Bosnia: Reform Will Bring Justice and Jobs

The top international official in Bosnia discusses the challenges facing the country over the next few years.

Bosnia: Reform Will Bring Justice and Jobs

The top international official in Bosnia discusses the challenges facing the country over the next few years.

As I begin my term as High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, it is clear that certain reforms must be made and priorities set to allow this country to achieve its ambitions.

My distinguished predecessor Wolfgang Petritsch has left a foundation on which we will build and I look forward to working with the people of this country as they travel on the next stage of the journey.

For our destination is a better future - new jobs, better education for the young and confidence and security for every citizen - and my aim is simple. It is to work with the people to put this country irreversibly onto the road to statehood and membership of Europe.

Some complain that Bosnia and Herzegovina has been progressing too slowly and it is true that we must move faster. But building peace after war is no easy task. If my home of Northern Ireland had made as much progress in 30 years as Bosnia has made in six, the conflict there would have been resolved much sooner.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is at peace. Refugees are returning to their homes in huge numbers, freedom of movement has been restored and the country has joined the Council of Europe. The ethnic tapestry of this society's proud past is slowly being mended and restored. The people of Bosnia should feel proud of these achievements.

Yet we are still confronted by huge problems. Next year, Bosnia's debt will leap from around 82 million to more than 120 million euros. At the same time, foreign aid - upon which this country has become far too dependent - will fall year after year so the pressure on government expenditure will be severe.

So we have no option but to take a long hard look at how this country is governed. There are 1,200 judges and prosecutors, 760 legislators, 180 ministers, four separate levels of government and three armies - all for a country of fewer than four million people!

There are 13 prime ministers - that's one for every 300,000 citizens! The cost of Bosnia's government is a staggering 920 million euros - and that does not include the cost of services such as health, education and pensions.

The truth is that Bosnia and Herzegovina spends far too much money on its politicians and far too little on its people.

The same is true for defence. Proportionately, Bosnia spends twice as much on defence as the United States and four times more than the European average. Why? Who do we think we are defending ourselves against - Serbia or Croatia? Today, these countries are focused on European integration, not territorial expansion.

There is no alternative to reform and to setting clear priorities. Here are mine - justice and then jobs, through reform.

Justice, because the rule of law is the starting point and an essential requirement for a decent life for people and for progress in everything we do. The failure of law in today's Bosnia imperils human rights, impedes economic recovery, deters investors and distances the country from its goals.

Thanks to the UN mission we have now created a cadre of well trained and - in the main - reliable and committed policemen. But the latter must rely on an inefficient and top-heavy judicial system.

Bosnia has twice as many judges per head of population as Germany, yet each German judge deals with four times as many cases per year as his Bosnian counterpart.

I will press ahead with comprehensive reform of the judicial system and will also promote the creation of a non-politicised civil service. And I aim to establish, inside the Office of the High Representative, a legal reform unit - consisting mainly of Bosnians - to review legislation and recommend reforms that make it easier to get justice and jobs for the average citizen.

I will step up efforts to fight the war profiteers who have now turned to smuggling weapons, fuel, drugs and even people. It is time to confront their friends and accomplices in positions of power - those who have ruthlessly exploited Bosnia and Herzegovina's national wealth for their personal profit.

My strategy is to complete the process of creating a comprehensive legal framework so the police, prosecutors and courts have the legal tools needed to bring criminals to justice. I will also get the High Judicial Council, which is tasked with monitoring the performance of judges and prosecutors, operational by the autumn and strengthen the systems that scrutinise government and prevent abuses of power in the public sector.

My second priority will be to create conditions that will expand employment. The challenge is to stimulate growth in the new private sector and especially among small businesses, which are already becoming the engine that will drive Bosnia's economy.

We must sweep away the unnecessary red tape and bureaucracy that makes it so difficult to run an honest business and drives so many into the grey economy. Laws must be developed to help small businesses borrow and expand, create a single, user-friendly system for registering new enterprises and push forward the reform of property and land ownership law so that people can invest and plan with confidence, and establish accelerated procedures for dealing with business disputes.

This is a country situated at the heart of a region poised for real growth. If we are to take advantage of this we must reform and invest - and the key investment is in our young people.

Because we have failed to do this, Bosnia and Herzegovina's biggest export today is its youth - its future.

This haemorrhage of the young and the talented poses perhaps the greatest long-term threat to this country. We will not succeed in our goals unless we first succeed in stemming or reversing this trend.

That means providing our young with education and training inside Bosnia that equips them for success, and creating the environment in which education, talent and hard work can translate into jobs and prosperity.

The current system of education along ethnic lines is one of the major things that holds us back. I have seen the corrosive effects of such division in education in Northern Ireland. I detested it there - and I like it no better here.

Education is not a luxury, it is a right, and the reform of our school and university system is a core task - not an optional extra.

There are those who believe that the letter of Dayton is all that protects their identity and safety. To them I say this - I will never permit any constitutional change that fundamentally threatens the identity or security of any of Bosnia and Herzegovina's constituent peoples.

There is a world of difference between a diverse society and a divided society, a decentralised state and a fractured state. Those who oppose any moves to build state institutions do not seem to understand this. They believe that we can be accepted into Europe as two, or, as some even say, three failed statelets within a failed state.

To believe that the status quo is a viable option for the future is just nonsense and those who propose it - openly or secretly - jeopardise our children's future and present a cruel illusion to the people they claim to represent.

More extreme, and more detached still from the new political reality, is the idea that the old, destructive wartime dreams of a Greater Croatia and Greater Serbia can still be revived.

This is not going to happen. The international community will not let it happen.

Zagreb and now, increasingly, Belgrade have made it clear that they do not want it to happen either. They know that their future as part of Europe is linked to Bosnia's success and the region's stability just as much as our own is.

So we have only one realistic future - to make Bosnia and Herzegovina work.

Our task is not to submerge or destroy ethnic identities. It is to patiently build a state that protects, celebrates and harnesses them for the benefit of everyone - a state that enables people to value their Bosnian identity at the same time as valuing their ethnic identity.

But ultimately, it's people - not constitutions - that make a state. And it's the people - all the people - of Bosnia and Herzegovina who will determine the success or failure of this country in the future.

The different peoples of Bosnia are the pillars that support the state and give it its strength. Remove any one of these and the whole thing will collapse.

We succeed together, or we fail together.

Paddy Ashdown is the new High Representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina

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