Ten years ago, when the idea was proposed to create a State Veterinary Office (SVO) in Bosnia and Herzegovina to unify control over import and sale of livestock and meat, nobody foresaw that veterinary inspection could end up more disorganized.
Before the SVO began operating in 2000, veterinary departments within the entity ministries for agriculture handled these tasks separately. The SVO was supposed to ensure safer food for BiH consumers by improving coordination.
But critics say jurisdictional confusion and poor communication have weakened the inspection system, that the SVO has not ensured food safety and that it has no clear priorities.
State auditors in a report published in June complained about sloppy bookkeeping, weak internal controls and other problems with the agency.
SVO Director Jozo Bagarić said his agency has responded to issues raised in the audit and that it is living up to all the responsibilities entrusted to it.
‘The two sectors and two ministries had almost no cooperation, especially not in veterinary issues’ says Marko Tadić, who came up with the idea for SVO and served as its first director from 2001-2003.
In 2004 the SVO took over full control of border veterinary inspection from the entities, and veterinary inspectors now work at 10 crossing points.
But their counterparts, veterinary inspectors in the interior, remain under the administrative control of two entity ministries. There are also cantonal veterinary inspectors who report to their cantonal ministries.
Bagarić affirmed that SVO’s mandate is at the border and nothing more.
Tadić says that SVO could have been a powerful institution, but is not because certain laws and responsibilities remain with the entities. ‘You have mixed-up jurisdictions today. SVO jurisdiction is far from what it should be.’
Zoran Đerić, the Republika Srpska’s long-time chief veterinary inspector until he was recently made deputy director of the BiH Food Safety Agency, agrees that, ‘There is no cooperation among inspections.’
Veterinary inspectors have little information about what their colleagues on the border are doing, and vice versa. Since they have different bosses, nothing obliges them to cooperate, and because they usually don’t have computers and telephones, even if they wanted to share information they could not.
A consequence of the transfer of border inspection to SVO was that the connection between inspectors was broken, according to Nada Rajković, an assistant in the veterinary department at the Federation of BiH Ministry of Agriculture.
She said no database for exports and imports has been developed and that unlike the previous system, now it’s impossible to know what is coming into the country and where it is going.
Đerić said this gap in his knowledge prevents him and other inspectors from finding and checking imported goods.
Another critic, Jerko Ivanković Lijanović, president of the supervisory board of the Lijanović Meat Company, said that on a scale from 1 to 5, he grades the SVO a 2.
‘I think they need to act more forcefully’ he said. ‘They should have forced the politicians to set aside enough money to create a system that would secure the traffic of products of animal origin. They did not do it.’
But, it may not be reasonable to expect SVO leaders to exert pressure on the same politicians who put them into office, and who also can remove them.
SVO works under the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Relations. The Minister, Dragan Doko refused repeated requests to be interviewed for this story.
Disagreement about priorities
William Graham, director of the American non-governmental organization, Partners For Development, has worked with SVO to strengthen border veterinary inspections. Graham says his organization could help further, but not without first getting a clear set of priorities from SVO. ‘We never get an answer from the office about what is their plan, their strategy’ he said.
Rajković claims that at one point, there was $5 million in aid available if SVO could come up with a spending plan.
‘At that time we agreed to spend it on equipping the quarantine stations at border crossing points’ says Rajković.
But she said that when new SVO leadership took over, the entity ministries of agriculture were not included in that project. Rajković doesn’t know why the project was never completed.
Bagarić says he does have a plan of action through 2007 that includes the hiring of significant new personnel, upgrading the network of diagnostic labs, and improving conditions in meat processing centers.
Bagarić said his office has disagreed with Graham about what priorities should be, with the NGO insisting on programs—such as beefed up inspection at the airport—that SVO believes is unnecessary. He said the border crossing points project was held up as a result of the disagreements.
Auditors find other problems
State auditors in a report covering 2005 criticized Director Bagarić for also serving as president of a procurement committee, a double duty that violates the Law on Public Purchasing.
Bagarić said he did participate in only one of many committee decisions but wishes now he had not participated in any.
The auditors also pointed to irregularities in the handling of bids, such as including the brand name of products in documentation, which is forbidden.
Auditors said the department should not have bypassed bidding procedures when buying 67,000 KM of equipment and material to combat avian flu. They said they were not convinced the company awarded the bid was the only supplier on the market for the equipment. SVO considered the purchases an emergency need, said.
The auditors cited SVO for paying 147,700 KM up front for lab services instead of after the services had been rendered as a contract called for. Another 132,000 KM that SVO said was transferred to improve diagnostic labs could not be traced either, the auditors said.
They could not find documents showing how that money had been spent.
The auditors also found that the SVO improperly paid 2,186 KM retroactively toward transport and accommodation costs of a post-graduate student in Zagreb. Bagarić said the money was spent on a staffer in his agency who must receive continuing education.
The auditors also criticized the SVO’s accounting on the issuance of licenses to import cattle and meat products. The Foreign Trade Ministry raised the fee for those documents from 150 KM to 350 KM when the SVO took over border inspections in 2004.
Auditors said that they could find no database showing who had been issued and who had paid for licenses, and that they could not track the money to the state treasury.
According to Žaklina Radman, a veterinary border inspector at the Doljani crossing, licenses state where the goods come from and provide a serial number, weight of imported shipment, and the type of goods. Some critics say there is no need for a permit at all if rules on weight and shipping are posted and monitored.
The Finance Ministry said that the licenses brought 950,000 KM into the state treasury.Auditors could not find these records at the SVO because the SVO official in charge of them was on vacation and because until recently there was no computer system that allowed monitoring of payments.
Auditors complained for a third year in a row about a gap in communication between SVO and the Tagging Agency that is part of the SVO but operates with a separate budget. ‘We haven’t got the impression that anything serious has been done about it in 2005’ the report said.
But Bagarić assured reporters for the Center for Investigative Reporting in Sarajevo that the problem had been fixed and that lags in getting ear tags to farmers and cattle ranchers as a way to combat smuggling would be taken care of soon.