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What to expect from the Government of Serbia in the fight against corruption

Transparency Serbia (official chapter of Transparency International) believes that the Government of Serbia should in the next four years, pay considerably more attention to the fight against corruption than it has up to now, and that has been mentioned in the expose of Prime Minister, in order to make some progress in this area. The current government bears greater responsibility for the results than all predecessors, because accession to the EU, judging by experiences of others, represents a unique opportunity for the system reform. Positive thing is thate fight against corruption is one more time proclaimed as a priority. However, solving this problem is devoted less attention than in the 2014 and especially in 2012[1]. So far, results achieved in the implementation of anti-corruption measures are not representative as to justify any reduction in the scope and intensity of engagement, but we can only hope that in practice the government will act more broadly than announced, that is, that the demands of the citizens, the control of independent authorities and national MPs and EU perspectives will lead to a comprehensive state action.

Part of the government program that mentiones corruption starts from the statement that "Serbia successfully implements its Strategy for fight against corruption from 2013", although precise indicators show the opposite. Thus, according to the last year's report of the Anticorruption Agency, out of 422 activities planned for the last reporting period only 82 of them were implemented in compliance with the indicator set, of which only 29 in the prescribed manner and within the prescribed period[2].

In terms of corruption repression, it is positive that the program of the new government states issues that are within its jurisdiction, that is, adoption and implementation of specific strategies and laws, and not criminal investigations of individual cases. Properly understood is the importance of reporting more cases of corruption, but it does not elaborate the measures that should lead to this goal, while those that are mentioned (protection of whistleblowers), apparently did not lead to this goal. More attention is devoted to investigation of financial crime and the reorganization of public prosecutions. These are measures which could have beneficial anticorruption effects, especially in the cases where due to lack of knowledge of prosecutors it has not been successful, but the impression is that they too could have been be applied earlier (Strategy was adopted in May, and draft Law appeared in August last year).

The Prime Minister has for the umpteenth time, announced the adoption of the Law on Origin of the Property. Conclusion drawn from what was stated in his speech is that it is about cross checking of property and incomes, which is a legal mechanism that exists for 13 years. Therefore, comparision of the new law with the existing one should be done first, as well as the reasons why there have been no significant results. An interesting illustration of the lack of a systemic approach in the fight against corruption is the fact that the adoption of this law is not mentioned neither in the anticorruption strategy nor in the action plan for Chapter 23 of the European integration. On the other hand, neither expose nor published draft amendments to the Criminal Code, mention possible criminalization of "illicit enrichment", as planned in the strategic acts from 2013.

Praise goes for the enthusiasm with which the expose announced amendments to the Law on Anticorruption Agency and that this organ will receive "tools for work", because these are already weel known problems for years. Similar to the Agency, other independent state bodies (Ombudsman, Commissioner for Information, the State Audit Institution, ...) point out in their annual reports, the problems they face and the need for amending the laws, or that there is no adequate response by the Assembly and the Government to these initiatives. Expose doesn't promise to make a difference in this direction.

Overall, loophole in prime minister's program is that there is not enough mention of corruption prevention, for example, providing access to information, organizing of public debates and analysis of the corruption risks during the preparation of any law, regulated lobbying and transparent decision-making, reducing discretionary powers and making detailed analysis before making a decision on the largest infrastructure projects and credit arrangements, the application of the rules on public-private partnerships, state aid and public procurement. However, it should be noted that some anti-corruption measures can be found in other chapters of the expose, for example, in the chapter that deals with issues of budget planning, labor inspection, environment for small and medium-sized enterprises and implementation of the Law on General Administrative Procedure.

We remind that even before the elections Transparency - Serbia published and sent to all participants in the election race and after the elections to all parliamentary groups, list of priorities in the fight against corruption for the period 2016-2020[3].

Transparency - Serbia

Belgrade, 29 August 2016.


[1] It is interesting that the expose stated that "we will place fight against corruption on top of the agenda", although it is mentioned in the last, tenth bullet of the expose, named "fight against crime and corruption."