These days mark the promising 100 days since the newly appointed mayor of the Municipality of Stari Grad Sarajevo, Irfan Čengić, promised the adoption of the Development Strategy of the Municipality.
Although the strategy has not been adopted, this Banja Luka graduate, along with his party colleague, a Sokolac graduate, and the current Minister of Transportation in the Sarajevo Canton, Adnan Šteta, is signing off on “capital projects.”
One such project was agreed upon on November 28, less than a month after the “new energy arrived in Stari Grad,” and it involves the reconstruction of the road to Barice. As emphasized by Čengić himself, “for the Barice project, there already exists an urban-planning and construction permit prepared by the Municipality.”
WEALTH FOR THE CAMPAIGN
“Minister Šteta has shown that he is a man of his word, and we have started what was agreed upon in the earlier meeting. In addition to this, important projects are ahead of us, such as the reconstruction of the road along the entire length of the tram track, the road to Barice, Bistrik Road, and the regional road from the Obhodža Bridge to Konzum in Mošćanica,” Čengić boasted on January 5, after signing an agreement with the Director of the Directorate for Roads of the Sarajevo Canton, Selmir Kovač.
Below, you will see why this local road to Barice is a “capital project” for the young mayor who is only 28 years old, or why it was so crucial in his 9th election campaign in his political career.
Recall that the early elections in the Municipality of Stari Grad, after the arrest of the then long-time mayor Ibrahim Hadžibajrić, were held on October 29 last year. Political analysts were already emphasizing that money was unnecessarily spent on these farcical elections, racing against the pale and unfulfilled SDA candidate Dženan Selimbegović because even some opposition factions close to the SDA supported Čengić, such as the president of the DF, Željko Komšić.
Sources known to the editorial staff indicate that Čengić invested money in more than 120 leased advertising spaces in Stari Grad and in the Municipality of Centar. These include billboards, city lights, banners, public transport stations, and LED displays, each costing between 150 KM and 1,500 KM. In addition to this, Čengić used registered mail, which is paid for each letter individually, and which was sent to a large number of addresses in Stari Grad.
Furthermore, there was noticeable unprecedented sponsorship on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, etc., for which, according to expert estimates, tens of thousands of marks were invested. He also rented advertising space and placed ads on several portals, where he participated in paid interviews. Our source indicates that call centers and agencies were paid, which for months prior had been abusing databases and personal information of citizens, thereby violating election campaign rules and disturbing residents of Stari Grad.
It’s worth noting that at the beginning of September, the office of the SDP Stari Grad in Sarači was rented and branded with photos long before the official campaign began. Large quantities of flyers, letters, posters, and other promotional materials were printed, and activists and promoters were paid for fieldwork, all confirmed by sources within the party.
All of this cost several tens of thousands of KM, even though, according to the law and as confirmed by the Central Election Commission (CIK) of BiH, Čengić could have spent a maximum of 10,850.50 KM in this campaign. In a response to Valter, probably not believed by many, CIK BiH stated:
“Irfan Čengić participated in the early elections for the mayor of the Municipality of Stari Grad Sarajevo as a member of the political party SDP BiH, so according to that, the election campaign was financed by the political party, not the candidate for mayor. According to the provisions of Article 15.10 of the Election Law of BiH, a political party could spend 10,858.50 KM on the election campaign.”
Response to Valter from the Central Election Commission of Bosnia and Herzegovina
In their continued response, CIK added that they will “find out the actual amount spent on the campaign by their candidate by March 31, by which time SDP BiH is obliged to submit its annual financial report for 2023.”
“If the political party exceeds the limit on election campaign expenses, the Central Election Commission will act in accordance with its powers prescribed by the Election Law of BiH.”
ARE THE HOTELS IN BARICE A DONE DEAL?
Even that, despite being a violation of the law, wouldn’t be so contentious if the newly elected mayor of Stari Grad, who likes to boast about changing regulations and resolutions and being the initiator of this or that, were an honest and responsible politician, and if there were no justified suspicion of his corrupt behaviour.
The close relationship between Čengić and Ajdin Brković, the owner of MonteizeAD, a company for telephone sales of teas, has been confirmed by the top leadership of the SDP. This wouldn’t be controversial or prohibited if it didn’t have a direct influence on the campaign. All our sources indicate that Brković sponsored Čengić with a substantial amount of money – unofficially, it’s around 250,000 KM in cash.
In return, our sources highlight that Brković was promised a large piece of land in Barice for the construction of a hotel complex, for which permits and necessary documentation in the Municipality of Stari Grad were supposed to be completed “after the victory.” They even took pictures together on social media.
Brković is also the owner of call centres through which calls were made to the residents of Stari Grad during the campaign, conducting surveys that were actually lobbying for Čengić. To cover everything properly, Čengić promised the citizens a “new road to Barice,” right where a new hotel complex is supposed to be built, destroying one of the favourite recreational spots in Sarajevo. Therefore, this road is one of Čengić’s crucial projects.
Regarding all of this, in accordance with the Freedom of Access to Information Law, we directed questions to Irfan Čengić on November 24 last year. Čengić ignored our inquiries “within the legal deadline,” and only on December 15, after urgency, he sent brief and mostly untrue answers.
When asked how much money he invested in the campaign for the extraordinary elections for the mayor of the Municipality of Stari Grad Sarajevo, Čengić consciously avoided the answer:
“I do not invest money as an individual, but the SDP as a political entity. In accordance with the deadlines of the CIK, SDP Stari Grad consolidates the invoices from the campaign and will submit them to the CIK as part of the report, and the CIK will act in accordance with the election law.”
Next, we asked how he obtained promotional spaces.
“Promotional outdoor space is obtained by paying invoices to companies engaged in these activities.”
“What were your activists doing, or what role did they play in the campaign?” was our next question.
“You answered your question in your own question; these are FOM activists, and their role is prescribed by the Statute and the decision on internal organization.”
Then we asked, “Who were your sponsors?” to which Čengić tried to focus on the form and consciously avoid the essence of the answer:
“In political campaigns, there are no sponsors, but donors. Campaign donors will be disclosed in accordance with CIK instructions and deadlines prescribed by law; these are councillors, representatives, the mayor, and ministers of the SDP, funds from the SDP Stari Grad branch, as well as personal funds deposited into the SDP account.”
We didn’t ask this question randomly. Even though he can’t disclose the expenditure in his campaign to the public, the mayor knows very well that donations are one thing, and sponsorship is entirely different, requiring a quid pro quo and a contract.
“Do you intend to compensate for their sponsorship – if yes, in what way?”
“No, because that would be a criminal offence, and those individuals would never ask for compensation.”
Finally, we asked him, “What was Ajdin Brković’s role in your campaign,” making a technical error by misspelling the surname as “Brkanić.”
“I do not know a person named Ajdin Brkanić,” replied Čengić.
We immediately reacted within a minute, apologizing for the technical mistake in two letters and confirming that it was, of course, about Ajdin Brković. We requested an answer once again.
However, Čengić did not respond further, perhaps believing that this exceptionally uncomfortable story for him ends with that.
CONNECTIONS WITH BRKOVIĆ
We addressed the same questions on the same topic to Brković almost two months ago, and he has not responded to them to this day.
The fact that Čengić consciously deceives the public and speaks untruths is confirmed by this photograph where Irfan Čengić and Ajdin Brković are seated at the same table (Čengić is on the right). Brković himself posted this photo on social media before the official campaign.
About ten days later, at the end of December, a response arrived from the SDP BiH stating that our questions had been forwarded to the SDP Stari Grad branch, and “as informed, they have sent us a response from this municipal organization.” This was not accurate, and it was yet another untruth from Čengić and his team.
It was only the next day that we received responses from the president of the SDP Stari Grad branch, Muamer Mekić, almost identical to those of Mayor Čengić, except regarding Brković.
“In the campaign, the role of the mentioned Ajdin Brković and his company is nonexistent because they were not engaged by our committee or candidate,” Mekić replied to our portal.
Response from the SDP Stari Grad branch
It’s worth noting that Čengić’s interest in the reconstruction of the road to Barice started from the cantonal assembly benches. On February 8 of the previous year, showing a certain degree of illiteracy, he asked the Directorate for Roads of the Sarajevo Canton two declarative sentences as parliamentary questions.
“What is the stage of the reconstruction of the road to Barice in the Municipality of Stari Grad Sarajevo? What is the expected dynamics of activities in the implementation of that project?” were the two “questions” from Čengić.
Čengić’s parliamentary questions
The response from the Directorate for Roads at Šteta’s Ministry of Transportation in the Sarajevo Canton arrived on September 11, just before the official start of the electoral campaign for the premature elections for the mayor of Stari Grad. In the response, it is stated that the planned reconstruction failed due to events in the Municipality of Stari Grad, and the Directorate directed the funds to other projects. However, as further mentioned in the response:
“The Directorate expresses readiness for re-inclusion in the next program and securing funds when the conditions for project implementation by the Municipality are met,” said Director Selmir Kovač.
Response to Čengić’s parliamentary question
Two and a half months later, after he had already become the mayor, he again boasted on Facebook that he, along with his colleague from the same party faction, Minister Šteta, had negotiated multimillion-dollar projects, including Barice, for which, as he wrote, there is already a construction permit prepared by the Municipality.
It is undeniable that Barice is an attractive destination for Sarajevans, close to the city and connected by a minibus line of public city transportation. Barice offers a beautiful view of Sarajevo, with numerous walking and cycling paths and many sunny days.
With the emergence of hotel complexes, which are a private interest, and whose construction Čengić himself announced at the end of December during the opening of the Tourist Information Center of the Sarajevo Canton, Sarajevans would lose their favourite excursion spot, not to mention the destruction of nature.