Goran Dragovic, a lawyer based in Sarajevo, is all set to process a request from his client, the owner of a limited liability company who wants to increase its founding capital. He logs on to the relevant court registry and clicks on the latest company records—now all digital and consolidated. In a few minutes, the job is done.
Only five years ago, things were not as quick and easy. Court archives were stored as hard copies. Dragovic, then a civil servant with the judicial system, recalls how tedious the process was. First, he had to submit a request for a specific file. Then, an aide would go through the dark cellars and vaults of the court building to find the papers.
“We lost days trying to collect basic public information, such as the name of the owner of the company or whether any third parties were associated with the company. Sometimes, by the time we had access to the information, it would already be outdated and hence of no use,” he said. “Companies are living entities, constantly changing and developing.”
Goran Dragovic, a Sarajevo lawyer. Photo: Adnan Kazaferovic
The Local Investment-Friendly Environment (LIFE) program delivered by IFC since 2016 has helped local governments in Bosnia and Herzegovina cut red tape by digitizing business registries in court archives. This has helped streamline administrative procedures for businesses, increase transparency of administrative bodies at every level and attract new investment on the back of these reforms contributing to private sector growth and competitiveness.
So far, the LIFE project, implemented in partnership with UK Aid, has attracted 57 million Bosnia-Herzegovina Convertible Marks (BAM)—the equivalent of about $34 million—in new investments and contributed to the creation of 412 jobs given the improved business environment. The program has also reached 10.2 million BAM in direct savings through decreased taxes and fees as well as accelerated business services.
Digitizing decades-old hard copies was not a simple process. While professional scanners helped process selected files, assistants physically retrieved documents, scanned, verified, and merged them before returning them safely to the archive facilities. Every step was logged and signed, so that integrity of the actual folder was safeguarded.
Document scanning process. Photo: Adnan Kazaferovic
Legal expert Ilda Begic, who helped with the digitization of the Sarajevo Court archives, remembers how she and four of her colleagues had to review 7.5 million pages. “We had to literally organize millions of those pages for efficient scanning,” said Begic. In addition, the older documents needed careful handling, which slowed down the process. Lots of files were related to terminated companies, so those had to be excluded from the digitization process. Subsequently, as part of the indexing process, the scanned files were verified and integrated into an online registry, enabling a search function.
Now that the digitization is complete, 16 Business Registry Archives are available online for businesses and legal practitioners across the country. But the work doesn’t end here. “Going forward, we hope to enable submission of requests for business registration or other amendments to court registries online,” said
Judge Goran Dujic, President, Municipal Court of Travnik. This will depend on the implementation of changes to the law regarding business registration and introduction of a nationwide e-signature, which just recently happened.
Goran Dujic, a judge. Photo: Adnan Kazaferovic
Meanwhile, with IFC’s LIFE project enabling a more favorable business environment, judges can now process statutory changes more efficiently, check availability of a company’s name, facilitate access to records, ensure the integrity of records, and increase legal security countrywide, making Bosnia and Herzegovina more attractive for both foreign and domestic investors.
For Goran Dragovic, the Sarajevo lawyer, and his colleagues, online business registry archives are a game changer. “Recently, I had a request from my client, an exporting food-processing company, to amend their registration by changing the director and respective address. Before the records were digitized, this would usually take up to 2 weeks. This time the request was completed in three days. Both I and the client were really surprised. Not only was the process quick, but I was able to use the digital document by amending only the fields that required changes, instead of re-writing the entire registration record,” he says, adding that it allows them to serve clients more efficiently.
As to the future, Dragovic is ready to make a strong business case for a fully digitized business registration system across the entire country, which he hopes, is just a click away.
Published in November 2021