Investigative Journalism Shines Light on Bosnian Corruption

Zurnal’s ‘TV Affair’ cover page for documentaries uncovering corruption.
Zurnal’s “TV Affair” cover page for documentaries uncovering corruption
Dishonest prosecutors and politicians face public scrutiny and consequences
“We finally see what is happening in this country.”

July 2017—Over the past few years, a small, independent media outlet has been—bit-by-bit and story-by-story—pulling back the curtain that has hidden corruption in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) since the war in the 1990s.

Investigative reports and TV documentaries produced by in BiH have been pivotal in raising public awareness about corruption in public utility companies, hospitals and procurement processes—and in the behavior of prosecutors themselves. The publicity and resulting pressure ensured these acts were not committed without scrutiny and, in some cases, consequences.

Zurnal broke a story about politicians selling jobs in Elektroprivreda BiH, the biggest public company in BiH. Job applicants at Elektroprivreda were told they had to become a member of SDA, one of the ruling political parties in BiH, and pay 16,000 BAM (Bosnian marks, or $9,500) before they could get the job. The story led to the arrest of three high-ranking SDA officials.

The media outlet was also the first to uncover and demonstrate abuse of office by the head of the Department for Organized Crime in the State Prosecutor’s Office. In one instance, the prosecutor had issued an order to exempt 55,000 BAM ($33,000) from a case involving human trafficking and forced prostitution, which meant the money could not be used as evidence in the case. The money subsequently disappeared from the evidence files. Zurnal obtained and presented documentation showing that the money had disappeared, and the prosecutor later resigned from his position.

Zurnal investigative reporting also revealed that Chief State Prosecutor Goran Salihovic had a key role in stopping prosecutorial investigations. In July 2017, he was removed as chief prosecutor for breaking the law in at least six cases.

USAID supports Zurnal through its Anti-Corruption Civic Organizations’ Unified Network (ACCOUNT) project. As a grantor, USAID has no editorial influence over any news stories, but is instead committed to supporting the profession of investigative journalism.

Citizens have responded positively to learning the truth. “Well done! We finally see what is happening in this country. It took a while, but better now than never,” read one comment on Zurnal’s Facebook page.

Reporting from Zurnal was relevant not only for BiH citizens, but for international donors, too. One story involved illegal activities of the bidding commission (political involvement and pressure) during the public procurement process involving Autoceste FBiH and a tender to construct a highway and bridge from Pocitelj to Zvirovici worth 200 million BAM ($120 million). The revelation prompted the European Investment Bank to start an investigation of its own and advise Autoceste FBiH to cancel the tender. A new bidding procedure for the construction of that part of the highway was announced in May 2017.

When Zurnal unveiled corrupt practices in public procurement in the health sector through articles and a TV documentary, Sebija, a service contract was re-awarded to the best bidder rather than a private and connected clinic.

The outlet’s investigative efforts have been recognized internationally. Two investigative stories, Master from the Underground and Terma, received the European Union Award for Investigative Journalism for 2016.

USAID’s ACCOUNT project, which runs from 2015 to 2019, is designed to strengthen civil society and media collaboration in BiH to hold the government accountable for enacting anti-corruption reforms.


Follow @USAIDBIH, on Facebook