Master of the sun, the wind and the rivers: Green energy of Edhem Bičakčić

Master of the sun, the wind and the rivers: Green energy of Edhem Bičakčić

Photo: Haber.ba

By using political connections, as well as the authority of one of the key positions within the Islamic community, Edhem Bičakčić has positioned himself as the key factor in the development of BiH energy industry. Unfortunately, the benefits of his actions in this sector were felt exclusively by the investors and private companies, irrevocably destroying all the natural resources of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

By Alena Beširević 

“The energy transition must be fair”, said Edhem Bičakčić, former prime minister of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and former director of the Electric Utility of BiH (EPBiH), last fall. Known as one of the closest associates of the first president of the BiH Presidency, the late Alija Izetbegović, he was an active participant and was convicted in the Sarajevo trial of 1983.

As one of the founders of the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) Bičakčić has been holding managerial positions since the war, despite accusations of abuse of power and warnings from two high representatives of the OHR in BiH about corruption and numerous dubious deals in the energy sector.

At the beginning of 2001, the then High Representative in BiH, Wolfgang Petritsch, using the Bonn powers, dismissed Bičakčić from the position of director of Elektroprivreda BiH. In the explanation, the OHR states that during his tenure as the Prime Minister of the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bičakčić “abused the powers vested in his office to redirect public revenues through a complex and corrupt system of financial diversions, with large sums of money ending in the coffers of the Party of Democratic Action (SDA)”.

In the same decision Petritsch underlines that “corruption results in stealing from one’s own pocket, and thus hurts everyone, and that “the corruption scares foreign investors”.

Foto Muzej Alija Izetbegović

Photo: Alija Izetbegović Museum

Ignoring the warnings, Bičakčić “evaded” the decision of the High Representative in BiH and remained “in a certain position” at the EPBiH, which, as stated in the 2003 decision  of the then High Representative in BiH, Paddy Ashdown, effectively permits him, albeit indirectly, inter alia to manage the portfolio relating to the acquisition of new enterprises which involves approximately 22.6 million convertible marks.

The family company Bičakčić d.o.o. was established three months after the ban, and scope of its operations were design, engineering and consulting in the sector of renewable energy sources. Two years later, our country commits to the application of the EU Renewables Energy Directive and signs the Energy Community Agreement with the EU and seven other countries as to achieve the goal of having 40% of electricity produced from the renewable sources by 2020.

Entity electric utilities then start signing contracts with mostly private companies, and commit to purchasing renewable resources electricity from them at guaranteed prices for a period of up to 15 years, and that the producers will receive financial incentives depending on the amount of electricity produced.

The incentives for private companies are paid by the citizens through the monthly renewable energy sources fee, annexed to the electricity bill.  Thanks to such a system, producers earn much more than electric utilities.

This is where Bičakčić, along with other entrepreneurs close to the authorities, sees a good opportunity.

And when the sanctions are lifted

The newly elected high representative in BiH, Christian Schwarz-Schilling, had in June of 2006 lifted bans on holding public office in EP BiH from 2001 and 2003 against Bičakčić. In the summer of the same year, Robert Oroz, an activist of the Gotuša Eco Association from Fojnica, met Bičakčić at a public debate on the construction of the mini hydropower plant Luka (MHPP) on Željeznica river in Fojnica.

“I met him for the first time in the summer of 2006 in Reumal (a hotel in Fojnica, AN), when we accidentally learned that a public discussion was scheduled for the construction of a small hydropower plant Luka on Željeznica river. The construction of that plan was planned just a few hundred meters from my house, but I found out about the public discussion accidentally and only a day or two before,” says Oroz, revealing the well-established practice of who public discussions are held.

Since some of the first MHPPs were built in Fojnica after the war, the locals were familiar with the devastating consequences of such constructions.

“We had the opportunity to see how hydropower plants are built, how transmission lines are put up, how much forest is cut down, and we witnessed the devastating effects of this kind of construction. They couldn’t sell us the story that it is a watermill that does no harm,” recalls Oroz.

Protesti Gotusa foto Energetika

Protests Gotuša, Photo: Energetika

Despite clear opposition, excavators came to Gotuša in 2009. It did not happen without locals’ reaction, who defended the riverbed with their bodies and stood guard on the river for a year. When the excavators finally stopped coming, the locals thought they were victorious against the profit-driven devastation of the river.

Another set of investors came to Željeznica with the same project in 2012. Instead of Peer Company owned by Munir Selman, a close relative of Bičakčić’s associate Salko Selman, came the company Jess d.o.o. Busovača. Locals stand by the river again.

Ultimately the residents of Fojnica defended Željeznica, but MHPPs, as stated by Boris Filipić, who exhaustively problematized the occurrences of MHPPs in the text on Abrašradio portal, have not yet been removed from the spatial plan. While the people of Fojnica are defending the river, Bičakčić has once again, thanks to Schwarz-Schilling’s decision to lift the ban on holding public office in the EPBiH, reached a managerial position in that company.

In the years to come, the EPBiH, whose Board of Directors is headed by Bičakčić, started to intensify the preparation of projects for the construction of 17 mini hydropower plants on Neretvica. The contract on the concession for the construction of MHPP in the Neretvica river basin, was concluded in February 2009 between the municipality of Konjic and EPBiH.

Can’t touch us

Two indictments were brought against Bičakčić in the same year. In the first case he was accused of abusing the power, while acting in the capacity of the Prime Minister of the FBiH Government, together with the then Minister of Finance and the leader of the Croatian Democratic Union of BiH (HDZ BiH), Dragan Čović.

According to the indictment, Bičakčić and Čović approved allocation of BAM 3,671,398.76 KM from the FBiH budget to solve housing issues for employees in the legislative, executive and judicial bodies of BiH and FBiH. Bičakčić and Čović were acquitted of these charges by the decisions of 2010 and 2011 of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the appellate panel of the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

In the second indictment from the same year, Bičakčić was, together with the then director of Energoinvest, Nedžad Branković, also accused of abuse of power because he illegally enabled Branković to acquire ownership of an apartment worth BAM 217.983.

They had allegedly damaged Energoinvest d. d. Sarajevo for BAM 150.000 and the FBiH budget for BAM 114.000 in this venture. The cantonal court acquitted them in 2010, and in March the Supreme Court of FBiH confirmed the acquittal of Branković and rejected the indictment against Bičakčić.

foto nezavisne n

Photo: Nezavisne novine

While the court proceedings were ongoing, company Bičakčić d.o.o. was intensively working on projects for the construction of MHPP.

Along with another former general director of the EPBiH, Amer Jerlagić, Bičakčić is the main lobbyist for stuffing our small rivers into pipes. Only the owners and project designers benefit (Bičakčić belongs to both categories) from this electricity, which is negligible in relation to the entire production in the FBiH, and the local community only suffers irreparable and enormous damage, explains power engineering engineer and energy analyst Almir Muhamedbegović.

Claims that the construction of MHPPs contributes to the stability of the BiH power system are often heard in the energy-related circles as an argument to justify accumulation of MHPPs on the rivers throughout BiH. Muhamedbegović, however, states that this is “non-intelligent spin that has nothing to do with the truth and that offends logic”.

“How else can you look at the fact that you have people living along these mountain rivers for centuries and using the water for their daily needs, and now someone comes who puts this “fragile” river, full of biodiversity, into huge pipes, in order to bring the water to the plant? In addition to all of that, the financially powerful lobby for the construction of mini hydropower plants convinces the people from whom it steals the river that it is all for their good”, underlines Muhamedbegović.

The law on the use of renewable energy sources, adopted by the Federation Parliament in 2013, enabled profit for the owners of “green” energy sources. At the end of 2014, Bičakčić appeared in Martinbrod, a returnee settlement near Bihać known for the Una waterfalls, which is part of the National Park.

There, the city delegation, consisting of then SDA members, introduced a Russian investor, a certain Oleg Hilminski, who later that year registered the company Bosna Energy, at the same address where Bičakčić’s company is located.

“At the preparatory panel discussion people in Martinbrod were promised 10 or 15 jobs in just one shift, which would mean that between 30 and 50 people would work in that small hydropower plant, which is ridiculous. There is usually only one employee in such facilities or none, because everything is remotely controlled”, says Anes Podić from Eco action whilst recalling the protests in front of the municipal building in Bihać, where there were only around 15 activists.

Contrary to the regulations, the City Council of Bihać approved the issuance of concessions for two mini hydropower plants: Martinbrod and Dobrenica. The decision on the concession was made without an environmental study or a detailed explanation of the economic justification of the project, which was subject of Žurnal’s reporting in 2015.

Foto Dejan Rakita Pixsell

Photo: Dejan Rakita/Pixsell

While the locals and experts speculate about economic profitability, investors smell ten times higher purchase prices of electricity from renewable sources, plus incentives, compared to the number of kilowatts of electricity produced. This was made possible by the law on the use of renewable energy sources adopted a year earlier.

A round table was held for the selected ones in 2015, where Bičakčić thanked for the opportunity to present allegedly earlier drawn project for the construction of the MHPP, which already exists in the spatial plan of the National Park and the Federation.

“It was not drawn by Bičakčić or my expert team, but it was earlier drawn,” said Bičakčić at the time. The director of the “Una” National Park, Amarildo Mulić, subsequently explained to  Aljazeera that the competent services of the city of Bihać requested consent to approval of works on the construction of the MHPP Martinbrod for the purposes of the zoning permit issuance procedure for the company Bosna Energy.

Bičakčić’s expert team: All rivers are the same or maybe they aren’t

“Una” National Park did not issue a permit because, according to Mulić, a number of procedures were omitted. Due to public pressure, the decision to build a MHPP in the “Una” National Park was annulled. This victory for the preservation of the Krajina beauty had revealed the non-transparency of public discussions, non-compliance with construction procedures and the dubious procedure for granting of concession permits.

The experience of the president of the Association of Sports Fishermen in Busovača, Ivica Tomičić, testifies to the practice of withholding information about holding of public discussions. Tomičić points out that the public discussion for the construction of the MHPP Merdani was held in the town of Grablje, but that they, as the Fishermen’s Association, found out about it by accident, even though they are an interest group.

“The public discussion was attended by Fahrudin Mešković, the owner of the Kod Fehre restaurant, who is one of the investors in the MHPP Merdani, and Edhem Bičakčić with his secretary in the role of the engineering designer. After we had said that we did not receive the documentation about the project from the engineering design company Bičakčić, and the secretary assured us that we in fact did, a month earlier, mistaking us for the Vir Merdani association. I then said that we are the Association of Sports Fishermen, not Vir Merdani, and that we have never heard of that association”, stresses Tomičić.

Tomičić points out that Vir Merdani is a fictitious association founded for the purposes of public discussions, as to give approval for the construction of the hydropower plants instead of the fishermen from Busovača.

After studying the documentation of the Merdani hydropower plant construction project, the fishermen from Busovača realized that the project was copied. Fahrudin Mešković, Fahrudin Čago and Koluh Zakir got the concession for the construction of the MHPP Merdani on Lašva river. It was later sold to Ibrahim Kasumovć, brother of Fuad Kasumović, mayor of Zenica

“After we had read the documentation in detail, which is rarely done by anyone, we prepared 18-pages of objections because Bičakčić’s engineering design company copied the entire project from Željeznica river and placed on Lašva river. Lašva is often mentioned in the documents, but whoever was copying it missed to replace Željeznica with Lašva in some places, which clearly indicates that it was just copied. We also noticed data that do not correspond to the river we live on”, said Tomičić.

In addition to the non-transparency of public discussions, Dragan Bulajić, an expert in renewable energy sources, sees the method of issuing and trading permits and concessions as a threat to a healthy relationship with the environment.

“A special objection is to the method of obtaining permits for the construction of mini hydropower plants and solar power plants. The only way to get these permits is nepotism “I do it for you, you do it for me”, without any transparency. Individuals get rich because they manage to sell concessions at a stage of the project. For the sake of comparison, 1 MW is sold on the European market at a price of 100.000 to 150.000 Euro”, said expert in renewable energy sources, Dragan Bulajić.

While the residents on the banks of the captured rivers were thinking about economic profitability, Bičakčić was guided by the logic of incentives and the safe purchase of expensive electricity from green sources when in 2015, like many entrepreneurs close to the leadership of the ruling parties, he recognized the warmth of the Stolac sun, where he built several solar power plants (SPP).

Stay here: The sun of foreign sky won`t finance you

According to data from the data base of the Center for Investigative Journalism Bičakčić earned BAM 85,850.50 from solar energy incentives alone in the period from 2015 to 2020. In quite exhaustive research articles several journalist reported on how the idea of a just transition was destroyed using the examples of the Stolac solar boom, trading in quotas and illegalities in the licensing process.

In the same year, Bičakčić became the head of the board of the National Committee of the International Council for Large Electrical Systems, CIGRE, which gathers experts in the field of energy.

foto cigre

Photo: CIGRE

EPBiH had in 2017 launched activities within the framework of projects prepared 10 years earlier for the construction of 17 MHPP on the Neretvica river, for which the municipality of Konjic has already issued concessions. In July of 2017 EPBiH announced a tender for the procurement and installation of mechanical equipment for the construction of the first two MHPPs on Neretvica, but after the intervention of the Procurement Review Board, the EPBiH annulled the tender in 2018.

The tender for the construction of the first two MHPPs on Neretvica – Srijanski Bridge and Gorovnik delta – was repeated in May of 2019. At the end of 2019, the EP BiH awarded the work worth BAM 5,264,782.97 to a consortium headed by Edhem Bičakčić.

Although he initially denied the connection, Bičakčić appeared as a consultant to investors on Neretvica and the owner of a company responsible for the procurement of mechanical equipment for the construction of the MHPP.

“He played that authority card since he was the president of the Islamic community for a time. He wanted to have as many external allies as possible, that is why he came to Neretvica and thought that he would be welcomed there with a red carpet. However, something completely different happened”, says Oroz, who stood with many citizens in defense of Neretvica after the victory in Fojnica.

Locals had then, together with associations dealing with environmental protection, began a three-year long struggle against the ecocide project. EPBiH officially abandoned the construction of hydropower plants on Neretvica in May of 2023. Many attribute this victory to the actions of numerous environmental associations, the strong resistance of the local population, and especially to the legal adviser of Aarhus Center in BiH, Nina Kreševljaković, who had proved a series of irregularities while navigating through hell of a legal system.

“It all started with filing of action on two environmental permits for MHPPs Srijanski Bridge and Gorovnik delta, which were issued in such a way that the interested public was not effectively involved in the process of their issuance. Therefore, the Cantonal Court in Sarajevo had, after a three-year long court process, ruled in favor of the public and annulled the illegal permits. In the meantime, we were able to prove that valid construction permits were also not obtained in a legal way because, apart from the fact that the public was not involved in the process, these permits were issued without an energy permit, which is a condition for issuance of construction permits”, said Kreševljaković.

foto abrasmedia

Photo: AbrašMEDIA

In addition to all the aforementioned irregularities, it is worth mentioning that the concession contract defined deadlines for the construction of small hydropower plants that were not met, while the annex to the concession contract was not signed, and all legal conditions for terminating it were met.

“Finally, Elektroprivreda BiH took the last and most important step and terminated the contract with the municipality of Konjic. This was done after several years of our legal battle, but also after strong resistance from the local population, which was determined not to allow machines to pass through,” explained Kreševljaković.

According to Kreševljaković, responsibility for obtaining irregular permits lies with the Federation Ministry of Environment and Tourism, the municipality of Konjic and Elektroprivreda BiH, which did not submit a request to annex the concession contract.

“As for Bičakčić company, if my information are correct, they certainly had an interest in the realization of this project, given that they had a direct material benefit, but it is difficult to claim and prove that there is a direct responsibility of this company for things that were done irregularly. The job of the prosecutor’s office should be to investigate all the circumstances under which the irregularities occurred, which is why we have already filed criminal complaints against the responsible persons in the municipality of Konjic”, concludes Kreševljaković.

Citizens’ victory adds Neretvica to the list of failed projects that illustrate Bičakčić’s view of fairness in the context of the energy transition. Parallel with the defeat of projects in which he was supposed to earn more than five million convertible marks, Bičakčić is elected president of the Assembly of the Islamic Community of Bosnia and Herzegovina at the end of May 2023.

The wind from Vlašić doesn’t blow the same for everyone

The former Prime Minister of FBiH has been lately mentioned in stories about the plan to build wind farms on Vlašić, for which the Government of Central Bosnia Canton has already issued four concessions.

Ten concession contracts were awarded to a company without a single employee. TLG d.o.o. from Travnik belonged to Bičakčić, his wartime comrade, the former Minister of Security of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Selmo Cikotić, who was recently sentenced to three years in prison for abuse of power, and the company EIB Internationale a.d. Banja Luka, which is owned by Drago Talijan.

Foto Armin Durgut Pixsell

Photo: Armin Durgut/Pixsell

Žurnal recently wrote in detail about his role in extracting millions of funds from Elektroprivreda RS. TLG d.o.o. transferred the concession in this project to the company Vjetroelektrane Čardakov, whose owners are Bičakčić, Cikotić and EIB, and the company Interenergo, energski inženjiring d.o.o. Ljubljana.

“Concession that the owners of Vjetroelektrane Čardakov d.o.o. received for the construction of the wind park on Vlašić was signed by the Prime Minister Tahir Lendo, an influential SDA politician and the uncrowned long-term ruler of Central Bosnia Canton. It is hard to believe that Cikotić and Bičakčić are not on good terms with the person in question. It is an award of concession without any call for submission of bids, but interested parties submit bids to the competent cantonal body on “their own initiative”, stresses Muhamedbegović.

The public only learned that the construction concession was transferred from the previous concessionaire to Vjetroelektrane Čardakov d.o.o., registered in Novi Travnik, where the long-term mayor was yet another Lendo, the current vice-president of the FBiH. One of the co-owners of the company are the former state security minister, Cikotić, and the current president of CIGRE BiH, who is also the president of the Assembly of Islamic Community of BiH. All in all, it is an interest circle of powerful people who held and still hold important public positions, explains Muhamedbegović.

It is interesting that Elektroprivreda BiH also applied for the same locations for which the company TLG d.o.o. received concessions, stating that it is allegedly already conducting scientific research. The plan to build a wind park on Vlašić is also an old project dating back to 2015. Even then, the disgruntled voices of locals and ecologists pointing to the project’s harm to the ecosystem could be heard in the media.

“According to the available data, it is a 50MW wind farm. It is a project whose value, in my estimation, is greater than 130 million convertible marks. I assume that these two, together with the other partners who are the founders of Vjetroelektrane Čaradkov d.o.o., will either look for powerful financial partners or they will simply sell the project at a certain stage of development, after having obtained all the necessary permits”, claims Muhamedbegović.

foto federalna ba

Photo: Federalna.ba

Something similar was done, Muhamedbegović continues, in the case of the Ivovik wind power plant, where financially powerful Chinese investors appeared, and had bought the project from “domestic” investors.

“Now the Chinese owners will sell electricity from Ivovik wind power plant on the open market. I see it as a safe way to colonize the energy resources of the state of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Namely, none of the electricity produced in this way will be offered in the universal service for the supply of households, which would reduce the price for the citizens, but it will rather be sold on the wholesale market inside or outside BiH and bring huge profits to its owners, with the excuse of “decarbonization”’”, concludes Muhamedbegović.

Bičakčić actually used this excuse and a network of acquaintances to profit off of the projects that had or continue to have a disastrous impact on the environment. All these investments raise questions about the transparency and ethics of Bičakčić’s business operations in the energy sector and his unbreakable, and according to the two former high representatives in BiH, toxic relationship with Elektroprivreda BiH, which had played a significant role in the branching of corruption networks.

Seemingly clean energy from renewable sources, which is now being promoted by the president of the Assembly of the Islamic Community in Bosnia and Herzegovina, has lost its green patina that was covered by soot and is now blacker than coal.

Despite our insistence, Edhem Bičakčić refused to answer Tačno.net’s inquiries.

Infografika 13EN