The new Draft Anti-Corruption Strategy in Serbia is less the result of long-term and careful analysis, and more the desire to complete the job before the new European Commission Report on Serbia's progress. The description of the situation in the Draft Strategy does not reflect the essence of the problem in this area, it remains unclear what will be changed in the anti-corruption regulations, the state authorities’ capacity building is inadequately planned, and the goals are not ambitious enough – these are the main conclusions of the new prEUgovor Brief Alert.
There are strong indications that the adoption of the new Strategy for the Fight against Corruption in Serbia, regarding whose proposed draft the public debate lasted until 5 September 2023, was less the result of long-term and careful consideration of past and future public policies in this area, and more of a desire to complete the job before the publication of the European Commission’s new report on Serbia’s progress. Although risk analyses for individual areas (which have not been published) contain numerous high-quality findings and recommendations, the proposed Strategy and Action Plan, as end products, are currently still far from providing a complete answer to the problems of combating corruption in Serbia.
The previous EC report, which was published in the fall of 2022, contained a statement that “Serbia has still to prepare a new anti-corruption strategy and action plan, and establish an effective coordination mechanism to operationalise prevention and repression policy goals and thoroughly address corruption”. One of the three mentioned key tasks was to “prepare, adopt and start implementing a new anti-corruption strategy underpinned by a credible and realistic action plan as well as an effective coordination mechanism”. The remaining two main recommendations refer to the fulfilment of GRECO’s recommendations and to the improvement of the prosecution of corruption, especially at a high level.
Serbia has not had a national anti-corruption planning document for almost five years. The previous anti-corruption strategy, adopted by the National Assembly on 1 July 2013 within the package of pre-election promises of the new ruling party, which extensively promoted the fight against corruption and used it as the backbone of its campaign, almost imperceptibly expired on 31 December 2018. The Action Plan for its implementation, adopted at the end of August 2013, remained largely unfulfilled. It was not even possible to assess the results of the implemented activities without any doubt. The Agency for the Fight against Corruption (now called the Agency for the Prevention of Corruption) regularly reported to the National Assembly on the collected data and its own conclusions concerning the implementation of planning documents, but the Assembly never discussed these reports - not even after the five-year period of validity of the planning documents had expired.
The prEUgovor coalition submitted this Brief Alert to the Ministry of Justice as part of the public debate that was held that ended on 5September. Among our recommendations, we single out the following:
• The National Anti-Corruption Strategy should be adopted by the National Assembly, and it is only then that the Government of Serbia should adopt the final version of the Action Plan, based on the adopted Strategy.
• The Strategy and the Action Plan should also deal with the issues that have been left out this time, because they relate to the competences of the executive authorities, which implies important supplements to the existing drafts of these acts.
• The Strategy and the Action Plan should show a clear determination to eliminate all known shortcomings of the legal system for the fight against corruption (e.g. insufficient compliance, legal gaps, discretion in the application of rules, absence of analysis of the results of application, harmful changes, violation of the unity of the legal system by special laws, arbitrary authentic interpretations).
• The Strategy and the Action Plan should envisage consideration of the need to supplement the Constitution of Serbia.
• In the repression of corruption, emphasis should be on proactivity, that is, on investigating all substantiated suspicions of corruption, as well as on the link between repression and prevention (elimination of deficiencies in the system that were observed based on discovered cases of corruption)
• Wherever certain problems in the regulations have been already recognised, the process of amending and supplementing the anti-corruption laws should begin without delay.
• Work on analyses that are envisaged prior to amending a law must be fully open to the public.
• Strengthening the capacity of state authorities should be planned primarily in relation to the need to respond to new tasks and the increase of the scope of activities.
• More ambitious “targets” should be set as objectives of the Strategy, as well as regarding certain activities contained in the Action Plan, in order to at least try to implement these planning documents in a way that would significantly improve the situation in the area of the fight against corruption.