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Diplomats Enjoy State-Funded Rent Despite Private Properties

Some BiH Foreign Ministry employees receive accommodation allowance during their diplomatic service abroad, despite owning apartments in their respective host countries. The Ministry does not perceive this as an issue requiring resolution.
Zajednička uokvirena pozadina i razglednice Beča, Zagreba i Beograda
Illustration: Željko Todorović (CIN)

Bosnian diplomat Šaban Forić was paid a minimum of 83,000 BAM for rent during a little over three years of service in Vienna, despite already owning an apartment in the city.

Both Neven Kulenović and Zoran Perković received housing allowances while living in their apartments in Zagreb. Ranka Ujić was found residing in her son’s apartment in Belgrade. Her son bought the property immediately after his mother took office in this city.

The Foreign Ministry of Bosnia and Herzegovina pays approximately 5 million BAM annually for the accommodation of around 230 employees in 56 diplomatic and consular missions (DCM) worldwide.

According to the regulations, all employees are entitled to reimbursement of rental costs during their assignment abroad. The amount varies depending on the workplace, as it is calculated as a percentage of the employee’s net salary. They are not required to provide evidence of their rental payments, and the institution does not verify whether they reside in their own or someone else’s accommodation.

Perks with an apartment

Šaban Forić started working as a technical secretary at the Embassy of BiH in Vienna in 2011. He had already worked there as a driver from 2000 to 2004, and after seven years of work at the embassies in Bern and Berlin, he returned to the familiar address. After that, he went to Munich, and then to Sarajevo, where he spent three years and progressed from administrative-technical staff to diplomat.

He gained his status during the term of Minister Igor Crnadak, and during the term of Bisera Turković, he became a minister’s advisor, which is the highest position after the ambassador.

Turković says he deserved it: “Mr. Forić has worked exceptionally. Really. I have worked a lot, but he worked even more.”

Forić is now a minister’s advisor at the Embassy in Vienna, where he bought an apartment back in 2001 for 210,000 Austrian schillings (around 30,000 BAM). The apartment is located near Belvedere Palace, one of the most visited historical and tourist landmarks in the Austrian capital.

The Foreign Ministry is not required to retain older records, so it is unclear whether he received an accommodation allowance during that time, but Forić received 83,000 BAM for accommodation costs from November 2011 until the end of December 2014, during his second term in Vienna.

He declined to speak with CIN’s journalists, but in an email response, he stated that during his term in Vienna, he resided in an apartment that was rented for that purpose. “I have evidence of this in the form of a Lease Agreement”, Forić replied succinctly.

He did not respond to the journalist’s question about whether this meant he was renting out his apartment at the time.

According to documents, Forić’s apartment was forfeited by the court in 2022.

The Minister’s advisor at the Embassy in Vienna, Šaban Forić, stated that during his service in the city, he resided in rented apartments (Photo: Facebook)

The Foreign Ministry employs around 470 individuals, of which approximately 230 are deployed within the diplomatic network.  Under the Ordinance on Salaries and Benefits, employees serving abroad are entitled to various perks – allowances for children, spouses, and accommodation – on top of their salary and meal allowance.

Deputy Foreign Minister Josip Brkić informed CIN that each employee arranges their rental: “For this, they receive compensation from the ministry based on the percentages corresponding to their diplomatic status.” “And I believe it ranges from 43% (net salary, author’s note) for the ministerial advisor to 80% for drivers and janitors who are in diplomatic and consular sections”, said Brkić.

The Ministry regularly disburses these amounts without subsequent oversight. Brkić explained that employees are not obligated to disclose their residence address or provide rental contracts for accommodation.

Ranka Ujić resides in an apartment owned by her son Viktor, who acquired it after she assumed her post at the Embassy in Belgrade. (Photo: Dženat Dreković, Facebook)
Ranka Ujić resides in an apartment owned by her son Viktor, who acquired it after she assumed her post at the Embassy in Belgrade. (Photo: Dženat Dreković, Facebook)

Ranka Ujić has been working in the Ministry for more than two decades, primarily working in Sarajevo as a clerk on document certification and cashier affairs.  Her career trajectory changed in 2014 when she obtained the status of a diplomat, and in 2020 she received her first posting abroad at the Embassy of Bosnia and Herzegovina in Belgrade as an adviser.

As per regulations, she receives a little over two thousand BAM per month for accommodation expenses.  During CIN’s investigation, they located her in Belgrade, residing in an apartment purchased by her son Viktor shortly after she began her service in Serbia. The 69 square apartment is situated approximately a 20-minute walk from the embassy, in the Voždovac settlement.

In a brief exchange over the intercom, Ujić informed the journalist that she had just returned from work and requested to be contacted via email. However, even after this, she declined to discuss her accommodation in Belgrade. Ujić has been receiving compensation for her accommodation since the commencement of her term, totaling 65,000 BAM over three years.

Meanwhile, her colleague Zoran Perković, ministerial advisor at the BiH Embassy to Croatia, resides in his apartment in Špansko settlement, Zagreb.  Perković and his wife purchased the apartment in 2008 for 144 thousand euros (281,520 BAM).  Despite this, he has been receiving approximately 2,400 BAM per month for rent since assuming office in October 2021. As of August 2023, he had accrued nearly 52,000 BAM in compensation.

Perković does not find anything objectionable in receiving compensation for rent despite living in his own apartment, citing that this benefit is outlined in the Ordinance.

“It is a benefit that currently suits me, but I believe many of my colleagues from 2008 to 2021 had similar perks and it was never an issue”, states Perković. He views it as more unethical to live in another apartment while renting out his own.

Ministar savjetnik za kulturu u Ambasadi BiH u Hrvatskoj Zoran Perković kaže da nikada nije krio da ima stan u Zagrebu, ali ipak smatra da ima pravo na novac za kiriju (Foto: Dženat Dreković)
Minister advisor for Culture at the BiH Embassy in Croatia Zoran Perković says he never concealed owning an apartment in Zagreb but still believes he is entitled to this perk.  (Photo: Dženat Dreković)

This practice dates back to earlier times. In 2005, Neven Kulenović, an adviser at the BiH embassy to Croatia, along with his wife, purchased a 92-square-meter apartment near Zagreb’s Maksimir for 90,000 euros (175,950 BAM) – just a year after assuming his post.  By the end of his term in 2007, he received nearly 36 thousand BAM for rent in Zagreb. He retired in 2019 and declined to comment on his compensation.

The Foreign Minister Elmedin Konaković did not have time to comment on this matter, while former minister Bisera Turković acknowledges that employees who receive rental compensation for their properties are in violation of the rulebook, however, as she claims, the Ministry lacks the means to verify whether these individuals actually live in their property.

“You’re asked not to be the foreign minister, but instead a kind of an investigator or intelligence service that investigates, listens to, and attends things. You know, one does not have time objectively, there is a lot of work”, said the former official.

Until 2005, this institution required all employees to submit apartment rental contracts. The Ordinance was later amended to abolish this obligation, citing it as an administrative burden. Since then, everyone has been paid the amount for accommodation without the obligation to justify this cost. This setup allows individuals to negotiate a lower rent than the compensation they receive and pocket the difference.

At the same time, different rules apply to heads of diplomatic missions, as the Ministry pays their rent directly to the landlord’s account.

Damir Arnaut, the BiH Ambassador to Germany, recalls a decade ago when he served as ambassador to Australia, he heard about employees posted abroad living in their own apartments and still receiving compensation.

“The allowance is intended for rent. If it’s not used for rent, then it’s clear that it’s being abused”.

Arnaut says that as a parliamentarian, he raised questions about this issue but received no response. He believes that only the minister can solve this issue.

However, former Minister Turković argues that even changing the existing regulations would not yield tangible results.

“You’ll have people saying, ‘No, no, I own an apartment, but it’s my right. I saved, I bought it, but I rent an apartment and I live in a rented apartment.  What I own as part of my property has nothing to do with the Ministry”, Turković explained.

She maintains that such cases are not widespread, and that “here and there a few cases pop up in neighboring countries”.

Faraway countries not worth working in

The Ministry does not monitor the precise cost of living in all countries where its diplomats are stationed. As a result, individuals living in countries with a high standard of living may receive similar compensation to those in countries with lower standards.

This means that the allowance provided, for instance, may not be sufficient for America and Western Europe, while it may be more than adequate in neighboring countries.

This is one of the reasons why there has been no consular staff at the embassy in Canada since the end of 2022, leading to delays in the regular issuance of passports to citizens. The monthly rental allowance for this position in previous years was around 1,850 BAM, several hundred marks lower than the average rental prices for an apartment in Ottawa.

Conversely, in neighboring countries, a higher diplomatic rank receives about 2,000 BAM for rent, making life there much more comfortable and appealing.

Bosnia and Herzegovina maintains 44 embassies, six consulates general, and six diplomatic missions across 44 countries worldwide. In addition to the accommodation of employees, the state annually pays about two million marks for the accommodation of 56 ambassadors and consuls general.

Infographic: Željko Todorović (CIN)

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