Study seeks accountability from Serbian officials

01/08/2013

A Belgrade research organisation examines the government's words and actions during its first year in office.

By Biljana Pekusic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 01/08/13

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Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister Rasim Ljajic had the best score in a study examining the accuracy of the Serb ministers' statements during the past year. [AFP]

With Serbia's government reshuffle now taking shape, a study by the Centre for Research, Transparency and Accountability in Belgrade (CRTA) indicates that cabinet ministers have room to improve the accuracy and consistency of their public statements.

The centre's staff reviewed ministers' statements and actions since the government took office in July 2012, determining whether they fulfilled the promises they made. Ministers were inconsistent or did not fulfill promises in 60 percent of statements the study examined. They did fulfill promises in 20 percent of the statements, and it is too soon to determine the outcome of the remaining 20 percent.

The study, released July 23rd, scored ministers on a scale of minus 10 to plus 10, said Vuksava Crnjanski Sabovic, the centre's director.

Sabovic said the study evaluated only comments that contained declarative statements and evaluated them on three criteria: whether the statement was true, whether promises were fulfilled, and whether ministers remained consistent from statement to statement.

The veracity of statements was determined by comparing the facts that can be obtained from relevant sources, such as official data agencies, institutions and organisations.

"For example, the Minister of Education Zarko Obradovic said corruption among teachers in schools decreased, but according to Transparency International the number of those who paid bribes for their education is four times higher than three years ago," Sabovic said.

The organisation said it was easy to determine whether promises were fulfilled.

"As the deputy prime minister of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic in the election campaign promised the abolition of numerous government agencies, but it is evident that this is not achieved," Sinisa Dedic, chief editor of Istinomer (Truth Measurer), the CRTA's website where the findings were published, told SETimes.

Ministers who had negative overall scores had more inaccurate statements than accurate ones. Vucic's overall score was minus 2.38.

Prime Minister and Interior Minister Ivica Dacic received a score of minus 3.33. According to the study, he said the IMF was not welcome in Serbia, but later softened his statements. He said "the dividing of Kosovo is the best solution," but did not offer specifics and later stopped raising the point.

Dacic also promised quick appointments of police chiefs in Nis and Novi Sad. Nis was without a police chief for three years before Srdjan Grekulovic was appointed three months ago. Novi Sad has not had a police chief in three years.

Deputy Prime Minister and Commerce Minister Rasim Ljajic received the best score (2.38). He fulfilled the promise of bringing the online PayPal service to Serbia and created "social shopping" stores that offer basic foods at inexpensive prices to help poor citizens. But he also said international brands Lidl, Carrefour and Ikea would come to Serbia, though none has done so.

Ljajic and Minister of Finance and Economy Mladjan Dinkic (1.43) were the only two ministers to receive scores above zero. Foreign Minister Ivan Mrkic, Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration Suzana Grubjesic, Sports Minister Alisa Maric and Sulejman Ugljanin, minister without portfolio, each had scores of zero.

"Although Serbia won a timeframe for the start of EU accession negotiations, the statements of Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration Suzana Grubjesic were very rare and not specific, so they could not be evaluated," Dedic said.

He added that the ministers seem to have little influence on the policies of their ministries and only carry out actions that are planned by "big fishes in Serbian politics."

Milutin Mrkonjic, the minister of transport, had the worst score (minus 7.62). He made several statements about plans that did not occur, including work on Corridor 10 and solving business problems of the national airline JAT.

The centre will monitor the on-going reconstruction of the Serbian cabinet. The organisation also is implementing a project called The Open Parliament, which will track the extent to which the parliament works in the interests of citizens.

"We will see what the numerical results show, but for now it can be said that a parliamentary committee rarely discusses the work of ministries. There is no debate about the quality of the government. MPs rarely require ministers to report to parliament on its activities," Sabovic said.

CRTA brings together teams of analysts, journalists and experts on various social areas to analyse information on the statements of public officials. The slogan of its portal Istinomer reads "Let's be honest."

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"We want to force the decision makers to be accountable to the citizens and therefore draw the line and sum up their work at the national and local level," Dedic said.

CRTA also found that some citizens have a negative view of politicians' statements.

"I do not trust their promises because any authority only does for us ordinary people what he thinks will bring a vote, and not with the real intention to make things better for people," said Olivera Markovic, a bank clerk in Belgrade.

What part of the CRTA study do you find the most surprising? Join the discussion by leaving a comment below.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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