The reconstructed heating system in the Gacko Municipal Building failed in the first season. Despite payment of 350,000 BAM from the budget, winter days revealed that it was insufficient to heat the offices. Opposition councillors claim it was overpriced and ask where the missing 200,000 BAM is. The mayor says it’s all a political game and insists that the job was done legally with the approval of the ministry and fiscal council.
Is 350,000 Too Much?
The story gained attention during the recent session of the Gacko Municipal Assembly when Jelica Bjeković, an SDS councillor, expressed doubt that the reconstruction was overpriced.
“What caught our attention is the large amount – 350,000 BAM, regardless of whether it involves funds from the Government or not, not just the municipal budget. We asked council questions that were entirely reasonable, without any offence. In the meantime, there were no sessions, but even when we mentioned it, we got the impression that they were avoiding giving answers. In October, we sent an urgency, and in the materials received in late December, we got answers to questions about what was done. Based on that, we created a specification and sent it to a company specializing in such work. We expected the cost to be around 100,000 BAM. One boiler is about 10,000 BAM. When everything is added up, we found that the figure is 45,000 BAM. Let it increase by 100 per cent with margin and supervision, let it be 150,000 BAM. It leaves room to suspect where the other 200,000 BAM is. Maybe they missed writing everything, but we have no answer; the mayor even avoided responding, leaving the session, although he knew we would discuss it,” says the councillor, adding that this is a topic that received the most calls from fellow citizens.
“It was disrespectful that he left, leaving room for suspicion. Whoever hides something runs away. Or he doesn’t think he should answer us. In any case, it’s not appropriate for a mayor. We’ll leave room for him to explain how it was. Then we’ll see what we’ll do as the municipal committee,” concludes Jelica Bjeković.
Milinković: It’s all politics
Mayor Ognjen Milinković emphasizes that everything was done in accordance with the Public Procurement Law, and they had the green light from the relevant ministry and the
Fiscal Council. He views the criticisms as “an attempt by the SDS to score cheap political points.”
“As for the heating, a completely public procurement process was conducted. Every detail is available on the public procurement website. They received all the information. Now, politically, we can say it could have been more expensive or cheaper. Everything that was done, was done in accordance with the public procurement law, the contractor was selected, and everything was done publicly and legally. Everything can be seen, and anyone can file a complaint. Both when the tender was announced and when the contractor was selected. There were no complaints or objections,” the mayor stated categorically, emphasizing that they insisted that interested parties come and inspect the conditions before taking over the tender documentation and then participate in the tender.
“Market research was conducted, and those were the prices. Even the Ministry of Finance examined everything; regarding that, everything was public. When it comes to the procedure of redirecting funds, we obtained the consent of the Ministry of Finance and the Fiscal Council of RS.”
Although the assembly did not express an opinion on this matter, the mayor believes that this body showed support by adopting the Budget Execution Report. He emphasizes that everything was done in accordance with the Law on the Fiscal System of RS. He points out that they are satisfied with the work done, especially the transparency of the entire process.
Key in Hand The company “Grijanjeinvest” Pale won the contract for the reconstruction of the heating system in the municipality and the Cultural and Sports Center (KSC). The total value, including VAT, is just under 350 thousand BAM, of which the municipality of Gacko contributed 38.7 thousand BAM, and the RS Government provided 310 thousand BAM. The total area where the works were carried out is 1124 m2, including approximately 500 m2 in the cinema hall. The project was executed on a turnkey basis, and a 2-year warranty was provided for the installed heating system.
Without a budget revision, everything falls apart
On the other hand, the opposition claims that this is not entirely accurate.
“The key issue is that there was no budget revision. The adoption of the budget execution report does not change things. Such actions are subject to the criminal responsibility of the mayor,” believes Radoica Antunović, an ombudsman from the PDP in the Municipal Assembly of Gacko.
He agrees with Councilwoman Bjeković that 350 thousand BAM for the reconstruction of the heating system in the municipality is an excessively high price, especially considering the use of the cheapest materials.
Additional funds for additional works One year after the signing of the contract, on September 8, 2023, it was announced that additional works on the construction of the new city market, worth 91 thousand BAM, were negotiated with the company Astra plan through negotiations without publishing a notice.
Although it was not included in the list of pre-election promises, one of the key points for Mayor Milinković in the election campaign was the construction of a building for young married couples.
In June 2021, the assembly initiated the construction of this facility after the mayor’s office conducted a survey showing that 69 married couples were interested in such a project. At that time, they did not know the location or criteria, but it was mentioned that the incentive would be around 600 BAM per square meter or about 40-50% of the market price, and the project would be financially supported by the Government of Republika Srpska. It was expected to be completed in 2022.
In November 2021, the Government of Republika Srpska approved half a million BAM for the construction of the building, and Mayor Ognjen Milinković stated that they “recognized it as one of the key and humane projects in our small municipality, which the government supported.” Ten months later, the local government in Gacko redirected the money from the key project to two others – the reconstruction of the boiler room (310 thousand BAM) and the construction of the city market.
Despite criticisms that the heating system reconstruction was not done in the winter season and that the market was not a priority as the existing one had only a few stalls, the local government proceeded with the implementation.
Market in the Making
However, even with the market, things are not progressing smoothly.
“We will build a representative market with all accompanying facilities, a parking lot for truck sales, indoor sales, a section adapted for the sale of milk and dairy products. We have all the prerequisites defined by the project, and we hope to receive significant funds. We will soon have information about it,” said Mayor Milinković in September 2021, announcing the start of construction for the 2022 construction season.
However, the contract with the contractor, the company “Astra plan” from Brčko, was only signed in August of that year. At that time, it was stated that this investment of significance for the municipality amounts to 540 thousand BAM, fully financed from the municipal budget, and the deadline for the completion of the works is 60 days.
Since then, a whole year has passed, and only the protruding pillars are still visible from the market.
It is expected that with the start of the new construction season, the construction work will be intensified, and the new market will be conveniently opened as part of the election campaign.
As for young married couples, instead of a new building, funds will be allocated in the municipal budget for co-financing the purchase of an apartment. The maximum subsidy amount is 9 thousand BAM for an apartment in the city, while for the purchase or construction of a house outside urban areas, an amount of 15 thousand BAM is foreseen.