TRIP REPORT 3/2001 - 8-14 JULY 2001Introduction
This year Republika Srpska has seen a major increase in returns, certainly more than the RS government foresaw. The result is that municipalities in Republika Srpska are struggling with major demands on their resources. Specifically, municipalities are not getting the necessary financial and political assistance from the RS government. For example, in every municipality visited by the Mediator, the OMI office was either understaffed or was working in unacceptable conditions, sometimes without proper equipment. The RS government, and especially the responsible ministries, must provide more material and financial support to these OMIs.
Secondly, returnees are not getting the necessary support in the municipalities. In particular, infrastructure for returnee areas is an obligation of the local administration. It is no longer enough for municipal authorities to allow returns. They, starting with the mayors, must begin to provide basic living conditions for all citizens. Specifically, this means connecting public utilities; visiting return sites; clearing roads when there is snow; proper healthcare; improving minority representation in the municipal administration; and meeting with the leaders of minority groups to discuss their concerns. Neglecting these issues borders on de facto obstruction of the peace process because no one will return to an unfriendly and inhospitable environment.
Thirdly, it is in the interest of all municipalities, cantons, entities and the BiH state to provide the necessary conditions for small and medium sized businesses to operate. These types of businesses are the building blocks of every society. Foreign investment should not be the only hope for municipalities. Proper economic conditions must be created, for example, by providing economic incentives in the form of tax breaks, financial credits and the rule of law so that a viable local economy can flourish. Some practices are disincentives for small businesses. For example, it takes 70 days in Republika Srpska and 100 days in the Federation to register a company. Such bureaucracy needs to be terminated.
Fourthly, one of the main elements of a democracy is communication and consensus building among the different levels of government and between the government and its people. Such communication facilitates progress and reduces misunderstandings. More importantly, it produces confidence and respect for legal authority and state institutions. It is striking how little each level of government understands why decisions are made at other levels. Returnees, DPs and permanent citizens have no possibility to address their concerns to higher levels of government. Therefore, even when resources are limited and the tasks seem overwhelming, it is the responsibility of the municipal authorities to listen to their citizens and to find creative ways to make life better in their municipality. It is also important that the municipal authorities regularly and clearly communicate the concerns of the people to the appropriate ministries.
The delegation consisted of the International Mediator, Dr. Christian Schwarz-Schilling, Mr. Dieter Wolkewitz (Executive Representative), Mr. Gerald Knaus (Political Advisor and Sarajevo Representative), Mr. Juan Diaz (Political Analyst), Ms. Amela Curkovic (Interpreter). The delegation visited the municipalities of Banja Luka, Modrica, Tuzla, Zvornik, Sokolac and Visegrad.
At the international level, the Mediator met with High Representative Wolfgang Petritsch, Principal Deputy High Representative Donald S. Hays, Senior Deputy High Representative Matthias Sonn, Deputy High Representative Peter Bas Backer, OSCE Deputy Head of Mission Dieter Woltmann. He also met with Prof. Dr. Josip Vrbosic, Croatian Ambassador to BaH and Hans Jochen Peters, German Ambassador to BaH.
During the visit the Mediator also met with Mr. Alija Behmen (Prime Minister of the Federation of BaH), Mr. Kresimir Zubak (BaH Minister for Refugees and DPs), Mr. Mijat Tuka (Deputy Minister for Refugees, DPs and