After nine years in Goražde, they do not believe in the irrigation system worth two million

After nine years in Goražde, they do not believe in the irrigation system worth two million

Two irrigation systems in two settlements in the city of Goražde, in which about two million KM were invested from a World Bank loan taken by BiH in 2012, are not in function and it is not known when it will be, all because it is unknown who should manage them! The systems pass through Ahmovići and Kodžaga Polje, and the settlements of Hubjeri and Kazagići.

Writes: Rubina ČENGIĆ/Interview.ba

None of them have been put into operation. For years, no one took the key to that system. The FBiH government and the World Bank have been building these systems with local people without educating them –  says Goražde Mayor Ernest Imamović.

He appreciates that Goražde has lost the chance to develop agriculture over the past 25 years – the city has no dairy, orchards have healed and become uncultivatable areas.

He explains that a large number of Goražde farmers draw water for their properties from the Drina with improvised irrigation systems – pumps and hoses, but that this has become complicated since the construction of a large wall as a fortification.

– Those irrigation systems are a multi-million project, I think that these two systems cost almost two million KM and I think that the investor just wanted to spend money. Many omissions have been made in the development of this project and there are many ambiguities, potential users are not educated about the benefits of the system and how to use it, and the population is not ready to use the system, even if some of the mayors or assistants in the local government said we need it. This is normal somewhere else, say in Čapljina, but here it is different, here people see it as an attack and wonder why invest in something if it will not benefit. It is really in our interest for it to work, for it to be put into function, I am ready for the City to pay for electricity, but we must know exactly what happened and we are now forming a commission that will investigate everything around that process. There are many people who need to be talked to and through whose land the system passes, says Imamović and concludes that projects like this irrigation system are interesting because there are many actors and everyone has their own truth.

The construction of these irrigation systems in Goražde and in nine other locations in the FBiH, and several in the RS, was financed by a World Bank loan. On March 15, 2012, the FBiH Government supported the initiative to borrow from the World Bank (IDA – International Development Association) for the implementation of the Irrigation Development Project in the amount of up to $47,059 million, of which the FBiH received $22.94 million. This decision was made by both houses of the BiH Parliament in December 2012 and January 2013. The Office for Project Implementation at the Ministry of Agriculture, Water Management and Forestry in the FBiH Government, headed by Alojz Dunđer, worked on the realization of the project in FBiH.

When the FBiH government decided to go into this business, project preparation and everything else was defined with the World Bank and then a body of about 15 people, formed by Minister Šemsudin Dedić, took over the process and selected sites. They were guided by strategic programming documents, not by public calls. The criteria were determined with the representatives of the World Bank and there were ten of them – economic cost-effectiveness, amount of land, the readiness of the local community for co-financing, resolved property and legal relations, that the area is not a minefield, and too that the system cannot be privatized, explains Dunđer and reminds that the working body has done feasibility studies and sustainability studies and determined that the construction of these irrigation systems is economically viable.

The concept of the investment was that before the decision on investment, the representatives of the local community give us as a representative of the investor, ie the World Bank, a written confirmation that they support the project and take on certain obligations and have been given by representatives of both the executive and the legislature and representatives of farmers or agriculturalists – to accept the project and to take full care of the system after construction. They also had to submit statements from farmers that they would be members of the user association, pay for water when it comes to it and everything else. We have left the aspect of management and maintenance up to the will of local government units so that each in accordance with its specifics decides which management system will be used and who will be in charge of system maintenance, water billing and everything else. In Goražde, due to the very poor organization of the utility company, the local government gave support to farmers to organize and hand over the system for maintenance, because irrigation systems developed elsewhere in the world
are given to associations, and being president of a water users’ association is a matter of honour, they are the most respected people in their communities – Dunđer says.

He explains that during the construction of the system, future users received technical assistance and study trips to see where such systems are used and how, how to manage them, and that they purchased furniture for the space that the associations received for use at the MZ Hubjer headquarters.

The story is that in 2020, after the local elections, he talked to the new mayor of Goražde, Ernest Imamović, to acquaint him with all the projects that the Office has in Goražde, their status…

When I mentioned the irrigation system and gave an estimate of the costs that users could now have, it is 10 to 15 thousand KM a year for both sites, he said that the City can guarantee that. But we have to be honest – when we started with the investment we had a very positive situation, there was intensive greenhouse production in Hubjeri, most of the products went on the market in Sarajevo and we could not wait and believe that with this investment we can raise production to a higher level. At that time, most farmers had a solved irrigation system, and for many, it was in a primitive and temporary way: pumps of adequate power pumped water out of the Drina through installed hoses, -says Dunđer.

He notes that system users should pay for the water consumed to the water company, which must have a concession for water, and if the water company does not have a concession – then farmers would have to pay the concession themselves, each individually.

– The Ministry of Agriculture understands this issue and they were ready to support the request for a concession so that the fee is minimal and done with a one-off payment, but the fee that farmers should now pay refers to energy costs and system maintenance, possible failures and administrative needs – says Dunđer.

The president of the Association of Farmers of the City of Goražde, Munib Kazagić from Hubjer, recalls that it all started a few years ago, four or five.

When they first came, and they came with two or three jeeps and asked how many springs we have, what we water with and how, we told them that we have improvised pumps and fire hoses, that we have springs, and city water when there is no water at the source. I also have a well whose excavation I paid for, I have a hydrophore and I practically didn’t need that irrigation, but there are others who needed it and those people from the Ministry and the World Bank begged me to gather people. Some were against it, they did not allow the crossing over their property, but in the end, we agreed and a reservoir was set up, but it was not in a safe place, there was a slope there and it was slippery and I wouldn’t dare pour a lot of water there, they dug canals in the fields, made manholes, put pipes, installed a pump down by the Drina, installed water meters, but nothing was ever put into operation, no trial work was done, as far as I know, allegedly little water was released, but only for the first rows – says Kazagić.

At the time of the construction of the irrigation system, the president of MZ Vitkovići in the area which is one of the two systems that do not work was Dževad Bekrija.

We had several educational meetings with representatives of the World Bank, people from Spain came to explain to us how it will work in a technical sense, the World Bank paid them. At one of those meetings, there was a story about who will manage the systems when they are finished, and one of the ideas of the city authorities was to hand them over to the municipal utilities, but we, from past experiences knowing how they work, suggested that associations be made to manage the systems. We formed the association VIKO Vitkovići-Kolobarice and the idea was for us to take over the system when it is ready. The project was run from Sarajevo and supervised by contractors, they did all the work, all construction deadlines were broken, I had verbal conflicts with Mr Dunđer from the Ministry and the project is finished and usable – a photoshoot was once organized, there were local politicians, representatives of the Ministry, the pump was turned on, water was taken from the Drina and thrown to a reservoir at 50 meters above sea level from the river from where the water should flow down freely into the system,
but legally speaking – it is not finished because it was not handed over to anyone and is now useless, Bekrija says and emphasizes that the investor, if he did not accept the Association, should have entrusted the system to someone else. I am not sure, but I think that the system never received a use permit – says Bekrija and emphasizes that he does not live in the area that this system would supply and that there is no land there, but he was just the president of MZ, but he personally paid all the costs associations that have become unnecessary.

The president of one of the associations of water users formed to manage the irrigation system is Ibrahim Babic.

I participated in the works so as the president of the association I had to sign situations with the contractors. The contractor was a company from Tuzla and they completed the primary part. They twice moved the pool that was supposed to be built, so they gave up on it because of the terrain. Then they installed a hydrant and gave up because the landowners did not want fire hoses, then manholes were made for each plot and water meters were installed. These changes were decided by people from the World Bank and the administration of the City of Goražde, delegations came to the field about ten times, some Javier, I think, and Thomas and some others. When the primary part was completed, I was not invited to the technical inspection and I don’t know if the technical acceptance was done at all, but the construction of the secondary network for each plot started and allegedly it was finished, but the technical acceptance was not done. As we have about ten users in the association who are seriously involved in greenhouse production and they need water all year round – they need irrigation, in March 2021 I sent a letter to the City Administration, Chief of Communal Affairs, because the City participated in building a secondary network for 30 per cent of the funds – I asked them to release our system by spring because we need water, but I didn’t get an answer. At the beginning of December 2021, I was with the assistant chief for communal affairs and asked what is happening with the system because we need it, so we can make preparations by spring, but that is still standing and no one is reporting anything – says Babić.

He says that the World Bank insisted that associations be formed, that they did that – registered the association, made statutes, opened an account…

They also gave us premises in the local community and nothing has been happening for 5-6 years, and I paid everything at the beginning and now I should submit the final bill, but I can’t bear it because the turnover is zero, and the accountant should be paid in the final bill. I think it was too early to form an association before the technical reception and that’s why it didn’t come to life – in the beginning, people were very interested, but it lasted nine years and people cooled down, they don’t believe in those systems anymore, says Babić and emphasizes that the owner should have been the Ministry of Economy of the Bosanskopodrinjski Kanton, but also the City

Mirsad Hubanić was a local consultant of special trust for investors on this project, but, he says, Dunđer terminated his contract with him before the end of the works.

– I had the task to review everything with the contractors, I helped to form three associations – two in Gorazde and one in Foča-Ustikolina, and while I was working on it – water depots, main lines, pumping stations were arranged … It was for 88 hectares in Cvilino polje, in Kodžage and Ahmovići 24 and in Kazagići about 40 hectares… so a total of about 150 hectares, but I do not know what happened later, I don’t even know why he terminated the contract with me. The Office for Project Implementation had the task of preparing the technical acceptance, but it seems to me that they did not do that and as far as I know – the technical acceptance is not over – says Hubanić.

Dunđer claims today that he does not know what is happening in Goražde, that the use permit was issued to water users’ associations – the Association of Water Users Hubjeri and Kazagići and the Association of Water Users Ahmovići and Kodžaga Polje and that he does not remember how much the system cost – maybe two million KM, or maybe less -In Goražde, use permits have been issued for both locations. With the completion of the process from the formal-legal point of view, our obligations end, because we as the Office sometimes have 50 open contracts and we cannot monitor whether something is in function or not after finalization. They are now responsible for the further function of the irrigation system, but of course, I also feel responsible, we are all responsible in accordance with our competencies and I personally cannot put a finger in my ear and say why do I care. Maybe those who signed the statements changed their minds because they would have to enter the system and pay for water. Maybe that’s one of the reasons. I have a feeling, perhaps subjective, that these people are afraid of responsibility because this
concept of governance is established on a voluntary basis, whether they do not want to pay for water, whether they have other solutions or do not trust each other

– I do not know, what we tried to do is that end users are positioned as factors – says Dunđer.

Ibrahim Delić, the representative of Our Party in the Assembly of the Bosnian-Podrinje Canton, has been insisting on the truth about this project for some time.

In the last convocation, the Government of SBK, together with Minister Dedić, cut the ribbons as if the project was completed, but it was never handed over to anyone for management or maintenance. The city was obliged to form an association of farmers together with the cantonal ministry and the FBiH Government, which will maintain that irrigation system. They should be handed over to management. The Service for Urbanism and Physical Planning told me that the system was handed over to the presidents of local communities, but Dževad Bekrija told Kadžaga Polje and Jahovići that this was not true. We spent close to 3 million KM for Goražde and Foča-Ustikolina in vain, and that will remain as our monument of stupidity, says Delić. He reminds that the Government of the BPK announced in 2018 that the first phase was successfully realized, that no agricultural producer has ever used that irrigation system, and that a system of half an inch cannot be used for irrigation of tens of dunams.

– This is not the first time that the office and the Agency for Waters from the Sava River Basin take a loan and just make a monument of stupidity. When I asked the FBiH Ministry of Agriculture, Dunđer said that the World Bank’s final report stated that the project was very successful and led to a significant increase in production, and the Canton told me that the Admissions Committee had never given a use permit. I think that the money given for that project was thrown away, it is a missed investment. It seems to me that the Ministry of Agriculture, Water Management and Forestry in the FBiH Government often uses this Office to implement projects for controversial projects, they seem to be a link between beneficiaries, contractors and the World Bank and find projects that do not benefit anyone. I doubt that Alojz Dunđer is a link between the World Bank and the Ministry, says Delić and notes that the local government has invested between 30 and 40 thousand KM in the project.

According to available information confirmed by Dunđer, apart from Goražde, the irrigation system was built in Foča-Ustikolina, costing one million KM, the local utility company should maintain a system managed by farmers gathered in the cooperative, but did not receive a
use permit; in Bihać and Sanski Most will be built in the local communities of Kllokot – Papari and Bakšaiš in Bihać and Šehovci and Trnava in Sanski Most, will cost about three million KM, and construction has not yet begun because not all building permits have been
provided; in Široki Brijeg, open irrigation canals were reconstructed during the Austro-Hungarian rule and now irrigate about 2,000 hectares, the system is managed by a municipal utility company, and the Municipal Council decided that the municipality bears all maintenance costs to encourage farmers to use the system; in Odžak, a system was set up that was supposed to be used for irrigation and water drainage, but only drainage works, irrigation doesn’t because there were disputes over land lease, and in Živinice and Žepče.

The Office for Audit of Institutions of FBiH for 2020 noted that the Unit for Implementation of Projects in Forestry and Agriculture PIU – Sarajevo, which is not part of the Ministry, has implemented two projects: Irrigation Development Project (IDP) – planned implementation of
12,544,461 KM, and realized 12,172,981 KM.

According to the announcement from the FBiH Government – on July 29, 2021, the information of the Ministry of Agriculture, Water Management and Forestry on the implementation of the Rural Competitiveness Development Program (RCDP), Water Supply and Sewerage in the Federation of BiH – WATSAN FBiH, Irrigation Development and Drina Flood Protection with an explanation of the reasons for the possible deviation of the realization from the planned investments in projects and delays in their realization for the second quarter of 2021.

For the World Bank, this project was completed in March 2020 and the people who worked on it are on new projects around the world. The report on the implementation of the Irrigation Development Project and the results (https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/104601601997109547/pdf/Bosnia-and-Herzegovina-Irrigation-Development-Project.pdf) states that the analyzes show that the project investments were profitable and had a positive economic effect, that training sessions for
irrigation management were held for local actors in Ljubinje, Bratunac, Goražde and Mostarsko Blato. The authors of the report emphasize that as the areas for irrigation and drainage have not been determined in advance, an economic and financial analysis was performed for selected representative areas to illustrate the benefits of the project, so Goražde in FBiH and Novo Selo in RS were identified as priority areas. Goražde proved to be the most expensive in terms of unit costs per hectare, but this analysis found that there is a high probability that the planned investments will cause a significant developmental impact.

The authors of the report emphasize that only in Goražde, before this investment, 20 hectares were irrigated, and 70% of the area was mostly rain and yields were significantly below potential due to lack of water. Through the project, only in Goražde, six joint pumps were installed, small water tanks and plastic pipes for water supply were buried, switches or hydrants were provided to groups of farmers and the total gross usable area received from irrigation was increased from 20 to 140 hectares of which there are about 375 farmers with an average farm size of 0.4 hectares. The total capital costs for development in Goražde are estimated at 3 million KM (BAM 20,000/ha or 13,330 USD/ha).

The authors of the report note that local cooperatives in Goražde have developed good access to the Sarajevo market, that many farmers grow vegetables in greenhouses and can grow up to 3 crops per year and that due to project investments yields have increased and that the benefits of the project at the farm level are greater than estimated in the project preparation phase. They emphasize that the data were taken from the client for the areas of Goražde and Novo Selo, and that project construction works at other locations were nearing completion or have not yet begun irrigation. The World Bank team wrote in their report that they received comments from the FBiH entities in September 2020, while the Republika Srpska submitted its version of the report in June 2020, but that the FBiH never submitted a final report on the completion of the project.

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