21 Mar 11

Serbs Threaten to Scupper Bosnia’s First State Prison

As construction of country’s first top-level jail proceeds at a snail’s pace and costs climb ever upwards, Bosnia’s Serb-run entity, Republika Srpska, is mulling withdrawing from the project.

By Nenad Trbic in Banja Luka and Denis Dzidic in Sarajevo
Plans for Bosnia's Future State Prison
Plans for Bosnia's future state prison | Photo by: Bosnia's State Justice Ministry

Seven years since authorities in Bosnia agreed to build the first state prison, only the boundary wall has gone up and the estimated cost price has more than doubled.

The price tag for the jail in East Ilidza, near Sarajevo, was originally set at about 30 million convertible marks, worth 15 million euros. But owing partly to changes to the plan, designed to meet modern safety standards, it has now risen to more than 38 million euros.

The ministries of justice in both of Bosnia’s autonomous entities, the Republika Srpska, and the Federation for Bosnia and Herzegovina, express growing concern about the price of the project.

But the Republika Srpska’s Justice Ministry says it is no longer committed to the state prison project at all.

The State Ministry of Justice, on the other hand, says the price increase is mainly down to increased square footage, incorporated into the design in order to meet European safety standards, while prices of building materials have gone up.

They say they’re still confident that the new jail will be ready to receive the first prisoners in spring 2013.

An agreed necessity:

The idea to ​​build Bosnia’s first state level prison dates back to late 2004, when the two entities and the State Ministry of Justice agreed a common strategy on dealing with prison issues for Bosnia, solving the problem of prison overcrowding for one thing.

According to a report of the European Commission published in 2008, Bosnia’s prisons were fully booked and a state-level jailhouse was urgently needed. Other international and local bodies agreed.

In 2008, Meddzida Kreso, President of Bosnia’s state court, the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, said that without it, the future ability of her institution to work was questionable.

“The current prison system is bad, and at the same time there are no places left in the jails to send prisoners to serve their sentences,” Kreso said.

Official data suggest about 1,000 persons currently await places to serve their sentences in the larger of Bosnia’s two entities, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Prison facilities are filled over 100 per cent in the Federation, while jails are 80 per cent full in the Republika Srpska.

According to the first project adopted by Bosnia’s Council of Ministers, construction of the state prison was to be completed by 2008.

But with only the boundary wall built so far, the Republika Srpska increasingly questions whether the project has not run into the sands.

Dzerard Selman, the entity’s justice minister, says the Bosnian Serb region agreed only to the initial price tag of 15 million euros.

“At the latest conference of cantonal, entity and state justice ministries, we were told the project now costs about 77 million marks [38 million euros],” he said. “We don’t accept that - there has clearly been a change in the financing and conditions”.

Feliks Vidovic, justice minister for the Federation, also believes the project has become too expensive.

“When I say it’s too expensive, I’m comparing it with some other new objects that we are working on in the Federation,” Vidovic said.

At the state justice ministry, officials say the changes in terms of overall size and security were more or less dictated by experts from the European Union.


The original building was intended to have a surface area of 13,000 square metres while the current plan is to have 22,000 square metres, Jugoslav Jovicic, director of the prison’s Project Implementation Unit said. “There’s no difference in the price per square metre - the area of ​​the building has just increased,” he added.
Bosnia’s authorities will not have to cost the whole project, Jovicic pointed out. They will have to find about 13 million marks [6.5 million euros] while the rest should come from donors and loans.

Serbs may withdraw:

But as dissatisfaction in the Republika Srpska grows over the spiraling price, minister Selman says the entity may withdraw its consent for the prison to be built in East Ilidza, which is inside Republika Srpska.

“This could become the world’s most expensive prison,” Selman said, “and because of this, the Republika Srpska no longer absolutely supports construction of a central prison at the state level.”

He said his ministry may start to withdraw from the project, first by urging officials in East Ilidza to demand compensation for the land, which they donated for free, on the grounds that “circumstances have changed”.

Officials in the municipality of East Ilidza, for their part, decline to discuss any possible withdrawal of consent for construction of the prison, saying the various ministries of justice need to agree about the whole case.

For its part, the state justice ministry says it does not expect the entities at this point to scupper the project.

“My colleagues have been to the municipality of East Ilidza and have had no problems there, and I’ve had no problems with representatives of the Republika Srpska, either,” Jovicic noted.

The state ministry continues to insist that work will finish next year, in 2013, and its officials look forward to opening a state-of-the-art prison “with top security, fully in line with the European prison rules.

“We will build a prison that will ensure the highest level of security and the highest possible level of human rights that are possible in such an institution,” State justice minister Barisa Colak told BIRN-Justice Report.

“Of course, it’s difficult to collect such a lot of money,” he conceded.

The state justice ministry foresees placing all the convicts and detainees of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the new prison. Jovicic says the state prison will also take most of the country’s most difficult prisoners.

The state justice ministry says that over this year, it will open a competition to select companies to undertake the work needed to finally complete the state prison.

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