Misappropriation of natural resources in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Natural Resources and Environment)

Country/area: Bosnia and Herzegovina

Organisation: The stories were originally published on the portal of the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIN) www.cin.ba, they have also been published in other media: about 50 web portals in BiH and the region, print daily newspapers Dnevni list, BNTV and N1 TV.

Organisation size: Small

Publication date: 17 Mar 2020

Credit: Team of the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIN)

Project description:

In 2020, CIN investigated the misuse of natural resources in BiH.  Our reporters discovered illegal construction in the protected areas, illegal gravel mining from BiH rivers, which led to floods causing damages estimated in millions, illegal logging in the Olympic mountains, detrimental effects of dozens of small HPPs erected on BiH rivers, harmful contracts incentivizing power generation from RES causing millions in damages, which citizens paid through their electricity bills, mostly not being aware of it.  The data collected during the research were pooled in the two online data. Everything was published from March 17 to December 29, 2020.

Impact reached:

Following the release of our story on exploitation and illegal gravel mining from BiH rivers, the private companies involved in these activities did not have their contracts extended.  Based on facts presented in the stories, the competent inspectors announced pressing charges and launching the investigations of the Ministry of the Interior.

Following our story about illegal construction and illegal land clearing in the BiH Olympic mountain Bjelašnica approved by the local municipal government for the purpose of constructing a sports center, the Sarajevo Canton Government stopped co-financing od the project worth EUR 1.3 million. The competent inspection authority fined and pressed charges against the company which not only conducted clear-cutting but also illegally sold the timber logs.

According to collected data, in the period 2015-2020, owners of the private power plants have been paid at least EUR 100 million in incentives for power generation from renewable energy sources. The huge sums of money monthly paid by citizens through their electricity bills have turned power generation from RES into a lucrative business with little investment and a lot of harm to the environment. The investigation revealed that citizens are not at all aware of the fact that they have been paying these incentives through their electricity bills. Following the release of the story, citizens launched an initiative on social networks calling a boycott against the payment of these fees.

Techniques/technologies used:

Invoking the Free Access to Information Act, our journalists collected thousands of information about the topics they investigated.  The information was analyzed and used in developing the stories. They visited nearly one hundred locations relevant for the topics they covered and did dozens of interviews with relevant parties.  For five video-stories that were released in support of the same number of investigative stories, we taped materials at the relevant locations using cameras and drones, and well as photos that are presented in 4 photo galleries. Also, each story is supported with info-graphics providing a snapshot view of relevant information, while one for one story we produced a video i.e. graphic animation.  All the material we collected was pooled in two publicly available databases used for the development of investigative stories.

The stories, video-stories, and animations were developed using available databases as well as on-line real estate registers in BiH and countries in the region.

The database titled “Incentives for power generators from RES” provides data on incentives paid to generators of electricity from renewable energy sources. It is a searchable database that enables querying data using filters to find specific information on the period and amount of incentives. In the same way, one can find information about the name and type of plant that received incentives, their owners, and the amount of energy generated.

The second database titled “Protected areas in BiH” provides data on all 39 protected areas.  Along with the descriptions, there are also specifics on each area, activities that are allowed and forbidden, documents and photographs of protected areas as well as the description of their current state and illegal and harmful activities being performed in them. The database includes an interactive map of BiH with the marked locations of all protected areas.

What was the hardest part of this project?

CIN reporters are investigating stories by looking at all aspects of the topic, trying not to leave any important question unanswered in the published text. The investigations take several months and the large body of data collected is published not only in the stories but also in other formats such as databases, video stories, infographics, photo galleries, and short videos. When investigating and analyzing the collected data, journalists use all available technology tools.

All published data underwent rigorous fact-checking, and each claim and piece of information undergo multiple verifications. In the 16 years of its existence, CIN published nearly 1,000 stories covering very sensitive topics, but not a single defamation, false or misleading information claim against CIN resulted in a final court verdict against it.  CIN journalists persistently fight for free access to information because institutions often deny access to the requested public information. CIN journalists are unique in that they sue institutions and exercise the right to access to information through the courts. So far, CIN won 12 cases against institutions that failed to comply with the Freedom of access to information Act, the last one being that in 2020. Also, journalists spend a lot of time in the field and are often the target of verbal and physical threats and various pressures from the parties involved in the story. 

Hard, dedicated, and professional work does not go unnoticed. Based on CIN’s stories, four investigations were launched in 2020 alone. Four persons whom we proved to be involved in corruption were remanded in custody, three indictments were filed and 6 persons were replaced, suspended, and sanctioned. Convictions were handed down in two cases.

What can others learn from this project?

In the course of the investigation, CIN reporters collect a huge amount of data and not all the data ends up in the final investigative stories. This is why CIN publishes them in various forms. CIN has published a total of 20 databases, of which two as part of this project. They contain thousands of verified information and authentic documents that institutions try to hide from the public. These databases contribute to the transparent work of government and public bodies and preventing corruption.

Also, they are being used by fellow journalists from other newsrooms as a relevant source for writing their stories, news, and TV stories. Data from the databases developed as part of this project have already been used by citizens, environmental associations, and fellow journalists in their activities, which is a great example of how an important topic for society remains active long after its initial publication.

Similarly, CIN tells stories through photo galleries that contain dozens of photos that tell their story and testify and draw public attention to targeted issues. In the same way, our video stories make sure that the topics we cover reach a wider audience. Our video stories are being aired by TV companies or adapted to their information and other shows.

With currently available on-line tools, fellow journalists can also tell their stories through infographics, a format particularly useful in presenting the complex topic.

We know that our colleagues in BiH and the region are tied up in defamation lawsuits, which dulls their edge because they spend time, money, and energy on these cases. CIN regularly promotes fact-checking as something that not only protects journalists and media against this problem but also gives them credibility.

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