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Useful observations of the European Commission on fight against corruption in Serbia

Transparency Serbia (official chapter of Transparency International) emphasizes that main evaluation from this year's report of the European Commission, when it comes to fight against corruption, is that „No progress was made on meeting last year’s recommendations “[1]. In that sense, main criticisms goes to reluctance to adopt the new Law on Anti-corruption Agency, amendments to Criminal Code, that Government doesn't take into account recommendations of its own Anti-corruption Council and, finally, that status of implementation of the Anticorruption Strategy hasn't improved, with implementation of existing laws and convictions in the cases of grand corruption. Besides resolving of these problems, EC invites for better coordination and providing of capacities for all stakeholders.

Transparency – Serbia considers as positive that European Commission explicitly mentions problem of public enterprises („particularly vulnerable to corruption“), but that more attention should be dedicated to poor implementation of the Law on Public Enterprises in all of its aspects (depolitization, transparency, accountability). The good thing is that it is stated that independent supervision for determining of irregularities related to work of state companies, as well as with public-private and strategic partnerships is insufficiently developed. These are the problems that our organization states for years now and we feel as extremely important that they finally entered the focus of European interest. However, the problem is far greater – even when control mechanisms exist in the laws of Serbia, they are not being used when large infrastructural projects are being implemented based on interstate agreements.  

Regarding curbing corruption, EC criticizes that financial investigations are not being launched systemically. On the other hand, EC notices that police and prosecution „more often use“ proactive investigations, but that there are some obstacles – lack of equipment, trainings and platforms for safe exchange of information. EC expresses serious concern for often commenting of ongoing investigations and court rulings on corruption by politicians, as well as for „leaking“ information on investigations towards media. On the other hand, „A number of high-profile cases, including some where evidence of alleged wrongdoing has been presented by the media, have still not been seriously investigated“.

In this chapter EU tackles the Law on Free Access to Information of Public Importance. They warn that the Law still hasn't been amended to improve the effectiveness of the work of the Commissioner, and still enforcement of some of Commissioner's decisions is not secured. Unfortunately, opportunity to plan activities for resolving of this problem was missed with the Action Plan for chapter 23 of negotiations of Serbia with the EU (TS timely indicated to Ministry of Justice and EC to this shortage during drafting of Action Plan). The report states obstacles that stand in the way of more successful work of the Anti-corruption Agency (especially when it comes to access to data bases of other organs), as well as of the need to adopt Law on Lobbying and amend regulations on conflict of interest.

By our opinion, European Commission rightfully emphasizes problem of exaggerated use of the provisions of the Criminal Code on „abuse of office in the private sector“. According to the opinion of TS, politicians, even some public prosecutors in Serbia are mistaking when they present investigations of economic crime as curbing corruption, although they do not determine whether there was bribing in place or participation of any public official or servant. Transparency – Serbia thinks that EC shouldn't encourage this confusion and that comments related to economy crime should be presented in other parts of the report, not to blur the essence of fight against corruption. On the other hand, we emphasize that it is necessary to change and amend parts of Criminal Code that refer directly to corruption, but it is still not being tackled.

Evaluations of the European Commission were relatively mild related to implementation of the Anti-corruption Strategy and Action Plan, but it is still being recognized that the results of implementation „are limited“ and that „number of measures have been delayed“. Causes of such status are not being mentioned – complete absence of accountability in the case of noncompliance with obligations, including absence of reaction of the National Assembly to the Reports of the Anti-corruption Agency. Hence the conclusion of the EC at the end of this chapter of the Report: „The fight against corruption in Serbia lacks both a long-term strategic vision and the political will to boost reforms.“  

Transparency Serbia reminds that important comments for fight against corruption can be found in other chapters, among which are public procurements, where certain progress is recognized and freedom of expression where the situation has not improved. Especially significant is recognizing of the problem of „blurring of the distinction between state and party activities“ of public officials, related to that we remind that TS initiated specifying of legal obligations and limitations.

Generally, the report of the European Commission realistically presented the state of many important areas for fight against corruption this year as well. Report presents good recommendations, but one should have in mind that they do not comprehend all of the important questions. In what level will the recommendations of the EU be of use to Serbia, depends primarily of the relationship of our state organs to them. On the basis of the fact that many observations are being repeated, one can conclude that European integrations for now are not sufficiently used as a motor of anti-corruption reforms.

Transparency Serbia

Belgrade, 10 November 2016.

 


[1] This evaluation is in the chapter of the report that is dedicated to fight against corruption (chapter 23), but is not mentioned explicitly in the summary and in „political criteria“, whose parts were commented yesterday.

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