Five win despite cloud of charges

Voters in October discounted suspicions of corruption and abuse of office in SBK Canton and elected five of nine candidates even though they had been targeted in a Federation Financial Police report.

Branko Golub, the minister of education in Srednjebosanski Canton (SBK), says he would never vote for a politician who’s been sentenced by a court of law on criminal charges. It isn’t good for citizens when people under suspicion hold positions as lawmakers and officials.

But Golub, who was sentenced to 10 months in prison for abuse of his office as governor of the canton in 1990, doesn’t seem himself as one of those politicians.

His sentence was later reduced to six months and he has appealed. Golub’s offense, according to the court, was illegally ordering the transfer of 45,367 KM from the account of the Chamber of Commerce of the former Heceg-Bosna into the account of the Croatian Democratic Union of BiH (HDZ BiH).

‘I don’t feel guilty at all because of this sentence’ says Golub. He thinks a distinction should be made between ‘clear-cut cases’ and ‘framed.’

Last month, The Center for Investigative Reporting in Sarajevo (CIN) published a project ‘Suspicious Politics’ about how a Federation Financial Police report on abuse of officials by 21 canton officials including Golub who cost the local budget some 1.2 million KM in losses had gone unacted upon by prosecutors for three years.

The report did not stop Golub and eight other officials targeted in the report from running Oct. 1 for seats in the cantonal, federation or state parliaments.

Golub won another four years in the cantonal parliament, as did Mirko Batinić and Asim Mekić. Zahid Mustajbegović and Slavica Josipović won new terms in the federation parliament.

BiH Election Commission information shows that the other four candidates under a cloud lost their bids. Tončo Bavrka and Josip Kvasina will not be back in cantonal parliament and Rudo Vidović and Zdenko Antunović will not be moving from the federal to state parliament as they wanted.

None of the candidates had difficulty participating in the elections, because the current law permits that.

The five winners say they won the trust of voters, as they expected. For them, winning was a confirmation that the criminal reports submitted by Financial Police have no substance. The losers also discounted the role of the reports.

Bavrka said the report didn’t hurt him so much as newspaper reports about it. He said it wasn’t ethical to write about the corruption charges against him before the elections. He said he did not want to disclose his plans for the future.

Antunović said he is waiting until governmental bodies are formed and there is a chance he will still be serving in government. Otherwise, he said he could go back to architecture. He too said that media reports may have hurt him.

Mekić, up to now a chair in Busovača municipality council, and a future representative in SBK parliament, says he wants the case to get wrapped up. He said collective and personal responsibility should be separated.

‘If Asim Mekić is guilty, he has to suffer the consequences, and there is no further comment’ he said. ‘If he isn’t guilty, somebody has to apologize.’

And apology is due, he says, from those who published information about the existence of criminal reports when there were no actual charges.

Transparency International BiH (TI BiH), a non-governmental agency that combats corruption, advocates a custom widely followed in Western countries, where politicians resign until suspicions and charges against them are resolved. TI representative Srđan Blagovčanin said that in addition, the election law should be updated with a rule that only candidates with no outstanding criminal reports, sentences or trials may run.

‘I think that the requirements for being in politics are unjustifiably low, for a very responsible job. Lower than for some other jobs’ he said.

Blagovčanin noted that candidates can run for minister without medical certification of physical and psychological health and without certification of a clean police record. Both, he said, are needed for most other jobs.

‘It is completely normal that a person who admitted being guilty and who was sentenced is a member of Council of Ministers in BiH’ he said in reference to Branko Dokić. ‘On a level of democracy, it is an impossibility.’

He says that when corruption is accepted, it sends a terrible message to citizens.

Party leaders uniformly disagreed with him.

In the meantime, SBK prosecutors say they are continuing to work on the SBK canton case. Deputy Chief Prosecutor Dragan Popović said that some of the 21 may end up in defendants’ seats in court shortly.