Olimpijski centar “Jahorina” has entered into five contracts with the marketing agency “Signature” since mid-2021, with a total value of 589,240 KM without VAT. Despite competition from large and well-known media companies, “Signature” appears to be one of the favoured firms to work with by the Olympic Center.
“Signature” is a limited liability company for marketing and promotion based in Banja Luka, established on April 1, 2020. According to data from the specialized portal akta.ba, the agency has no permanently employed workers. The owner and director of the agency, without any restrictions, is Nataša Petrović, a former long-time host of Pink BH television.
According to data from APIF (Agency for Statistics of Republika Srpska), the agency generated slightly over 48,000 KM in revenue in its first year of existence, with a total profit of just over 43,000 KM. In the following year, 2021, the revenue increased to almost 96,000 KM, with a total profit of 43,500 KM. Although APIF data for 2022 is not available, it is evident that the figures are significantly higher since “Signature” has already secured a contract worth 320,000 KM without VAT with the OC Jahorina in the current year, 2023.
The contract was concluded on January 17 of this year and pertains to the needs of public procurement for organizing guest appearances at the Olympic bar. Interestingly, only one bidder, “Signature,” responded to this public invitation, and the estimated total value of the contract matches the offer made by “Signature.”
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In the previous year, 2022, another registered agency, “New Age,” also based in Banja Luka and owned by Milan Grubor, the former chief of staff of the mayor of Banja Luka, Igor Radojicic, was awarded this contract. “New Age” received a payment of 232,000.00 KM for the job, which is nearly 100,000 KM less compared to this year. The contract with “New Age” was concluded on April 14, 2022.
It seems that “New Age” is no longer among the favoured agencies of the Olympic Center “Jahorina” since the emergence of “Signature.” By June 2022, “New Age” had earned over half a million KM, precisely 512,000.00 KM, from only three contracts with the Olympic Center.
On September 26, 2023, “Signature” once again passed as the sole bidder in the public procurement for event organization services for the “Digital Jahorina” event, with a total value of 84,480.00 KM without VAT.
At the end of June 2022, “Signature” also succeeded as the only selected bidder in the public procurement for event organization services for the “Fashion Weekend” Jahorina, with a value of 96,480.00 KM without VAT.
The issue with most of these procurements is the pre-defined specifications, such as the “Fashion Weekend” requiring the organization of a “two-day high-fashion and luxury event,” with detailed specifications on participating designers, performing musicians, program hosts, and more. Additionally, the required equipment to be used in the events, including the size of LED screens and sound systems, is clearly defined.
At the time of writing this text, a public procurement call for event organization services for the “Fashion Weekend Jahorina” is currently underway, with a value of up to 300,000 KM without VAT, which is over 200,000 KM more compared to 2022.
Considering that the agency “Signature” has been awarded contracts for such events in the past, it will be interesting to see, on July 4th, when the bids are opened, who will have the opportunity to organize this event with a substantial budget. It is also noteworthy that such a financially significant project does not impose any specific conditions or require the service execution to be limited to a particular profession. Applicants for the public call are not required to provide the names or professional qualifications of the individuals responsible for service delivery.
It is intriguing that an event like this is valued at 300,000 KM, while, for example, a public procurement for concert organization services (which likely includes artist fees for multiple concerts) was awarded to BERAL MUSIC DOO from Tuzla on April 7th of this year as the sole bidder, with a bid of 171,099.60 KM without VAT, nearly half the amount of the “Fashion Weekend Jahorina.”
In June, specifically on June 28, 2022, “Signature” was awarded a contract by OC Jahorina worth 68,280.00 KM without VAT for event organization services for “Detox Jahorina.” Once again, as the sole bidder.
The first contract between the agency “Signature” and OC Jahorina was relatively symbolic compared to later contracts, amounting to only 20,000 KM without VAT for organizing an exhibition for OC Jahorina, signed at the end of May 2021.
Damjan Ožegović, Senior Researcher/Associate for Legal Affairs at Transparency International Bosnia and Herzegovina – TI BiH, states that “contracting authorities have the option, especially for higher-value tenders, to set qualification criteria to safeguard against non-professional bidders, requiring interested bidders to have previous experience in executing similar contracts.”
“If this criterion was set, it is interesting to verify whether this bidder had such previous experience. On the other hand, it raises the question of why no other bidder had a financial interest in participating in the call if this criterion was not set. It raises the question of how this bidder consistently succeeds and consistently bids at the estimated value, rather than lowering it, given that the purpose of public competition, namely the Law on Public Procurement, is to obtain the highest quality goods or services at the lowest price. The purpose of public competition is to lower prices, not to conclude contracts at the estimated value,” says Ožegović.
Dino Cviko, an investigative journalist from the portals Pratimotendere and Žurnal, states that public procurement in Bosnia and Herzegovina is often used as a “legitimate” means of siphoning off public funds through rigged tenders.
“In this sense, the highest risk of corruption in public procurement lies with the contracting authorities that spend the most money on tenders. In that regard, OC Jahorina annually spends tens of millions of marks through the public procurement system, which is a considerable amount,” Cviko emphasizes.
He adds that according to an analysis of OC Jahorina's procurements, based on a sample of 43 published contract award notices, in 24 cases only one bid was received, and in 11 cases, two bids were received, with only one of them being eligible in most instances.
“These data alone, according to experts, may indicate that tenders are often rigged. There are numerous examples where it has been proven that OC Jahorina violated the Law on Public Procurement, but it goes unpunished for years. The fact that the SIPA allegedly got involved in investigating suspicions of irregular tenders speaks volumes,” Cviko points out.
He highlights that the business dealings of OC Jahorina and the agency “Signature” are certainly suspicious.
“First, it is questionable that OC Jahorina hires another company for event organization and allocates significant sums for it, despite having around 180 employees of its own. Second, if we look at the tender documentation, it is more than evident that it is a case of so-called tender rigging, which is certainly illegal. The fact that Signature is the only bidder in these tenders further supports this claim. Finally, if we compare the estimated value of the tenders with the value of the concluded contracts, it gives the impression that the agency in question was confident that it would not have any competition. I would also add that, according to available data, this agency was established in 2020 and already the following year started winning tenders from OC Jahorina,” Cviko emphasizes for our portal. He also states that it is difficult to say whether the mentioned agency is merely a front, with someone else being the actual owner, but all of the above should be a signal for investigative authorities to look into the operations of both OC Jahorina and the “Signature” agency.
Darko Momić, a long-time investigative journalist for the portal Kapital, agrees with this opinion.
“If only those were the only four or five contracts that OC Jahorina had concluded. This is a practice within the Olympic Center; they disregard both the law and the institutions of Republika Srpska, squander public funds, and attempt to gain control over land that belongs to Republika Srpska. If there were any law in place here, those from OC Jahorina would be in its crosshairs. I remind you that the Law on the Origin of Property came into force on February 23 this year, and I believe that the leaders of OC Jahorina should be the first ones targeted by it, especially the Chairman of the Board and the Honorary Consul of Belarus, Nedeljko Elek,” Momić emphasizes.
Nedeljko Elek, the Chairman of the Supervisory Board of OC Jahorina, highlights that he is not familiar with the operations of OC Jahorina and the “Signature” agency.
When asked how it is possible that the “Signature” agency won all five contracts worth nearly 600,000 KM without competition and at the amount specified in the public invitation, Elek states that no journalist has ever contacted him regarding this matter and that he does not have any specific comment.
“When we, as the Supervisory Board, approve a procurement, it is then handled by the company's management. I honestly hear about this agency for the first time, but if you claim it, I will respect that and investigate it. However, I emphasize that there have been quite a few singers for performances at the Olympic Bar, around thirty to thirty-five singers, and if you consider that, then the amount is not that high. As for why the event organization is more expensive this year compared to last year, perhaps it is due to a smaller number of performers,” Elek states for our portal.
He adds that all invitations are public and are published on the Public Procurement Portal of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Nedeljko Elek states that anyone has the right to participate. He doesn't have an answer as to why only one company applies for the tender. He speculates that the conditions might be challenging, such as the difficulty of bringing equipment and organizing everything at an altitude of 2,000 meters, with access to the Olympic Bar only via cable car. However, he emphasizes that anyone can respond to the public invitation.
Regarding the lack of specific requirements or professional qualifications for the execution of services in contracts worth hundreds of thousands of KM, Elek explains that it is due to practical reasons. If specific requirements are included, according to the Public Procurement Law, anyone has the right to file objections to the tender documentation. By seeking a general picture and requesting the best offer and most favourable price, it becomes more difficult to manipulate the tender. Elek acknowledges that only one company has responded to these specific invitations, and they have been accepted with a single, maximum possible price.
We also mentioned the current public procurement invitation for the organization of the “Fashion Weekend Jahorina” event worth 300,000 KM without VAT, which is three times more expensive than the previous year. Elek states that he will follow the mentioned invitation and invites the media to monitor the bid opening scheduled for July 4th. He expresses his desire for transparency throughout the process.
We were unable to reach Dejan Ljevnaić, the director of the Olympic Center Jahorina. Instead, his secretary answered our call and we conveyed the purpose of our conversation with the director. Although we were promised that he would get back to us, as of the publication of this text, we have not received a response.
We also contacted Nataša Petrović, who responded to a few introductory questions and confirmed that she is both the director and the sole owner of the “Signature” agency from Banja Luka. She mentioned that the agency now has permanent employees, contrary to the information available on the specialized portal Akta.ba.
However, Petrović declined to disclose the number of employees in the company or their professional backgrounds. She requested that we send our inquiry to the official email address and mentioned that she was also a journalist, assuring us that we would not be left without a response. However, we have not yet received a response, and if we do, we will publish it later.