On 12 May 2016, the Center for Liberal-Democratic Studies (CLDS), a member of the regional network SELDI held a conference “Corruption in Serbia today”. The hosts presented and discussed a new report on the trends of corruption in Serbia, based on a survey conducted in February 2016.
The conference brought together representatives of civil society, public sector and expert community, discussing the results and policy recommendations in light of recent developments on EU and regional level. The event highlighted the efforts, current work and major issues of the future work of the civil society sector in the area of the fight against corruption in South Eastern Europe.
The key research findings were presented by Professor Boris Begovic from CLDS. Almost 20% of Serbian citizens acknowledged to be, directly or indirectly, asked to pay bribe to public officials. Nonetheless, compared to 2014, data shows improvement of close to 10%, indicating that corruption pressure of public officials to citizens is declining. These findings are in line with the long-term downward trend, observed since 2001. Similarly, the participation of citizens in corruption practices also reduced in 2016. There is a significant drop of about 11% in the case of citizens admitting giving bribes to public officials, which represents a 30% decrease compared to the situation from 14 years ago. This is certainly a favorable trend which, according to Professor Begovic, is largely a result of the reduced contact between the citizens and the administration.
Dr. Bosko Mijatovic, President of CLDS, discussed the systemic causes of corruption, especially from the perspective of the energy sector. He underlined the dominance of state ownership in the energy sector; overriding tenders in the construction of large infrastructure projects through international agreements; the weaknesses in the management of public enterprises as well as in the work of “independent” regulatory and control bodies; and problems in the area of public procurement. He concluded by illustrating specific corruption scandals in energy sector, which are left unresolved either due to uncompleted trials or due to release of the doubt.
According to Professor Zoran Stojiljkovic, member of the Board of The Anti-Corruption Agency, it was possible to live in a world without corruption or at least in one without systemic corruption. Serbia and the other countries in the region will have difficulties escaping the grip of political corruption as long as they remain deficient, defective democracies, systems with a party state, with weak parliaments. Also essential is the critical zone of hardly achievable independent acts of the justice sector, as well as the media being economically dependent on large advertisers and societies that are sufficiently resistant to systemic corruption. Professor Stojiljkovic also assessed the the attitude of the authorities towards independent institutions as bad, while the government tends to push these institutions to the margins.
Ms. Jelisaveta Vasilic, member of the Anti-Corruption Council and a former judge, pointed out that the Council has no significant leverage to influence the government and push for reforms. She stated that the Council wrote and submitted to the government a number of reports but never received any feedback or reaction. Moreover the institution has had a lot of difficulties in obtaining information, except in cases when they were supported by the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance. According to Ms. Vasilic, having in mind the manner in which the government treats the majority of the regulatory authorities, such as the Ombudsman, it is not surprising that the Council does not enjoy any respect. She also said that Council’s recommendations are not taken into account and that Serbia is not a state with respect for the rule of law.
Professor Zoran Ivošević presented a legal analysis of controversial cases – among other things, Belgrade waterfront project and the demolition in Savamala and stated their disastrous consequences. Dr. Drasko Karađinović, coordinator of the association “Doctors Against Corruption”, identified the health sector as most corrupt. Mr. Marko Milošević, Office of Ombudsman of Serbia, talked about the existing problems in communication between the Office and various governmental institutions. Professor Ljubomir Madzar stressed the need to further reduce the role of government in economic life, while Nemanja Nenadic, Director of Transparency Serbia, pointed to the shortcomings of the feasibility study on the basis of which a decision was made about the Chinese loan for investment in the Kostolac power plant.