AIM: start

SUN, 11 NOV 2001 23:32:04 GMT

War Reparations - A Shock for the RS Budget

AIM Banja Luka, November 6, 2001

The Republic of Srpska (RS) is under the obligation to pay its citizens about KM 25 million in war reparations. Namely, that is the amount of reparations that have been validly awarded until today in legal proceedings and are waiting to be paid under valid enforceable court rulings. Prime Minister Mladen Ivanic recently disclosed this information assessing that citizens' claims on account of war damages suffered during the war could reach KM 400 million. According to Ivanic, this would cause the disintegration of the system.

Citizens' claims mostly relate to non-proprietary damages for suffered pain, caused by the death of close relations. Children, wife and parents of the deceased have the right to indemnification. According to court practice until now the amount of compensation ranges between KM 5 and 10 thousand.

Lawyer Goran Bubic explains that the amount of reparations is determined under the Law on Contractual Obligations, while the intensity and duration of the pain is also taken into consideration. The closeness of the victim to the injured party and their emotional link are also essential. The court establishes these facts with the assistance of court appointed forensic experts. Sometimes the circumstances under which the death has occurred have influence on the intensity of pain and the determination of the compensation level, especially if it occurred under torture or in case of brutal killing.

However, almost one third of claims submitted so far relate to material damages suffered because of goods given to military units during the war. These include a part of goods confiscated during various actions organised against illegal trade, in cases when no legal proceedings were instituted nor the unlawfully acquired gain was legally confiscated. Lawyer Nenad Kovacevic from Teslic claims that action "Border 1994", carried out by the RS Ministry of the Interior (MUP) and military police along the demarcation line between the communes of Teslic and Zenica, resulted in many such cases of unlawfully confiscated property. "Military Police intercepted trucks owned by private trading firms and took goods which it believed were being re-sold to the "enemy" along the military demarcation line. People were issued receipts on the seized goods and the army used them for their own needs. Court proceedings were mostly concluded with acquitting sentences and these people now lawfully demand indemnification", says Kovacevic.

The value of these claims under valid court rulings has reached the sum that the RS budget was unable to cover already in 2000. Namely, the RS Government did not plan special funds for these purposes in its budget, so that court rulings were carried out by the payment of the awarded amounts from the accounts of the Defence Ministry and Military Accounting Centre. It thus happened that the Defence Ministry's gyro-account was blocked already in the beginning of last year, whereas resources for its financing continued to be drawn from the account of the RS Government - Ministry of Finance. The RS National Assembly tried to resolve this situation at its session of June 22 by adopting the conclusion No.01-336/00 which stated that the forced execution of court awards on the compensation of war material and non-material damages "are seriously endangering the work of the RS Defence Ministry and MUP", because of which courts and Prosecutor's offices should suspend the enforcement of these decisions.

The Basic Court in Banja Luka did not respond to Parliament's appeal and demanded of the then Payment Transaction Service to continue with forced execution of valid court rulings. Consequently, the gyro-account of the Ministry of Defence was again blocked until the end of last year and by February 28 its deficit amounted to KM 5,343,669.04.

The RS Government tried to find a way out of this complicated situation in a special Law on War Reparations, which would stay the payment of awarded reparations until the year 2003. The draft law appeared before the Parliament in early September, but was taken off the Agenda at the Constitutional-Legal Commission under the explanation that it would introduce the inequality of citizens before the law. President of the Constitutional-Legal Commission Miroslav Mikes (who is accidentally a lawyer) sees the entire case with war reparations as an example of the lack of morals and political wisdom of the authorities. "The Government tried to suspend the payment of war reparations under valid court decisions not because it wanted to save the budget, but in order to shift this problem onto the Government that will succeed it. I consider this an immoral and irresponsible gesture", says Mikes. He claims that about one hundred of his rulings are still waiting in banks for forced payment and that since last May no legally awarded reparations were paid because of the influence the Finance Minister exerted on banks.

Prime Minister Ivanic is still convinced that the problem could be solved with the enactment of a special law on reparations. "We should start this job according to a plan. According to our estimates we could start the payment of reparation only in 2003", says Ivanic using Germany (which is to this very day paying war reparations) as an argument in favour of his proposal. The Defence Minister Slobodan Bilic, also a lawyer, thinks that the law is the only way out of the existing blockade of the budget system. He says that his Ministry has submitted two versions of the Law on War Reparations to the Justice Ministry, but has no idea how far things have gone.

Mikes is not disputing that war reparations were a financial shock for the RS budget and that the enactment of a special law might be a good way out of this situation. However, he thinks that all validly awarded reparations should be paid, whereas the remaining claims should be decided in administrative proceedings and met according to the planned schedule over the next fifteen years.

Although this is a serious social and state problem, the RS Government is not in a hurry to find a solution. We could not get information from the Ministry of Justice when the bill might be again submitted to Parliament. And while the executive authorities are busy with procedural hair-splitting, new rulings are piling up, while interest rates are accumulating.

Branko Peric