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Matt Field

British Diplomat

Part of UK in Bosnia and Herzegovina

17th January 2019

A New Start

Happy New Year, everyone. This is an exciting time of fresh beginnings, renewed energy and commitment to the challenges in front of us. I cannot say it was a full break from work, because sometimes a claim is so ridiculous that you have to respond – protests in Banja Luka were organised by the UK Embassy and we were hiding Davor Dragicevic in our office?! More seriously, I had the opportunity to join people from across Bosnia and Herzegovina in saying goodbye to Lord ‘Paddy’ Ashdown, a tireless and determined friend of the country.

With his example in mind, I joined Embassy colleagues in planning our activities for the year ahead. We had a lot to discuss.  How could we better help achieve a BiH that was stable and prosperous, meeting its citizens’ needs and aspirations? I was again impressed with the determination of this group of people, most of them citizens of this country themselves, to make a positive difference.

We had the additional opportunity, and responsibility, of the doubling of assistance to the Western Balkans/region announced by Prime Minister May last summer. Coincidentally, as we were planning in Sarajevo, young Chevening scholars from BiH were joining their peers from around the world.  They were discussing future partnerships for after Brexit – an upcoming moment that will clearly affect the UK, but will not alter our focus here in the Western Balkans.

With my team, we spent a lot of time discussing  the Rule of Law, which sits right at the heart of so much that people in BiH would like to see improve. This is a far-reaching concept, but at the heart of it is the idea that no-one can sit above the law. With corruption endemic, we were searching for partners that we could join in a serious fight tackle this blight on life, from bought diplomas to ‘gifts’ needed for entitled medical treatment. We asked what it would take to see a high level conviction for corruption in the period ahead.

We looked for opportunities to build on the UK’s reputation for professionalism in security, including cooperating with BiH to fight organised crime that affects people on the street in both our countries. As in so many areas, the quality of people from BiH in the Armed Forces is extremely high, so we discussed how better to support defence reform, so they could contribute to the country’s stability and global peacekeeping missions.

With so many talented and qualified people leaving the country for better working opportunities, we tried to find new ways of driving socio-economic reforms that would attract investment, while creating more and better jobs. How could we support improvements to public services, and administrations that served the citizens rather than political parties? How could the education system work more closely with the business sector to meet their needs and growth areas, particularly in IT skills and critical thinking?

We also talked about the UK as a partner in promoting democratic rights and values, particularly in transparency, independent journalism, and access to justice. We agreed that civil society, and citizens’ organisations, had a fundamental role to play. Our Foreign Secretary had already made clear to us that media freedom would be one of his top global priorities this year.  We talked about how we could help some of the most vulnerable in BiH society – including those who survived sexual violence during the war or who lost family members and have never learnt their fate.

Even with a doubled assistance programme, the UK cannot work in all of these areas, and of course there are many other large countries and organisations with their own programmes in place. So we are now refining our efforts to focus on where we can make the most difference to BiH citizens, and where we have serious and credible partners to work with. But here are just a few of the projects we already know will continue in the period ahead:

  • Effective system to prevent Conflict of Interest, implemented for all elected and appointed public officials.
  • Depoliticisation of government-controlled companies, improving their management and efficiency, and making them customer-focused.
  • Transparency in public spending – helping citizens to see where their money is spent and on what.
  • Expanded Chevening scholarship programme – fully-funded masters programmes to study any subject, in any UK university, and to bring those new skills and experiences back to BiH.
  • Reduced red tape for businesses, through ‘one stop shop’ and other online processes.
  • Supporting local communities affected by migration routes.
  • Defence college programmes – places for outstanding BiH officers in the UK’s top training courses, with a focus on international missions and leadership.
  • Effective search for Missing Persons – built on commitments to national and regional cooperation from the Western Balkans Summit in London.
  • Supporting schools throughout BiH to introduce problem solving, critical thinking and coding skills through the British Council’s “21st Century Schools” project.

I will keep sharing our new activities as they are confirmed. I’d really welcome your thoughts on how else we can best help this country to succeed.