Five advisors to the mayor of Velika Kladuša, Fikret Abdić, could be in a conflict of interest because they’ve worked simultaneously for the municipality and as the heads of public companies or associations getting more than 10,000 KM a year from the budget.
Abdić’s advisor Ibrahim Mujić is also president of the Assembly of the Association for the Protection of Unemployed Shareholders of Agrokomerc. Last year, mayor gave it 250,000 KM from the municipal purse.
The mayor also appointed Ismet Hušidić, Sulejman Ćufurović and Refik Tabaković, as temporary managers of two public companies, while Aladin Ćerimović was appointed after he applied for a vacancy.
The Law on Conflict of Interest prohibits such appointments, but no one is worried.
“This is our personal problem,“ Ćerimović told reporters from the Center for Investigative Reporting in Sarajevo (CIN). “You should look into other issues. You are not the court. You’re nothing. You are free to report (it). There are designated authorities charged with dealing with things you’re talking about.”
Actually, over the past five years, no institution has been charged with implementing the Law in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (FBiH). That means, in effect, that no one can establish any violation of the law or mete out any punishment. The FBiH government submitted a draft amendment to the law with the Parliament three years ago, but it has never been discussed.
Blitz Allocation of Double Offices
Abdić is notorious for two things. Before the war he created Agrokomerc, an agricultural powerhouse, and during the war he created an unconstitutional Autonomous Province of Western Bosnia whose army fought against the BiH Army. After the defeat of his army, Abdić left for Croatia.
The Supreme Court of Croatia sentenced him to 15 years in prison for war crimes against civilians and POW. He was released after serving two-thirds of that. In 2016, he got voted into office.
A day after taking office, Abdić appointed Sulejman Ćufurović and Hasan Galijašević as advisors. A rulebook allocated only two slots for advisors, but he changed it and added seven more. He appointed his son Ervin Abdić, his daughter Edina Abdić-Pleho, Refik Tabaković, Aladin Ćerimović, Husein Delić, Ismet Hušidić and Hasan Galijašević.
In a blitz allocation of offices, Abdić appointed Ćufurović and Hušidić to a temporary supervisory board of a municipal utility company Komunalije, and Tabaković to a temporary supervisory board of public company Veterinary Station.
Abdić should not have submitted their names, or they should not have accepted the appointments.
According to the FBiH Law on Conflict of Interest, advisors cannot hold office in public companies simultaneously. The law calls for punishment of a 4-year ban on running for office and a fine of between 1,000 and 10,000 KM. Ćufurović, Hušidić and Tabaković do not have to worry though, because no institution exists in FBiH that can sanction them.
Until 2013, the Central Election Commission could have done it. But, the state Law was amended calling for an FBiH commission for conflict of interest that was never set up.
“Currently, no one who violates the Law on Conflict of Interest faces consequences,” said Ivana Korajlić of Transparency International BiH.
Harmonization of the FBiH law with the state one hasn’t been on the agenda for years, and Korajlić does not see it happening soon. If a commission were to be set up, it could adjudicate cases not more than four years old for which the statute of limitations has not expired. The cases of these three advisors already are half way to expiration.
Ćufurović told CIN reporters that he did not know if he was in a conflict of interest. He said that last November he submitted his resignation for the post of mayor’s advisor, but his leave hasn’t been made official with publication in the Official Gazette. Both he and Hušidić say that they had been in Komunalije just for several months, but there’s no official confirmation of that.
When CIN reporters told Hušidić that the law prohibits advisors from holding office in the management of a public company, he said: “Fine, so what?”
When Abdić’s advisors entered the utilities firm’s management, he started generously subsidizing it. He paid 1.17 million KM to Komunalije in 2017, according to the Municipality’s Year-end report that the mayor retracted from the agenda of the Municipal Council’s session before it could be voted on. For this year, Abdić planned to allocate nearly 2 million KM. For at least three years before Abdić came to power, subsidizing Komunalije was not the practice.
The current acting director of the company is Amir Đogić, Abdić’s colleague from the Labor Party. Even though he agreed to speak about how the money was spent, ahead of the interview he had a change of heart and refused profanely to meet CIN reporters.
Advisor Tabaković said that he was the president of temporary supervisory board of the Veterinary Station for around six months, but he could not tell if he had potentially violated the Law. Even though he took over the post as head, he did not study the rules concerning him.
”Well no, because we have a lawyer, so we did not investigate too much,” he explained.
After him, in October 2017, Aladin Ćerimović was appointed to the post after he applied for the vacancy. Even though he submitted a statement that he had not been in the conflict of interest, Ćerimović said that he found out about this later and so resigned from the public company.
This April, despite that experience, he accepted Abdić’s proposal to enter again the management of another public corporation – this time as a member of the temporary assembly of the Waterworks and Sewerage company.
The Municipal Council took down this item from the agenda.
Money to advisor, apology to mayor
In the last year’s budget Abdić proposed a grant that did not exist in previous years. He planned to finance the Association for Protection of Unemployed Shareholders of Agrokomerc. He was then president of the Association’s management.
His proposal was passed at the end of March and three months later, Abdić left the Association’s management. Only after this, the Association received 250,000 KM — nearly one-third what all not-for-profit organizations in Velika Kladuša received.
The association is important to Abdić, because it represents shareholders and former employees of the prewar powerhouse he headed for two decades. By the end of 1980s, Abdić was arrested on charges of mismanagement. After the war, the FBIH acquired the company which became limited by share.
Abdić’s picture and old title remain on the Association’s webpage.
His advisor Ibrahim Mujić is an officer in the organization. He lives and works in Rijeka, Croatia, commuting to Velika Kladuša on Thursdays and Fridays to advise.
“What kind of conflict of interest am I if I don’t receive anything from the Association,” he asked CIN reporters. When reminded about the law, Mujić stood his ground.
“Well, you will write fine about it and all right,” said Mujić. “I have no objections.”
If it was officially confirmed that Mujić was in a conflict of interest, he would face fines between 1,000 and 10,000 KM.
Abdić plans to finance the Association this year with 200,000 KM. “That money is not sufficient for all lawsuits we plan to file,” said Mujić. He explained that they had already filed numerous lawsuits for unpaid salaries and pension benefits.
Former and current members of the Association say that it had never had the municipality’s support as it does now. The mayor has approved funds on condition they send him expense reports.
Dinko Ljubijankić, a councilor from Democratic People’s Union, said that he was not satisfied with this method, so this March he suggested that the Association file an expense report with the Municipal Council as well. “So we can see by this whether the funds were justified,” said Ljubijankić.
The Municipal Council, in which members of Abdić’s Labor Party are almost in majority, did not support this proposal.
The Association has existed for almost 20 years. CIN reporters visited just as it was updating its membership list. Secretary Armin Redžić said that they had not worked much in the past years. “Now it has picked up at another level,” he said.
Asked by CIN reporters how they were going to spend the grant from the Municipality, Redžić said: “On current, normal, regular affairs. I will start with offices, some of those general expenses and up to specific enlistment of various experts.”
Fuad Sulejmanagić, the Party of Democratic Action councilor, said that he supports allocation of money for disenfranchised Agrokomerc workers if this money was going to help them directly. However, he does not believe this will happen.
“What has been done by transferring these funds, I know and I suspect that they will be spent for political ends, that is, for a campaign,” said Sulejmanagić at a session of the Municipal’s council.
Abdić did not want to talk to CIN. But last October he told the Council: “I have a number of advisors, because I have another program. Not the one that you received as councilors. And you will see from the results of my programs – those are immeasurable things.”