digitized public administration.

There are some other things that can contribute to progress, such as increasing the transparency and openness of public administration, because this opening contributes to strengthening the responsibility of the administration and reducing corruption and various types of abuse. Also, we have made some progress, but we still have to work on developing an environment in which citizens will properly participate in the policy-making process. I think we can do it, but there really must be political will and readiness to put the interest of the citizen before everything else.

BiH should finally get a political body that will guide the reform of public administration. So far, that body – the Coordination Committee – has never met and political support has been lacking in recent years. Do you agree with this assessment and has the situation changed now?

The Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, at its 16th regular session, held on June 26, 2023, adopted the Common Platform on the principles and method of implementation of the public administration reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which prescribes, among other things, the establishment of a body for political coordination, and it gave consent to the Chairperson of the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina, ms. Borjana Krišto, to sign this document. The platform was also adopted by the Government of the Brčko District of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and now we are waiting for the document to be adopted by both entity governments.

The Common platform represents a political and legal framework for the cooperation of administrative bodies of all levels of government in the process of public administration reform in BiH. This document aims to respond to the European Commission’s request for the establishment of a body for political coordination in this area. Coordination at the political level is entrusted to the Coordinating Committee for the Reform of Public Administration, which consists of the Chairperson of the Council of Ministers of BiH, the Prime Ministers of the Federation of BiH and Republika Srpska and the Mayor of Brčko District of BiH, as well as representatives of the Government of Brčko District of BiH and relevant ministers of all levels of government, depending on the point of the agenda being discussed. Political coordination was also regulated by the previous Platform from 2007, but not a single meeting on public administration reform was ever held. We now have the expressed willingness of Ms. Kristo to convene a session and ensure the work of the body for political coordination, but of course, this readiness will have to exist at other levels, which participate in the work of the Committee. Political coordination bodies are part of the conditions of the accession process and similar bodies have been established in other countries.

Administration institutions are slow to reform administration. Only 14 percent of the activities have been completed from the Action Plan for Public Administration Reform. Why is this so and what have the institutions fulfilled so far?

The coordinator’s office, in cooperation with the PAR structure, which includes numerous institutions of all levels of government, prepared the Report on the implementation of the Action Plan for the reform of public administration for the period 2020-2022 and data show that a total of 14 percent of activities were implemented in this period. The greatest progress was made in the area of Public Finance Management (100 percent), but there the activities included the development of a comprehensive PFM strategy for the entire country and individual strategies for the levels of government.

The implementation of activities from the Action Plan contributes to the fulfillment of the measures from the PAR Strategic Framework and the data show that none of the 17 measures at the end of 2022 have been fully implemented. There are some minor developments in the field of Civil Service and Human Resources Management, where two indicators have been fulfilled, and certain progress has been made for 14 indicators in different areas (values at the end of 2022 were above the initial values measured at the time of document preparation), but no change was recorded for 21 indicators.

The fragmentation of public administration, combined with the absence of a formally guaranteed system of subordination, reduces the harmonization and reform of public administration to a question of the goodwill of decision makers. Another part of the problem related to the state of public administration stems from the unwillingness of the political elites, despite declarative commitments, to start implementing the necessary reform measures.

One of the key reasons for little implementation is the failure to establish structures for public administration reform, which practically did not even work. Decisions on the appointment of intergovernmental bodies in the areas of reform or supervisory teams, as we call them, were made in the Federation of BiH and Brčko District of BiH, but not at the state level and in the Republika Srpska. On the other hand, reform requires money, and our Public Administration Reform Fund has been blocked since 2018. There are about 10 million BAM in the PAR Fund, and we hope that the problem of appointing supervisory teams and unblocking the Fund will be resolved soon so that we can start working at full capacity. For carrying out activities in the period 2020-2022 first of all, we should thank the IPA projects funded by the European Commission in cooperation with the German GIZ through the Public Institutions Strengthening Program, which was not continued because there was no appropriate decision by the Presidency of BiH, and the activities we carried out with SIGMA or some other donors.

Some of the activities were carried out by the institutions themselves, such as, for example, the adoption of new or improved decisions and laws on medium-term and annual planning, the introduction of e-applications for public service tenders, the Law on Administrative Procedure was amended in the Federation and electronic communication was made possible between administration and citizens, in Republika Srpska with the aim of faster company registration – about 12 million documents were digitized from the archives of registry courts and 243 procedures were simplified, state institutions made significant progress in the development of proactive transparency… There are more examples, but this is a minor part of the work. There’s still a lot left that we haven’t finished.

The European Commission requests a revision of AP and a focus on digitization. What is PARCO doing in this regard and what are the further priorities?

Yes, the European Commission is requesting a revision of the Action Plan and we have already requested support through the IPA for revising the document. The strategic framework for public reform and the Action Plan were initially set for 2022, and we secured support for the Council of Ministers of BiH and the governments of the entities and Brčko District of BiH for the extension of the validity of these documents until the end of 2027. However, it is necessary to keep in mind that we live in a time in which the environment is changing very quickly, that in the meantime we have acquired the status of a candidate for membership and that we cannot implement the conditions set before us by the European Commission for many more years. The time frame of the action plan can be set in different ways, depending on the validity of the goals, but if we look at the SIGMA documents we will see that action planning is considered most realistic where the time frame is set between one and three years. This also means that if the time frame of the strategy is longer than this, successive action plans can be developed and as the end of the initial action plan approaches, the timely development of a new action plan document allows for a review of the relevance of the original objectives, changes in external factors affecting the reform and changes in the initially identified problems, as well as newly emerging priority reform needs can be seen. As for digitization, the existing Action Plan for the reform of public administration focuses on digitization that extends through various areas, especially the area of service delivery. We believe that this focus should be maintained in the next reform period, without neglecting, of course, some other priorities.

BiH should harmonize its legislation in the field of civil service. What does that mean and do you have any information on whether these laws are being amended?

Harmonization of regulations is necessary at least in priority areas, and as part of the project “Strengthening Human Resource Management in BiH”, which was financed from IPA 2017 funds, recommendations for their harmonization were made in cooperation with representatives of all relevant institutions.

Currently, all administrative levels are working on the drafting of new laws on civil service (RS, BD BiH, FBiH), i.e. amending the existing one (level of BiH institutions), but separately. An interdepartmental working group should have been formed to work on the harmonization of these regulations, but at the initiative of the BiH Ministry of Justice, only CSA BiH and CSA FBiH responded to its formation in 2021. Nevertheless, considering that the tendency at all administrative levels is to harmonize laws with the SIGMA principles as well as the requirements of the Strategic Framework for PAR, this should indirectly lead to their mutual harmonization at least to a certain extent.

Fragmentation of the civil service in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina appears as a special problem due to the existence of one federal and several different county laws. A good step in terms of harmonizing these laws is the adoption of the “Human Resource Management Policy in the Civil Service Bodies of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina” (Official Gazette of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina 86/21), which was simultaneously adopted in seven out of ten counties (Bosnia-Podrinje Canton, Central Bosnia Canton, Herzegovina – Neretva Canton, Tuzla Canton, Una-Sana Canton, Herceg-Bosnia Canton and Sarajevo Canton), and can represent a good basis for harmonizing regulations within FBiH in the coming period.