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CCI analysis ‘Public debates – from form towards the essence’

Public debates, as the best known form of inclusion of public into the adoption of regulations, show to what extent public institutions of the state are open towards citizens and to what extent the organizations of civil society are accepted as partners. Road to the EU understand quick adoption of a large number of domestic regulations and adjustment to the legal heritage of the EU, however, the international principles and standards underline the need that it is not done with decreased transparency.
 Research work is based on an analysis of the existing acts of legislative and executive authorities regulating the implementation of public debates, feedback from these institutions and experience of the NGO sector and other actors as active participants in the public debates.

Public discussions, as a medium of direct civic participation in drafting and preparing regulations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, are not regulated by the law at any level of authority. The Rules of Procedures of legislative institutions prescribe public discussion procedures in different ways and without sufficient precision, which in practice leaves enough room to organizers to mostly satisfy the form, and just partly to satisfy the substance, which is the main objective of public discussions.
The lack of a fully-fledged institutional framework in Bosnia and Herzegovina that would regulate relations and cooperation between the civil society and the government sector poses yet another problem. The “Agreement on cooperation between the Council of Ministers and the non-governmental sector in BiH”  was signed in 2007, and it should have made the cooperation much easier and more responsible, but at the end it failed to develop efficient instruments of involving civil society, as a key partner of the government, in development of public policies. Both “Strategies of developing an enabling NGO environment”, and the “Good governance code” were not adopted, and the Office for cooperation with the NGO sector and the Commission for the non-government sector were not established even after seven years. The situation of such institutional incompleteness is quite similar at other levels of authority where regulations are developed and adopted, and where entity and cantonal policies are developed.
Very detailed Rules on consultations for drafting regulations have elegantly defined the civil engagement at the earliest stage of preparation, when the governments are developing preliminary drafts and proposals. Different from Rules on consultations, norms of the parliaments/assemblies referring to public discussions are less precise and mostly set forth obligations that the organizer has to meet toward the parliament, and not toward the public that had participated in a public discussion. 
Most of the Rules of procedure on conducting public discussions do not set forth the criteria to assess which regulation is of public interest and which regulation is to be sent to the public discussion, and such a decision is made by the parliament for every individual case. The Rules of Procedure also do not set forth the obligation of adhering to standards of timely and clear dissemination of information to the public on the plan of laws that are to be sent to the public discussion. The minimum duration of the public discussions is also not prescribed, and the Rules of Procedure do not set forth the criteria to assess successfulness of public discussions, namely when the public discussions are found not to be successful and when they need to be repeated. The Rules of Procedures of legislative institutions have only partly set forth the procedure for publishing the results of public discussion, since there is an obligation of delivering a report on results of the public discussion only to the parliaments/assemblies, but not to all other participants of the public discussion. 
The Rules of Procedures also do not precisely define the procedure of civic engagement in preparing and drafting the regulations through the Internet or e-participation through the e-administration Portals.
The analysis has shown that the technological progress and the potential that the Internet has as a key channel for communication with the citizens is only partly utilized at the national level, while other levels of authority are not using it in line with the possibilities and benefits it may produce. Most government institutions passively present the information on public discussions, and such information is not adequately presented on the official web pages in accordance with its significance. Only a smaller number of institution has a link “Public discussions”, while other institutions merely publish the information on public discussions under the link “News”, which due to lack of adequate view and constant upload of “fresh” information is not adequate for publication of information on public discussions. Existing links on public discussions mostly contain only invitations and documents that are subject of the public discussion. Rarely one can find e-mail addresses for interactive communication, and the links do not offer timely reports on status of objections/comments presented at the public discussion or an archive on earlier conducted public discussions.
The survey conducted among representatives of government institutions and representatives of civil societies, as the key actors of public discussions, had showed similar opinions according to which all representatives find public discussions to be very useful, but they are not satisfied with the way they are standardized and conducted in practice. All actors of public discussions find that a separate regulation has to define methodologies and procedures on conduct of public discussions, which would be obligatory both for the organizer of the public discussion and also for the participants, being at least at the quality level of procedures used in the process of public consultations.
Civil society organizations criticize the organizers of public discussion for primarily using traditional techniques of informing and engaging the public (letter, fax, the media), while the official web sites, even though most of the institutions have one, are not used in the best possible way, neither as a mean of informing nor as a mean  of educating and engaging the public.
The biggest oversight in the public discussion the civil sector finds to be the failure to inform the participants about the stance the government took on their suggestions presented at a public discussions and what explanation it has when it turns down these suggestions. The civil sector finds that even if the first part of public discussion is meticulously organized, in practice, it is always followed by complete silence on status of the comments.
Due to insufficient attendance at the public discussions all respondents had pointed out that more work has to be done on educating interested participants and on educating officers in charge of conducting public discussions, since it could contribute to having better quality of comments to a regulation and to management of public discussion process, as well as to making the entire mechanism of public discussions much more efficient.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina there is neither practice nor obligation to evaluate public discussions nor are the periodic analyses of their impact with recommendations for improvement made, so that public discussion procedures have not undergone a change at any level of authority for a long period of time. 
Having in mind numerous problems that have been observed in the public discussion process, the analysis has in its recommendations primarily underlined the necessity of completing the process of establishing a functional institutional and legal framework, which is necessary for cooperation of government sector and civil society at all levels of government. But, not being anything less important is the recommendation for regulating mechanisms of public discussions by the law or by other regulation, which would inter alia more precisely set forth the obligations of the organizer toward participants of the public discussion, as well as the possibility of having the public engaged in drafting the regulations through e-participation and e-administration Portals. Organizing education programs for civil servants and the public on importance of public discussions, as well as on management techniques and participatory techniques, would be a step forward to achieving the most important objective, that is, to having  the public more engaged and appreciated during the entire process of public discussion.