Four men and a piece of red tape -- the tragicomedy of Bosnian construction

Public officials in BiH are notoriously bad at keeping their promises when it comes to building public infrastructure. When something does get done -- no matter how unimpressive -- they dive in for a photo-op, often with hilarious results.

Tijana Cvjeticanin
Tijana Cvjeticanin Istinomjer, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Source: Istinomjer
Four men and a piece of red tape -- the tragicomedy of Bosnian construction - NewsMavens
A highway. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Why this story matters:

politics, economy

In May 2016, long awaited construction on the Lot 2c detour of Sarajevo finally started. Few Bosnians were surprised when it took a year and a half to complete the first section of the road -- only 1,2 km. Several officials, including the Prime Minister of the Federation of BiH, had previously announced that the section would be finished by the end of 2016. Instead, it was opened in late November 2017.

The significant delay and the less-than-impressive length of the road didn’t stop local officials from milking the event for publicity in the standard BiH fashion. The four of them -- a local municipal mayor, the cantonal prime minister, the federal prime minister and the minister of traffic -- squeezed in over a piece of red tape, each with scissors in hand, to mark the completion of the 1200 metres of the new road.

Citizens rarely see these events as a cause for celebration because they usually come after a number of missed deadlines and broken promises. Also, they are often scheduled to take place during election campaigns, and this worn-out marketing strategy is hard to miss.

One such case was a gala-opening of a 10-kilometer-long section of the Corridor Vc highway in Herzegovina. It took more than two years to finish and was opened days before the 2014 general elections. Dozens of high-ranking state and entity officials attended the over-the-top spectacle, which included celebratory speeches, the national anthem, fireworks, and a marching band. 

There have also been examples of ceremonial “openings” of road work that wasn't even finished at the time. The most recent took place in May, at a cross-border bridge dubbed “The Bridge of Brotherly Love”, where the officials from BiH and Republika Srpska were joined by their counterparts from neighboring Serbia.

The two delegations walked towards each other from their ends of the bridge and met in the middle for a photo shoot. The pictures were "decorated" with wires sticking out of the unfinished structure. The bridge remains unfinished and it’s still unknown when people will be able to use it as a border-crossing.

A “tour” of some new pavement laid in front of the BiH Presidency building in Sarajevo, which took place in 2016, is perhaps the most infamous. It was performed by the municipal mayor and two representatives of cantonal and state administrations. While the announcement of the “tour” angered some Sarajevo dwellers enough to show up at the event with protest signs, a more common reaction was an outburst of mockery, especially on social media.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that this latest road-related political PR stunt was met with cynical reactions from our readers. 

One of them noted that “the tape is longer than the road itself”. Another pointed out the opportunity that such events create for the rest of us: “If it takes four of them to cut the tape -- four for each kilometer, sixteen in each term -- then by the time they finish the highway, every citizen of BiH will get their turn”.

Some left sarcastic “praises”: “Kudos to them. If I am correct, that’s a whole 1000 m or 1.000.000 mm.” Others suggested how to make such events more ceremonial in the future: “This is a disgrace. Only four of you cutting that tape? There should have been at least seven or eight more people to bring this to the appropriate level.”

Details from the story:

  • In October 2015, Fadil Novalić, the Prime Minister of the Federation of BiH, announced that the federal government planed to finish the Sarajevo detour by the end of 2016.
  • In November of the same year, the director of the public road company announced that the work on this section of the road would start in March.
  • In the spring of 2016, most of the paperwork was finished and the construction started in May.
  • By November 2016 -- the initial deadline for the construction -- it became clear that the municipality Novi Grad Sarajevo hadn't completed the necessary procedures for land expropriation.
  • The required contracts were eventually signed in July 2017 and the works continued, with a new deadline first set for October 22, then for the first week of November.
  • The section was finally opened on November 22, marked by a bizarre ceremony that involved four officials from three administrative levels cutting a piece of red tape.
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