The research presented in this study was conducted in order to systematically learn about the countrywide practices of local communities in BiH, and to offer broad recommendations for improving local community work in BiH.
In the past two decades, not much attention has been paid to local communities (mjesne zajednice – LCs) as a form of communal self-governance in Bosnia and Herzegovina. However, as of recently, LCs have been receiving increasing attention, especially of international and non-governmental organizations. As legally recognized sub-municipal institutions, they are seen as having the potential to foster citizen engagement. Therefore, some initiatives have pushed for a change of their legal status and have advocated for a minimum of standards for local community operations through local acts, while others have worked on strengthening local community capacities.
The research presented in this study was conducted in order to systematically learn about the countrywide practices of LCs in BiH, and to offer broad recommendations for improving local community work in BiH. Research has shown that LCs perform important and diverse functions: some focus on delivering services and coordinating with other local stakeholders, while others are putting emphasis on mobilizing the community around infrastructure needs.
Despite many examples that point to the positive contribution of LCs in the community, it is important to recognize that most LCs studied have de facto been stripped of competences, capacities and means of funding, and are reduced to representative bodies, with no institutional memory to ensure continuity in operations. Although their experiences may be different, something that seems to connect most of the LCs studied is that they are managed by hierarchical, top-down means, which is in contradiction to the principles of self-government.
Any policies that may seek to strengthen particular LC functions should recognize structural obstacles that LCs face in their work. Therefore, there should be a minimum of standards set in terms of LC operations in order to ensure their legitimacy, accountability and efficiency. These, inter alia, should pertain to organizing transparent and democratic elections that will formally provide for the representation of different groups in the community; to ensuring meaningful and regular citizen involvement in decision-processes within the LC; clearly delineating between LC and local government tasks to ensure greater accountability for such tasks; and, in case of service provision, to finding feasible models of financing LC work and equipping them with the capacity to perform effectively.
This report is a result of the project Local Communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina: Challenges and Prospects for Institutional Development, implemented in 2014, and funded by the Swiss Embassy in Bosnia and Herzegovina.