Illegal recruitment in the Palace of Justice

Janja Jovanović, President of the Sarajevo Municipal Court, employed and assigned employees to positions in this institution, although they did not meet the requirements prescribed by law.

President of the Sarajevo Municipal Court says that non-compliance with the employment regulations is not an illicit action, but an irregularity that can be rectified (Photo: CIN)

The Sarajevo Municipal Court – the largest court in the region – as President Janja Jovanović presented it to the reporters.  Although called the Palace of Justice, it has been the place in which the regulations on employment, promotion, and retirement of employees have been violated for years.

Since 2015, President Jovanović has hired or assigned at least nine workers to jobs for which they neither had the appropriate professional qualifications nor did they pass the professional exam, while some were kept although they should have been retired.

The President of the Municipal Court was penalized for these omissions by a  High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council (HJPC) Disciplinary Commission. Although she claims not to be an expert on labor relations, Jovanović says that these were not illicit actions. 

“I deal more with these other affairs, other than labor relations”,  said Jovanović.

“Fitted” employees

The Municipal Court in Sarajevo has over 530 employees. Expert associates, court reporters, archivists, couriers, drivers, porters, who make up the majority of employees have high school qualifications. Each of these positions comes with a list of requirements, as stipulated by the Rulebook on Internal Organization and Systematization of Jobs.

Employees of the Sarajevo Municipal Court for years have been holding the positions for which they were not eligible (Photo: CIN)

During 2018 and 2019, the Sarajevo Canton Administrative Inspectorate received several anonymous reports due to the improper recruitment of 23 people. Inspectors checked these allegations and found that they were founded in seven cases.  Also, CIN reporters found another two employees who did not have the required qualifications for the job in court. 

Inspectors asked President Jovanović to rectify the irregularities. One of the employees without the necessary qualifications is Biljana Krkeljaš. When judge Jovanović was appointed Court President in 2013, she found Krkeljaš in the position of a senior clerk in the registry office. She told the reporters that Krkeljaš was not the only one and that at that time several employees had no professional exam passed nor did they have appropriate qualifications for the positions they held.

Krkeljaš was hired to the Court with a degree from the secondary technical school, although under the Rulebook, the requirement for the position was a degree from a social science school. She has not passed the professional exam nor did she submit proof of computer literacy skills.  She worked in this position until January 2018, when Jovanović transferred her to the position of a senior case management clerk, for which she did not qualify either.

Janja Jovanović started her career in the Municipality Centar, where she worked as an Assistant Secretary of the Secretariat for Housing, Property and Legal Affairs and Cadastre. After that, she moved to the Attorney General Office of the City of Sarajevo, where she worked as an Assistant Attorney General. From July 1997, she worked in an international organization – the Commission for Property Claims of Displaced Persons and Refugees (CRPC). She was appointed a judge of the Sarajevo Municipal Court in 2003 and a president of the Enforcement Division in 2008. She has been the President of the Sarajevo Municipal Court since 2013.

Krkeljaš says that in the meantime she passed the professional exam, and hoped to be hired based on her university diploma: “Well, because I have a BA in law and I have been hired based on these qualifications.”

After the inspection, Jovanović assigned her to the position of a court reporter, which according to the regulations was the only position that Krkeljaš was eligible for.

“But this employee doesn’t know how to type. You know, a court reporter has to be very skillful.  She must be able to type perfectly”, said Jovanović.

Surprised by the president’s statement, Krkeljaš told CIN reporters that she did various jobs in court and that she gained a lot of experience: “Really, I mean, there are some many people who have fewer educational qualifications than me, but you’ve come to me.”

President Jovanović also breached the regulations for her acquaintances. Olja Avdagić, a court reporter, was hired with a medical high school degree and without having passed the professional exam, while the court secretary, Vesna Rašeta, remained working even though she should have been retired.

Before coming to the court, the three worked together in the Commission for Displaced Persons and Refugees (CRPC).

Jovanović says that the employees are selected by a Commission she appoints. The Commission tests the candidates and establishes whether they meet all the prescribed conditions. Based on the information received from the Commission, the President of the Court selects the best-ranking candidate.

According to the regulations, employees are obliged to pass the professional exam within six months from the day of the employment, otherwise, their employment will be terminated. The professional exam checks the knowledge in the areas necessary for performing the duties of employees – the basics of the constitutional system, the organization of administrative bodies, administrative procedure, labor relations in civil service bodies, office and archival operations.

Avdagić has been at the Court since 2015, where she worked for four years without appropriate qualifications and a passed professional exam.

“She was a good typist, but did not have a passed professional exam, but was given a deadline to rectify that irregularity, which is in line with the law,” Jovanović explained.

Avdagić graduated from the Law School in Vitez, the same year she got a job in court. She applied for the position of a civil servant in 2018 and today she works as an expert associate for the enforcement of criminal sanctions.

However, to win this vacancy, Avdagić was ought to have five years of relevant work experience and a passed professional exam or, in case of having a university degree, a certificate of completed one-year internship in the relevant field. As she did not pass the professional exam, she chose the second option.

She presented a certificate of the one-year internship issued by the Association “Obala Art Center” based on two six-month volunteer contracts, stating that she worked there during 2015 and 2016 on legal affairs relating to the organization of the 21st and 22nd Sarajevo Film Festival.

The FBiH Ministry of Justice claims that work experience cannot be claimed based on these contracts and that the certificate of volunteering cannot be used in a public competition for the position of a civil servant. The Civil Service Agency of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina (CSA FBiH), which conducted the recruitment procedure, does not have the authority to check the legal basis of the issued certificates. Enisa Hodžić, assistant director of the CSA, said that the certificate would not have been accepted if indicated that it was issued based on the Volunteering Act.

The inspection visited  “the Obala Art Center” only to learn that they have no record of Avdagić ever doing legal work for which she was issued a certificate. “Some could work for two hours in the evening, some for an hour, some for eight hours, and some do not show up at all,” explained the Association rep to the inspectors.

According to the data from the contract with the “Obala art center”, Avdagić volunteered for SFF at the time when she already worked in the Municipal Court. Avdagić claimed to have performed her duties in the Association properly, for which she received a certificate.

President Jovanović extended the contract of the court secretary, Vesna Rašeta, by five months despite her reaching the full retirement age. Rašeta worked until the inspection found this irregularity.

President Jovanović has known Vesna Rašeta and Olja Avdagić before they joined the Municipal Court. Avdagić was not eligible, while Rašeta, who should have retired, had her employment extended (Photo: Sarajevo Municipal Court)

Jovanović says that she tried to announce a vacancy for a new secretary, but she could not get the consent of the Sarajevo Canton Government in time. For that reason, she says, she agreed with Rašeta that she stay until she completes her current obligations.

Thanks to this extension of Rašeta’s employment contract, she received a higher severance, because only two months before her dismissal, the Sarajevo Canton Government passed amendments to the law increasing the base pay for this position. 

Rašeta did not answer the calls from reporters.

Jovanović claims that her knowing of Avdagić and Rašeta from before did not affect their status in court: “Vesna Rašeta is an excellent lawyer, you know. I greatly miss her work in this court.”

Earlier this year, the HJPC Disciplinary Commission penalized the president of the court for non-compliance with labor regulations in the Avdagić, Krkeljaš, and Rašeta cases.

Members of the Disciplinary Commission comprised of judges and prosecutors found the following violations: “Rendering decisions that manifestly breach the law or persistently and unjustifiably violate the rules of procedure” and “disregard or negligence in the performance of official duties”.

“I do not feel responsible for anything. Not at all!”, said Jovanović.

She was issued a letter of reprimand, which is not disclosed to the public.  This penalty is imposed only for minor offenses with no harmful consequence or with minor consequences caused to the injured party, the public, or the judiciary, and where it is not likely that the judge will repeat the same disciplinary offense.

“Letter of reprimand that is not disclosed to the public, have you ever heard of anything like that? That means, it has been pronounced only for the sake of being pronounced”, said Jovanović

Court reporters without educational qualifications

The Sarajevo Canton Administrative Inspectorate found that Vanja Bjelica and Azra Ramić were hired to the Court, although none of them have passed a professional exam.  They also found that Edin Kreho and Marina Miličević-Rojs, who have secondary school qualifications, worked for a year as expert associates for the enforcement of criminal sanctions. These jobs require a university degree.

Upon their recruitment, President Jovanović was obliged under the law to impose a six-month deadline to both Bjelica and Ramić to pass the professional exam, which she has not done.  Besides, the inspection found that Ramić also did not have the required number of years of service.

Bjelica claims that the inspection finding is wrong. She says that decision on her appointment included a provision regarding the obligation to pass a professional exam, which she satisfied within a set legal deadline.  Ramić claims that she subsequently submitted a certificate on her work experience, as well as the Decision of the Ministry of Justice releasing her from the obligation to take the professional exam because she had passed the general knowledge exam. Today, Ramić and Bjelica work as senior case management clerks.

When in early December 2015 police arrested two clerks for enforcement of criminal sanctions for accepting bribes, President Jovanović amended the internal rules of the Municipal Court. Following these amendments, these tasks could only be performed by civil servants. At the same time, two positions of a clerk for the enforcement of criminal sanctions in the Sarajevo Municipal Court remained vacant. Jovanović assigned Edin Kreho and Marina Miličević-Rojs to these positions.

Court Officials Sentenced for Bribe Taking

Civil servants with a university degree are employed in institutions through the Civil Service Agency, while the employees with secondary school qualifications are employed through a commission formed in the institution to which they apply.

Kreho and Miličević-Rojs, who until then worked as case management clerks, were assigned more responsibility and received higher salaries, but following the inspection findings, they returned to their old obligations. They say they didn’t even know there had been a change in the rules. 

“I did it in addition to my regular job. As an aid, and I have never been a civil servant,” Kreho told reporters.

After the inspection, a public vacancy was announced and Olja Avdagić was recruited for this position.

CIN reporters found that Nevena Krljaš and Vanja Đukić, although not having the required educational qualifications, were employed during the mandate of President Jovanović. In 2016 and 2017, they were hired as court reporters with diplomas from secondary technical schools. At that time, only people with a social science secondary school diploma were eligible for this position.

However, the internal rules of the Court were once again amended in 2018 to open these positions also to the candidates with technical science secondary school qualifications. Thus, Krljaš and Đukić subsequently satisfied the requirements, so the inspectors found no irregularities.

Đukić told CIN reporters that her secondary school qualification – tourist technician – falls under the social science studies, which is why she feels that she was eligible for the job from day one.  Yet, the Sarajevo Canton Ministry of Education claims the opposite.

Jovanović does not think she did anything wrong: “I do not like failures. I think I am doing my job honestly, fairly, and successfully. And that’s what my performance results say, not me.”