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On amendments to the Law on Prevention of Corruption

The draft amendments to the Law on the Prevention of Corruption[1], presented for public discussion, respond to the GRECO's recommendations for Serbia[2] to a limited extent. On the other hand, it does not contain measures to reduce the scope of the "official campaign" and to increase the capacity of control and more effective punishment for violations of the Law, which is also necessary. Transparency Serbia has therefore made numerous proposals for improvement.[3]

The main change in the draft amendment, which is up for public discussion until August 22, relates to the definition of the term "public official". Adopting this change is very important because it will practically put out of force the unfounded and harmful authentic interpretation of this Law adopted by the National Assembly in February 2021, resulting in several thousand officials losing that status (e.g. school principals). The new definition expressly states that officials will be cabinet heads and advisors, but only those who perform these tasks within the Government of Serbia and ministries. It is only a formal response to GRECO's recommendation, which referred exclusively to the executive branch's top, as only that was the subject of GRECO assessment. However, there is no essential reason why advisers and heads of cabinet in the assemblies of Serbia and Vojvodina, in the provincial government, other bodies at the national level and major cities would be omitted from the definition of officials.

Another drawback of the proposed definition of the public official is that it could be interpreted so that the Serbian state representatives would not have this attribute in companies where the State is a minority owner or does not have controlling ownership (e.g. "Belgrade Waterfront doo"). Finally, we pointed out that the amendments to the Law should distinctly provide for a deadline by which officials, who have not had that status until now, will have to submit reports on assets and income and harmonize their status with legal obligations (e.g. officials who excepted by the authentic interpretation, officials of joint-stock companies owned by the State, advisors and heads of the cabinet).

The proposed changes related to giving an opinion on the corruption risks in the regulations are positive but also insufficient. TS suggested setting a deadline by which the ministries must request such an opinion and introducing the obligation to give opinions on the risks of corruption in proposals of laws, not only on their drafts.

The provision on the reporting of conflicts of interest has not been changed fully in line with the GRECO recommendation, as it should be ensured that information on whether a public official has declared the existence of a conflict of interest is made public. Similarly, the rules that set restrictions upon the termination of public office should be specified.

The draft amendments to the Law do not foresee additional rules on "regular substantive verification" of the assets and income of executive power officials. Whether these verifications will be carried out and to what extent currently depends solely on the annual control plan made by the Agency for the Prevention of Corruption director.

Transparency Serbia believes that the amendments to the Law should regulate the separation of public and party functions more fully to prevent pre-election "official campaign", for which we have made concrete proposals. We also proposed how to prescribe better the criminal offence related to providing false information about assets and income and several other provisions in this Law.