This article is an integral part of the Coalition prEUgovor report on progress of Serbia in Chapters 23 and 24 for the period from November 2015 to April 2016.
Overall, certain improvements have been made in the fight against corruption since September 2014, but they are far from what was planned by relevant strategies and programmes of the Government of Serbia. On the other hand, developments that can represent a step back in the anticorruption area are also recognised, primarily related to the status of independent state institutions and the non-implementation of national anticorruption regulations with engagements related to inter-state agreements. The current Government of Serbia introduced the fight against corruption among its priorities within the exposé of the Prime Minister.
In regard to legislative work, in the past 12 months a great deal of plans, previously stated either in the Prime Minister’s exposé, or in the Action Plan for Implementation of the Anticorruption Strategy, have remained unfulfilled. A positive development is the adoption of the new Law on Whistle-Blower Protection that is to be implemented as of June 2015, although it contains loopholes, identified during public debate. Some positive effects can be expected from the implementation of new media regulations, although many problems have remained unresolved, such as the transparency of major media income sources, or the selection of priorities for public financing of media projects.
The key deadlines for the adoption of new anti-corruption legislation from the Action Plan expired. There is still no improvement of the Law on the Anticorruption Agency (drafting has begun but is slow) nor of the Law on the Financing of Political Activities (that was amended, but in regard to the provisions not mentioned in the National Anti-Corruption Strategy), and no progress has been made in regard to the Law on Lobbying.
The Action Plan for the implementation of the Anti-Corruption Strategy from August 2013 for the areas of (a) justice, (b) police and (c) monitoring is poorly implemented. During the first 17 months of implementation of the Action Plan, only four activities (14%) from a total of twenty-nine in the field of justice were carried out in accordance with the Action Plan. The main reason for the low level of implementation of the Action Plan in the area of justice is the lack of definition of responsible authorities for its implementation, as well as the lack of earmarked funds for implementing the planned activities. In the area of the police, only one activity - the needs assessment for anti-corruption training for police officers, was carried out from a total of twenty-three in line with the Action Plan. There are two main reasons why most activities from the Action Plan related to the police have not been implemented, or were delayed. First, there are deficiencies in the Action Plan document. Financial costs and responsible organisational units within the MoI to be responsible for implementation were not identified for all activities, and there are terminological confusions. Second, the process of the adoption of the new Law on Police greatly slowed down the implementation of the Action Plan of the Anti-Corruption Strategy.
The situation is somewhat better in the part of the Action Plan governing the oversight of implementation of the Strategy. Five activities (50%) were completed, from a total of ten planned activities. However, problems exist concerning overlapping competences of anticorruption actions of the Serbian Government and the Anticorruption Agency. In addition, recommendations from the Anti-Corruption Strategy are not operationalised through concrete measures in the Action Plan. Based on the shadow report produced by the BCSP and Public Prosecutors Association, it can be concluded that the implementation took place only in those areas where donor support exists.
Moreover, there were also difficulties in implementation of the Action Plan for the Anti-Corruption Strategy for the areas of d) political activity, e) public finances and f) the media. In the first 15 months of its implementation, for only 26% of envisaged measures was it possible to find evidence that they were implemented. One of the possible reasons is the fact that the Strategy envisages three institutions for its implementation, which creates an overlap in competences and confusion about the institutions in charge of implementation.
Lastly, the activities related to the areas of g) privatisation and public-private partnerships, h) spatial planning and construction, i) health, j) education and sports, and k) prevention of corruption, as a rule, were not implemented in line with the proposed timeframe. One of the greatest challenges in this respect is the lack of control mechanisms for assuring that the activities are implemented in time, as well as the lack of clear identification of the authorities responsible for their implementation.
The Action Plan for Chapter 23 is still in the public debate process. Its latest version (although much better than the previous two) does not capture all important matters properly nor does it elaborate in sufficient detail the method of implementing activities and measures, nor indicators of success.
Unfortunately, in preparation of most draft laws, the Prime Minister’s promise stated in his exposé was not accomplished: “We will allow businesses, civil society and other interested parties to participate in all phases of legal acts, from concept laws, drafts and to preparation of by-laws“. The rules on public debates were not improved, in such a manner so as to envisage mandatory discussion on concept laws and by-laws. The number of drafts subject to public debates is, however, larger than in previous years, but the obligatory debates were not organised in many instances.
One year ago, the Prime Minister announced establishing of “task forces for prosecution of organised crime and corruption“, whose legal nature was not explained. One year later, the Draft Strategy of Financial Investigations, mentioning “task forces“ for investigating larger corruption cases, was presented, but still without stipulating a legal basis for the establishment of these bodies. In the meantime, it was published that “task forces“ established for investigating “24 privatisation“ cases that the Governmental Anticorruption Council pointed out to between 2002 and 2012, were cancelled. There are still no comprehensive data on findings of these working groups in relation to Council’s reports. Similarly, there is no information based on which one may conclude that the Government began to systemically discuss Council’s reports published after 2012.
In the past twelve months, new problems have been opened in the relation of the executive power with independent state organs. The adoption of parliamentary conclusions on annual reports of independent organs has not brought about any improvement of practice. The Government ignored the obligation to report to the National Assembly within six months after the adoption of the report of independent state institutions on undertaken measures, and the National Assembly has not initiated the Government’s accountability for it.
The Prime Minister’s exposé contained plans for rationalisation of the public sector, finalisation of reconstruction of enterprises, a decrease in the budget deficit and suppression of the grey economy, introduction of the e-government and shortening deadlines for issuing of permits. In some of these areas there have been significant improvements in the past 12 months, which can bring indirect benefits for anticorruption (especially the undertaken measures for faster issuance of building permits and measures for resolving the status of “enterprises in reconstruction”). However, there were no visible changes in regard to the “decreased number of employees in the public sector… especially of those that are appointed with the help and influence of political parties“, and implementation of the preceding functional analysis. The Action Plan for the Public Administration Reform has been adopted, but it still remains unclear how fast it will be implemented and to what extent it will depend on previous analyses and opinions of international financial institutions. In the meantime, not even the number of public sector employees has been properly determined, and even the number of the newly employed after the adoption of legal limitations has been hidden.
The status of civil servants on posts is expected to be, after amending the Law on Civil Servants, finally aligned with law (violations started in January 2011). The Government appointed “acting servants” to positions that were not filled on the basis of competitive recruitment and opened some recruitment processes. However, there is no published comprehensive information that would prove that legal status of “civil servants on post” is fully in compliance with law.
Although obligatory by law for two years already, the “professionalisation of managing public enterprises“ has still not been implemented. The legal mechanism for the election of directors and members of supervisory committees of public enterprises has flaws. But even such mechanism is not being implemented. Merely in several republic enterprises competitions for the election of directors have been finalised, in other enterprises nobody has decided on applications for almost two years, while in some other no competitions have been announced at all. On the occasion of arresting several managers of public enterprises, the Minister of Interior announced their political party affiliation (wanting to prove that people affiliated both to the currently ruling coalition and the opposition are being prosecuted alike), and among the arrested was one of the few directors elected in a “non-political“ competition several months before.
Finally, during the previous year the poor and illogical practice of contracting with investors larger infrastructural projects on the basis of inter-state agreements, with the exemption from domestic regulations (e.g. the Public Procurement Law, Law on Public-Private Partnership) on bidding, analysis of justification and oversight, continued. The situation regarding the transparency of such contracts is, however, better than before.
In this period there were no final convictions in high level corruption cases, or visible final decisions to punish violations of the Anti-Corruption Agency Law or the Law on Financing of Political Activities. Some criminal procedures that were previously initiated are still ongoing. Generally speaking, trends from previous years in regard to repressive anticorruption activities continued, with a small increase in the number of discovered and initiated cases. There is no practice of publishing these data regularly, and databases of various law enforcement and judicial authorities still remain incomparable and insufficiently informative.
 Full text of the alternative report on implementation of the Anti-Corruption Strategy in the abovementioned three areas is available in Serbian at: www.bezbednost.org/Sve-publikacije/5684/Alternativni-izvestaj-o-sprovodjenju.shtml.
 Full text of the alternative report on implementation of the Anti-Corruption Strategy in the abovementioned three areas is available in Serbian at: www.acas.rs/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Alternativni_izvestaj_Transparentnost_Srbija.pdf?pismo=lat.
 Full text of the alternative report on implementation of the Anti-Corruption Strategy in the abovementioned five areas is available in Serbian at: www.acas.rs/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Alternativni-izvestaj-BCHR.pdf?pismo=lat.
 An exemption relates to the process of preparation of the Law on Inspection Supervision. www.transparentnost.org.rs/images/dokumenti_uz_vesti/Izvestaj_o_pracenju_izrade_nacrta_zakona_o_inspekcijskom_nadzoru_februar_2015.doc.
 A possible exemption was the recently published case of abuse related to the repair of wagons.
 The Ministry of Finance failed to submit information to the journalists of the daily “Danas“ who requested it, even after the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection ordered them to do so.