“I have seen many political campaigns, in this region and elsewhere, but I don’t remember ever seeing one with less focus on improving citizens’ lives. Where were the concrete plans for making voters more prosperous, secure and happy? Scratch below the ‘we need more jobs/pay/justice’, and there were few ideas on show. Citizens should now expect, and call for, action”, Field wrote.
The British Ambassador underlined that politicians in BiH did not only need to convince their electorate that they were serious about reforms.
“All BiH parties are in theory committed to the EU path, but Brussels and Member States judge a potential candidate on their actions, not their words. There has been precious little to show over the last two years, because of a lack of political will. Showing a determination to form administrations, at all levels, would be a much better start to this new mandate. Bosnia and Herzegovina cannot afford a long and messy argument”, he wrote.
Field reminded that back in 2014, the UK and Germany led efforts to refocus reforms and restart the EU path.
“The situation is different now. Some reforms were successfully implemented, and many were not, because of a lack of determination. BiH did enough to set the EU process moving again. (…) A new Reform Agenda is not needed today. What citizens need is a renewed and firm commitment by BiH politicians to further and deeper reforms”, explained the British Ambassador.
Field noted that “a good place to start would be looking at what is driving so many talented, often young Bosnians and Herzegovinians, to leave the country”.
“Support jobs and attract business. It is just too complicated and difficult to do business here - Bosnia and Herzegovina was at 89th place in last week’s ‘Ease of Doing Business’ report. This scares off investors, which holds back growth. Improved infrastructure would help - both physical, such as roads, and digital, such as preparing for 5G. So would removing barriers to business, like para-fiscal fees, and reducing processes like business registration. UK projects like the ‘one stop shop’, providing a single point of contact for businesses, can really help. Moving up the ‘Ease of Doing Business’ list attracts investors and creates jobs”, wrote Field.
He also noted that BiH needed to “tackle corruption and organized crime, and improve the courts”. “A weak and unpredictable rule of law, especially when corruption is involved, hurts citizens, and scares off investment. BiH cannot move forward without addressing it”.
Furthermore, according to Field, BiH should improve public services. “Citizens, including those leaving the country, consistently talk about BiH’s poor education and healthcare. As a proportion of GDP, BiH actually spends a great deal on the health system, more than many others in the region, but it produces low quality results for patients. Schools and universities need to prepare students for the challenges and opportunities of the future, not the past, including IT and problem-solving skills. Every citizen has the right to demand good value for money in the services they pay for, and plans from new governments to improve them”, he wrote.
“Many of these reforms are not new. That is because they have been only partially implemented before, or not at all. And there are many more things that could be done, to improve life in this country. The good news is that BiH has many partners who want to help, including of course the EU, its Member States, the US and many more. The UK has doubled its support for BiH. What we need are partners, politicians and parties who are genuinely committed to improving the lives of their citizens and putting the country first. Reforms have to start, as soon as possible. The people of BiH deserve, and should demand, much better”, concluded Field.