Is low transparency in public institutions more intentional than we think? – example of the City of Banja Luka

The less information our boss has about what we are doing, the more we feel at liberty to do as we please. Or so goes the unwritten rule.

This rule applies especially well to public institutions and we know it very well. Therefore, in the public sector there are strict principles of transparency and legal obligations to publish information on all work activities

In practice these principles are often disregarded, however, while legal obligations are either not applied or applied selectively. The most basic information about a public project can often prove difficult to come by. In the course of conducting its research, GEA has encountered this problem multiple times. At first you suspect that the problem is simply a matter of tardiness and the inertness of the authorized institutions, but that the information will eventually come to light following some effort. Alas, even after submitting official demands and investing significant effort, this is not always the case. Some long-sought-after information remains a mystery simply because the authorized institutions have ignored our requests.

Still, there are cases when we have succeeded in obtaining requested information thanks to great persistence or thanks to the generosity of other sources. Almost as a rule, this information tends to be indicative of some kind of irregular operation within the institution in question. This was the case, for example, with information provided to GEA in the context of its analysis of the wages of delegates and MPs in parliamentary bodies of B&H in 2010 (available in the Publications section), which pointed to a range of significant problems in this area

Does this mean that missing information from public institutions is more intentional than we think? The very fact that certain data cannot be found can indicate a problem in the work of an institution.

Much information simply cannot be obtained. GEA has been trying to obtain information for over a year on the total number of persons receiving a salary from the budget of the City of Banja Luka, for example. At the beginning of 2014 we submitted our first request to the City Administration on the number of persons employed by all City budgets. In response, we were given information on the total number of employees in the City Administration (774 persons in total), and instructed to address each separate City agency individually to calculate the overall total. Since the City Administration possessed all the requested pieces of budget information and was obliged by law to share them with us, GEA submitted an additional request to access the information that remained undisclosed. In the following response from the Office of the Mayor, we were told to “address the stated public institutions.” Still not defeated, we submitted another three requests for the same information (five requests in total). Our third request received a similar answer, while the latter two requests remained unanswered (the entire written correspondence in local language with the City Administration).

We can imagine how unsuccessful any attempt to address each agency separately would be in amassing the overall total. So the question remains on the number of persons on the payroll of budget users of the City.

We put this question again to the representatives of the City Administration during the final public hearing session on the budget of the City for 2014 in Banski dvor. They responded that they did not have exact data with them, but that it was around “700 plus 580.” Unfortunately, this is the only information we have now. We assume that the “700” are employed by the City Administration, while the “580” refers to employees of other agencies. The accuracy of this information is questionable, especially given that it was determined that at the end of 2013 that 744 persons were employed by the City Administration alone.

We have managed to piece together the number of employees in agencies with separate budgets by utilizing their annual work reports for 2013 that were submitted to the Banja Luka City Assembly. Data in the next table shows the number of employees budgeted by several public agencies, including expenses on wages and total expenses.

Data on the number of employees, expenditure on wages and total expenses for several public agency budgets of the City of Banja Luka (from the 2015 budget):

Budget user Number of employees (2013) Wage expenses Total expenses Participation of wages
1 2 3 2/3
PI Center for preschool education 275* 7.050.000 9.070.000 77,7%
PI Social Work Center 77 2.260.000 12.445.000 18,2%
PI Sports Hall Borik 62 1.315.000 1.827.000 72,0%
Center for rural development and advancement 50 1.195.000 3.038.000 39,3%
Tourist organization of Banja Luka 26 668.000 970.000 68,9%
PI Cultural Center Banski dvor 28 636.000 970.000 65,6%


Some data on employees could not be found even in the annual reports of certain public bodies. For example, the report on the work of the City Development Agency for 2013 did not contain employee data, so only estimates could be made. According to information obtained about the wage expenditures of the City Development Agency – which annually amounted to 930 thousand BAM or 71.4% of its total budget – one can assume that this agency employed around 35 persons.

The data above shows that wages make up an extremely high percentage of total expenses for almost of the city’s public agencies. Again, from 2007 to 2015, the increase in wages as a percentage of overall budget almost doubled, increasing from 16.6% to 30.9%.

All of this seems to be a good indication of the sense of responsibility and rationality of city agency staff. GEA has already written on the problem of the enormous financial burden that wage expenditures exert on the City budget, which in 2015 have reached the amount of 36.8 million BAM – thereby becoming the biggest expenditure item in the budget. Meanwhile, expenditures on investments and maintenance have decreased by an entire 45 million BAM when compared to 2007, regardless of existing needs for capital investments (see chart below)

Apparently, we were not mistaken when we concluded that – from the period 2007-2015 – the city budget has become much more administrative, and much less developmental. This trend is not in compliance with the City of Banja Luka 2007-2015 Development Strategy, with its first strategic objective defined as “Sustainable development and higher effectiveness in the management of resources.” Our recommendations to the City Administration in 2013 and 2014 to mend this extremely negative trend and to undertake gradual wage expenses appropriate for the present needs of the City have fallen on deaf ears.

Currently, for every 1000 citizens of Banja Luka, there are 6.6 employees in the local administration. Serbian legislation currently limits the number of permanent employees in local administration to a maximum of 4 employees per 1000 residents (plus 0.4 employees on a temporary basis per 1000 residents). Our current position is clear.

We all agree that city administration should not exist for its own benefit. To change the situation, we concrete measures need to be taken, however. We recommend that the City Administration thoroughly analyze the organizational policies of its agencies and adapt the City budget structure to its developmental needs. Once again, we urge the City Administration to make available and publish data on the number of employees – with all agencies of the City – in a transparent manner.