Environmental organizations launched a new Eko-Infotabla portal that aspires to substitute a non-existing governmental environmental information board in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The portal collects and shows all available information on decision-making procedures from various official websites. Yet, many important information is still missing since the country lacks a law obliging the state authorities with mandatory online publishing. Poor access to environmental information leads to serious conflicts between the residents, the government and commercial companies, such as violent clash in the village of Kruščica, experts alert.
“In Bosnia and Herzegovina, very little information on decision making is available to the public on the internet. Therefore people often miss the chance to participate in the process and only learn about it when excavators come to their village,” depicts Zuzana Vachunova from a Czech NGO, Arnika operating in the Balkan country.
Examples of this practice are many, and have been frequently manifested in relation to the recent boom in the construction of small hydro power plants on the Bosnian wild river. In Kruščica near Vitez, villagers defending the river were attacked by the special police unit in August 2017 in order to clear the driveway for a private construction company. The event, during which dozens of quietly protesting women were harmed, drew an attention of international institutions. Similar cases have been reported from Doljanka and Fojnica villages.
“The governmental structure of Bosnia and Herzegovina is vastly complex. There are fourteen ministries of environment, for example. In order to stay updated, people would have to regularly follow dozens of different websites and official notice boards,” Vachunova further explains.
The www.infotabla.eko.ba was developed by Arnika and Centre for Environment (CZZS) based in Banja Luka with support from the Transition Promotion Program of the Czech Republic. It gathers information from governments and ministries on the entity and cantonal levels with focus on the information about proceedings on which the public can participate.
“Thanks to this website, people can find information on date and programs of governmental sessions, issued environmental permits or studies on environmental impact assessment (EIA) or learn about public hearings in their community and many more,” describes CZZS’s vice-president, Viktor Bjelić.
The portal gathers only information already available online and therefore shows just a part of officially published documents. Unfortunately, the public authorities are not obliged to publish all information electronically and it depends solely on a proactivity and willingness for transparency of each office.
The issue of access to information on environment in the digital era is also being discussed on global level. The international Aarhus Convention is now elaborating new general guidelines for the governments. Open data, citizens science and state-run online information tools are however widely used and considered as the best practice. Aarhus Convention also collects case studies on electronic information tools to share relevant information, experiences and good practices.
Arnika and CZZS have also published new analysis of the Access to Environmental Information in the Internet Age with a suggestion of legislation and administrative framework securing a quick and easy access to all the important environmental information to the public of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The experience is based on experience of the Czech Republic, where all public authorities are obliged to publish all information at their websites.
“We are particularly focused on the information concerning decision-making procedures conducted by administrative authorities in which the public may take part and in good examples of such practice. For example the Czech EIA portal run by state agency works as a central information system where people can find all information and documents concerning the public procedures for the assessment of project, plans and program on the environment. The portal includes for example list of project in and outside the Czech republic, texts of the assessments, list of competent authorities, list of people authorized to conduct the assessment and many others,” Vachunova concludes.