AIM: start

SAT, 05 JAN 2002 23:14:53 GMT

The Budget "Dissolving" Parliament

The Alliance's Prospects for Keeping the Power Threatened?

The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (F B&H) is starting the year 2002 without the adopted budget or even its "surrogate" in the form of a decision on provisional financing. In the worst-case scenario, the consequences might by the dissolution of Parliament and calling of early elections.

AIM Sarajevo, December 27, 2001

The refusal of delegates of the House of Representative of F B&H Parliament to adopt the proposed Government decision on provisional financing in F B&H for the first quarter of the next year, has theoretically called into question the prospects of the Alliance for Change (led by the SDP) to remain in power. The fact that the House of Nations of the F B&H Parliament has adopted this decision, makes no difference because in order for laws and decisions to be valid it is necessary for both Parliament Houses to adopt identical texts.

It the hitherto six post-war years there have been instances when the F B&H budget was not adopted on time, but it did not concern anyone particularly, neither the then authorities nor the opposition. And why should it when the official budget was anyway just a formality, because the money was distributed according to some other criteria in the best manner of absolute monarchies. Needless to say, legal provisions relating to this subject matter were the same ones which apply today. Thus, the laws and the Constitution envisage that in case the next year's budget is not adopted by December 31 of the current year, the first three months of the next year can be "bridged over" by a decision on provisional financing, until that deadline expires or the Parliament adopts the budget or the President of F B&H dissolves Parliament and calls new elections. Since elections, both general and local, were held in B&H practically each year and the existing laws and Constitutions were treated as optional reading, these legal provisions on the budget were practically never applied.

What makes the newly-created situation different from earlier identical budgetary problems of the former authorities, is the fact that one of the fundamental postulates of the ruling Alliance is commitment to consistently observe systemic laws. Now, we have a classical dilemma of a politician: principle or power. If they ignore the law and Constitution they would lose "comparative advantage" over the former Government of national parties (the SDA and the HDZ), which never had such dilemmas, because keeping the power was their absolute imperative.

The source of all problems that the current F B&H Government is having with Parliament lies in the fact that parliamentary majority of the ruling Alliance for Change in Parliament includes two delegates. Since delegates are not too keen on attending Parliament sessions, it frequently happens that the Alliance is unable to secure the necessary majority when Government's draft laws and decisions are being put to vote. Therefore, the Government formally withdrew from procedure the controversial decision on provisional financing after the debate so as to avoid voting in which it would be unable to secure the necessary majority for its proposal.

Key arguments, with which opposition delegates to the House of Representatives of the F B&H Parliament contested the proposed Government's decision on provisional financing, were its "incompleteness" and reasons for not being offered a draft of the actual budget for 2002 instead of this decision. Government representatives did not give sufficiently convincing reply as to why the draft new budget had not been offered on time, so that it was quite understandable that opposition delegates did not miss this opportunity to additionally make the life for the ruling Alliance miserable "scaring" it with a threat of early elections. This Government's delay in preparing the new budget is hard to explain, especially since plans for the replenishment of the federal budget were carried out ahead of time in (something below DM 995 million, or 99.6 percent of the totally planned resources for this year poured into the budget by late November and only DM 977 million, i.e. 98 percent of the planned amount had been spent).

Despite everything, real chances for Parliament to be dissolved and early elections to be called on account of Parliament's failure to adopt the budget are only theoretical, although the opposition would have nothing against this. Government legal experts have found an ad-hoc solution in a legal provision that will enable Minister of Finance to extend the budget year by 15 days. In other words, as far as the budget is concerned, the year 2001 may last until January 15. That means that the Alliance would have time by mid January to discipline its own delegates and make them show without fail at Parliament's session and, naturally, support the proposed Government decision on provisional financing. Under ideal conditions, instead of this decision the Government could offer "the real budget" for adoption, on which the Ministers should declare their stand before the last day of December and which the delegates would have to adopt summarily thereby resolving the problem of 2002 budget.

Consequences of further political fencing between the Government and the opposition with the (non)adoption of the budget would probably be the freezing of DM 100 million that international financial organisations have long promised as budget assistance, as well as a delay in the payment of allowances for pensioners and disabled veterans, which should be partly covered from budget resources.

Besides, regular general elections, the first to be autonomously organised in B&H by national authorities after the war, have already been planned for November 2002, but the preparations have not yet started. From strictly technical point of view, it would be practically impossible to prepare and hold early elections before summer. That means that under the worst-case scenario, the dissolution of Parliament and calling of early elections due to the non-adoption of the budget or the decision on provisional financing by January 15, would result in the total paralysis of the system and the deepest political crisis in F B&H ever. The additional reason why early elections are only a theoretical possibility lies in the fact that B&H is still under unofficial protectorate.

Competences of the High Representative of the international community for B&H also include the right of promulgating laws and decisions that Parliament has failed to adopt. It is, therefore, rather certain that the High Representative might impose the Law on the F B&H Budget for 2002, if there is no other solution. This would prevent the dissolution of Parliament and calling of early elections (which would be impossible to organise), whereas the inevitable political chaos would be thus avoided. At the same time, the current Government of the Alliance for Change would keep its legality and be able to continue its work without violating the valid provisions of the Constitutions and laws.

And while politicians and lawyers (both those in power as well as those in the opposition) are feverishly studying the Constitution and laws looking for "catches" that they could use in a situation like this, mere mortals are not too excited. They are convinced that with or without the adopted budget, nothing much will change in their lives so that they are more preoccupied with a question whether they would be able to afford more food on the new year's eve, than with the possibility of the dissolution of Parliament.

Drazen SIMIC