Interview:Ambassador of Great Britain to BiH Nigel Casey
[wzslider]Current protests in BiH are a good sign that people are no longer willing to sit in silence and observe everything that happens
By: Nevena Šarenac
Portal ‘Sarajevo Times’ had the opportunity to speak with the British Ambassador to BiH Nigel Casey, who claims that Great Britain is committed to our country in the long-term, as evidenced by the fact that the government of the country invested money so that the Embassy would have a permanent location in Sarajevo. Speaking of the current protests in BiH, the British Ambassador thinks that they are a good indicator of the fact that people are ‘fed up’ with the usual policy, adding that citizens must hold leaders responsible for all that they had promised. Ambassador Casey sees the accession of Croatia to the EU as an opportunity for BiH and believes that the EU, which BiH will join, has a number of advantages and will be attractive for our country. Among other things, he noted that in BiH there are only 14 direct British investors, and that it is necessary to establish better business conditions in our country, and he sees corruption as the biggest obstacle to this. We are witnessing protests that have been going on for days by BiH citizens who are demanding the urgent adoption of a state law on the unique master citizen number. They are expressing their dissatisfaction with a reluctant government in a democratic way, and are fighting for their basic human rights. Even though there are attempts from various sides to accuse these protests as being politically motivated, citizens are loudly and clearly refuting this claim. Do these protests indicate that civic consciousness has finally woken up, and are social and economic issues more important than national ones? How does this kind of involvement of BiH citizens in the political life of the country contribute to the democratization of BiH society?
First of all, I think that this is an important moment. The protests are a reflection and an indication of the fact that people are fed up with politics as usual. The reactions of the majority of political leaders at these protests have revealed a lot. Some even complained that the protests are ‘politically motivated’, as if politics is reserved only for the leaders of political parties. I think that the most positive aspect of these protests is that ordinary people rejected this idea and exercised their right to be part of the political process. That is their right. It is good that that they are using and exercising it because politics is about more than elections every four years.
It is too early to speak about the outcome of the protests, but I hope that one lasting effect is that ordinary people will become convinced that they have a right to express their opinions, that they do not have to wait for a small group of political leaders to tell them what their opinions should be.
You have reiterated that the international community bears some responsibility for the situation in BiH, and that it remains firmly committed to our country. However, in the case of the adoption of a law on the unique master citizen number, do you think that the international community should not be doing the job for which the well-paid BiH government is responsible? If BiH politicians and decision makers of this issue do not resolve this issue in a way that maintains the integrity of the existing system, what are the consequences that BiH citizens will bear? In this case, can we expect a greater involvement of the international community?
We believe that elected political leaders are more than capable of resolving this issue. Since they were able to adopt a temporary law, they can surely reach a permanent solution. There was never a need for this issue to be politicized because this is a matter of a basic public service. Political parties, with the assistance of legal advisers only need to consider the judgement of the BiH Constitutional Court serious and adopt amendments to the existing law in accordance with it.
It is very important for all those using BiH passports in future that the integrity of the unique ID number be preserved. The security of passports and other identification documents rests on the integrity of the existing system of issuing identification numbers.
Croatia will join the EU on 1 July. Since it is assumed that the Croatian economy, by exiting CEFTA, would experience a decline in sales in these markets, would this allow the BiH economy to better position itself on the entire CEFTA market? Do you think that the BiH economy would provide itself easier penetration into this market through the Croatian market?
The accession of Croatia to the EU is an opportunity for BiH, since the biggest world market will be on your doorstep. Not only this, but BiH also has a double advantage because it remains a member of CEFTA, and also has the opportunity to export to the EU without any tariffs on all but four products.
Many companies, primarily Croatian ones, but also some British companies, have already positioned themselves here in order to take advantage of these benefits. But there is certainly a lot more to be done to improve the general business conditions in BiH, keeping in mind that your country, according to the World Bank, is at 125th place when it comes to ease of doing business.
There is a wide range of things that we advocate in order to create better business conditions in BiH, such as greater transparency in the public procurement system, an easier system for the registration of companies, and simpler regulations, which are harmonized at the level of the entire country. And of course, most important are serious efforts in the fight against corruption.
The British Embassy in BiH traditionally organizes a reception for members of the British Business Club, which is made up of companies from Great Britain who do business in BiH or companies from BiH who cooperation with your country. According to available information, how much does British investment is there in BiH and in what areas is investors from your country especially interested? Does the Embassy organize similar activities in order to contribute to encouraging direct investment and to introduce the BiH market as fertile ground for new investment?
In BiH there are currently 14 direct British investors, which is a pretty low number. Companies are working in a wide range of areas, such as energy trading, software development, manufacturing beer, paper and the like.
The UK Embassy is in constant contact with current and potential investors, from the UK and from BiH. It is an important part of our work and I would like it to expand, but this depends to a large extent on market conditions.
Corruption is one of the biggest obstacles to the progress of BiH towards the EU and leaves severe consequences for the life of citizens of our country. It is well known that the government of Great Britain lends financial support to BiH in order to develop and implement anti-corruption plans and education programs. According to your opinion, how to exert influence so that BiH enters from a declarative to an operative phase in the struggle against corruption? What activities does the Embassy of Great Britain take so that BiH governments would be presented with British experiences and methods in the fight against this evil in modern society?
The UK Government cooperates with the Governments of FBiH and the RS in order to help them develop their strategies and action plans for the fight against corruption. Also, through the EU, we’re lending support at the state level to the BiH Anti Corruption Agency so that BiH could implement all measures that any country that aspires to EU membership must meet.
It is necessary to strengthen institutions and rules in order to limit opportunities for corruption, especially in the public sector. Political will is also important, but we have not seen much of it so far. Unfortunately, significant progress in the fight against corruption has not been achieved in recent years Agencies at the state level exist, but there is insufficient human capacity to seriously address this issue. The BIH Prosecutor’s Office has expressed determinationto tackle the problem, but we are at the beginning of that process.
The EU has clearly said that the fight against corruption is one of the most important issues for all countries that wish to join, so this will become an increasingly important issue that will notgo away.
It is evident that in certain parts of BiH there is euro scepticism. In your country, there is also a heated debate about its relation to the EU. Can the situation and relationship of Great Britain with the EU be compared with the situation in BiH and the EU, taking into account that life standards, economic and all other opportunities in your country are much better than in BiH? According to your opinion, does BiH have an alternative to European integration?
Well, the situations are not really comparable. The UK has been a member of the EU for a long time, and BiH is still not even a candidate, but rather a country seeking candidate status. In my opinion, EU membership is an existential question for BiH. I cannot see a good alternative for BiH outside the EU. Of course, in all EU countries, the economic crisis has led to a debate in terms of the future. In the UK, there has always been a vigorous debate about our place in the EU.
You should remember that the EU is a dynamic organisation that it is constantly changing and evolving. The British Government has made clearthat it wants to be a part of aEU that is dynamic, reformed and open to future members such as BiH. We are confident that there will be enough support from other countries so that this vision could be achieved.
We believe that the EU, which BiH will join, will have many benefits and will be very attractive to your country. Citizens have to hold politicians accountable when it comes to the European integration of BiH, especially since not much progress has been made since last year, in contrast to neighboring countries. The current protests in BiH are a good sign that citizens are no longer willing to stay quiet and simply watch what happens.
After 19 years of a ‘temporary’ location, the Embassy of Great Britain has finally moved this year to a purpose-built building in Sarajevo. Taking into account that the object was built during the time of restrictions in public spending in the UK, can we conclude that your country has a long-term dedication to BiH? How do you personally experience our country?
We are committed to BIH for the long-term and we realize that we must be patient. This is a very complicated country with a very complicated constitutional order, for which we share responsibility. The fact that we invested money so that the Embassy could finally have a permanent location shows that we are committed to your country for the long-term.
BiH represents a paradox for all of us who come from abroad. Wonderful people and very disappointing political results.
Personally, life here is fantastic. Not only is BiH beautiful, but it is still quite an undiscovered country. We are privileged to be here before the country is discovered by a large number of European tourists. Tourism is certainly one of the development opportunities for BiH and there is a lot of potential for expansion in this area. This requires simple decisions of government. For example, increasing the number of flights into Sarajevoso as to enable airline companies that offer cheap flights to operate would mean many more tourists could come to BiH.