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Law on ministries – explanation without explanation

With this year's amendments to the Law on Ministries, the bad tradition was not betrayed: the organisation of the executive power in Serbia is changed without an explanation of how it will affect the performance of the state administration. Understandably, this encourages speculation that the real reason for those changes is primarily personnel combinatorics, satisfying the ambitions of coalition partners or individuals who have been seen for ministerial positions.

In the recommendations Transparency Serbia published after each election cycle, our organisation called for the number and division of responsibilities between ministries to be determined solely for the purpose of work efficiency and not to meet the needs of the parties that support the Government.

The representative for the new Government's composition has not yet presented her programme, so it is unclear on what basis MPs can know why it will be better to distribute the work of the existing four ministries to the new seven ministries. Although the explanation states that this change "will contribute to strengthening the capacity of public administration in the given areas, which should further result in improving the situation in those areas", there is no basis for such an optimistic conclusion. It is a mere redistribution of jobs, followed by the redistribution of existing officials from four ministries to the new seven, so there is no natural strengthening of the administration's capacity. The only sure thing is that, on this basis, there will be three more ministers in the future than before and that the number of state secretaries, secretaries of ministries, cabinet chiefs and special advisers to ministers will increase.

The Government Office for Information Technologies and Electronic Government will receive the status of a "special organisation". No explanation was given for this change; it was not given five years ago either, when a special organisation dealing with the same tasks (then called the Directorate for Electronic Administration) suddenly became a government service and thereby lost part of its organisational independence.

The formation of a special Ministry for Public Investments (instead of the existing Government Office that dealt with these issues) is controversial because it deviates from the departmental approach applied in all other ministries, as public investments can be related to any area (e.g. transport, health, education). It should be noted that this is not the first time that capital investments and infrastructure, as a very attractive space for politicians' promotion, have been elevated to the ministerial level. Ministries with similar names, although with slightly different responsibilities, existed from 2004 to 2012, when Velimir Ilić and Milutin Mrkonjić headed those departments. From the description of the new ministry duties and the related explanation, it remains unclear whether, in the future, all capital projects (e.g., those under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Construction) will be under the authority of the new ministry. It is also confusing that the Ministry of Finance retains the authority to evaluate and monitor capital projects despite establishing a separate ministry for public investments. Finally, the selection and prioritisation of these projects are still not regulated by law but only by a Government decree – which is the biggest remaining problem.