Proposal to fight corruption met with scepticism in Serbia

24/05/2011

Critics charge one of two proposed anti-corruption measures is unconstitutional.

By Igor Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 24/05/11

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The entrance to the Tax Administration’s central office in Belgrade. [Nikola Barbutov/SETimes]

Serbia's Tax Administration recently submitted a proposal to the government that would dramatically raise the stakes for anyone considering bribery or other forms of corruption. The measure would erase an individual's accrued seniority at work -- "stazh" -- if he or she is convicted of corruption.

"The state would make it clear it was ready to stand up to corruption and I claim that many who are considering corruption would abandon such thoughts at the very start," Tax Administration Director Dragutin Radosavljevic told the state TV, RTS.

The proposal calls for seizing a convict's property in addition to voiding that accrued seniority.

While the public agrees the fight against corruption should be intensified, many lawyers and NGOs argue the part of the proposal concerning accrued work time is unconstitutional. They say corruption could be fought more successfully if existing laws were implemented more consistently.

"The measure is unconstitutional because it is impossible to tie an entire career to one misdemeanor of which someone had been convicted," Anti-Corruption Agency committee member Zlatko Minic told SETimes.

"[It] would probably be quickly abolished by the Constitutional Court," he added.

Others claim that there are yet more efficient ways of fighting corruption.

"Authorities should primarily focus on better encouraging and protecting whistleblowers, as well as on those that have conspicuously more property than before working in public service, and prove whether their salary enabled them to pay for such an increase," Transparency Serbia representative Nemanja Nenadic told SETimes.

But Radosavljevic argues tougher measures are necessary given corruption's grave consequences. "One corruption affair can discredit an entire institution, sector and government and has a negative impact on the state's image," he said.

Experts say the part of the Tax Administration's proposal concerning confiscation of property makes sense.

"Such a measure is already being applied in Serbia against organised and war crimes convicts, who have to prove how they obtained the money for their property so as to prevent it from being seized," Minic said.

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He notes, however, that the Tax Administration already has legal instruments with which it could check individuals' property.

"The law on tax administration and taxing process from 2002 has enabled the cross-checking of reported revenues and expenditures, and it would be interesting to see whether the Tax Administration had utilised those mechanisms before it proposed this measure. That way, all those who were publicly suspected of corruption could have been checked and prosecuted, at least for embezzlement, but there was no evidence," Minic said.

Fighting corruption is considered a key condition for EU accession. A Global Corruption Barometer survey conducted late last year suggests that Serbian citizens perceive an increase in corruption over the last three years.

At the same time, the rating of the government's effectiveness in fighting corruption fell from 2.38 to 2.24, prompting the cabinet to announce plans to draft a new strategy.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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