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Fight against corruption in 2013 EC Progress Report

This year’s EC Progress Report for Serbia[1] focuses greatly to the fight against corruption. It indicates some improvements but at the same time emphasizes that there is still a lot to be done in this area.  Transparency – Serbia therefore considers extremely dangerous to understand occasional praises or simple listing of undertaken activities as a sign that all that was possible was done in the past year.

Praises, namely, refer mostly to what could be labeled as “initial steps on a long road” – political message on „zero tolerance towards corruption“, that should be proven in practice; adopting of Anticorruption Strategy and Action Plan, that yet have to be implemented; initiating of investigations and issuing of an indictments in corruption cases, that should be finalized.

The Report, on the other hand, emphasizes necessity to improve law implementation and efficiency of anticorruption institutions; that it is necessary to promote proactive approach of police and prosecution and to expect verdicts in corruption cases, especially in the area of public resources’ abuse. Regarding that, logical question imposes: whether the goal that Government envisaged in the Action Plan (30% increase  number of finalized corruption processes in 2017 compared to 2012) could be appropriate outcome, having in mind sharp and justified criticism of performance in that area in previous years?

EC Report attributes great significance to consideration of independent bodies' reports and resolving of problems identified in those reports; requests establishing of merit system of employment and promotion in all levels; and identifies that appointing of medium level managers was non transparent.

These are some of the problems Transparency Serbia pointed to in previous years and months. Employment and promotion problem is actually far greater than stated in the Report – it is contrary to the Civil Servants Law with directly influenced by political parties.

EC properly indicates to areas where strengthening of supervision is necessary (public enterprises, privatization, public expenditures). EC praises moderate progress in public procurement field which is a result of new Law’s implementation. However, it also indicates lack of capacities, especially with Public Procurement Office, being a huge problem.

Report considers significant thorough election campaign financing control, investigating of officials' property reports' accuracy, resolving conflict of interest and implementing integrity plans. EC also states „possibility of political influencing“ in appointing and resolving of judiciary officials and indicates to insufficient implementation of accountability mechanisms.

Report emphasizes that health and education sector are especially vulnerable to corruption. This list could be even longer, especially related to corruption that hampers business sector (urban planning, work of inspections etc.)

EC hasn't pointed out to all of the problems, because of limited space available. Because of that,  evaluation of current state of affair could be even sharper. For example,,, EC recognizes progress in Parliamentary activities, while in reality Parliamentary supervision over Government is obviously insufficient. EC asks of the Government to respects recommendations and findings of independent bodies. However, there is no statement on their direct violation of independent bodies’ decisions.

EC welcomes improvement of Governmental Rules on Procedure. However, these changes didn't brought improvement of public debates' practice – even minimum obligations prescribed in April 2013 is not being respected.

Report states that comprehensive legal framework for protection of whistleblowers still doesn't exist, but there are no comments on process of drafting Whistleblower Protection Law. It is important, namely, to mention that Action Plan for implementing Anticorruption Strategy was amended in Ministry of Justice or in Government, after the text was being approved by working group. The final version, in  protection of whistleblowers chapter, now does not have any reference to the protection of private sector employees.

EC properly notices main problems in media sphere – failure to implement Media Strategy, insufficient transparency of media ownership and media articles that endanger fairness of criminal procedure and privacy of citizens. In regards to the transparency of media ownership (which is mentioned), transparency of information on sources of media financing should be mentioned as well. The  matter of information published in tabloids should rather be treated in the context of oversight of law enforcement bodies, vulnerability of criminal investigations and/or violation of human rights.

Transparency Serbia hopes that Belgrade (government) will be more responsive for problems in the anticorruption area, raised by Transparency Serbia and other NGOs and independent state organs. This problems were indicated in Serbia in timely manner. If government resolved them in timely manner, it wouldn’t be necessary for the Brussels (EC) to react. In that sense, we hope that problems that EC has been pointing out for years (related to anti-corruption) will be resolved at least similarly efficient as the problem on quota for Croatian cigarettes was.

Transparency – Serbia

Belgrade, 17 October 2013