Serbia making government more open to citizens

19/12/2013

By allowing the public to access information, the government is improving its transparency.

By Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 19/12/13

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The Tax Administration of Serbia has kept the public informed of its work, the bureau said. [Nada Bozic/SETimes]

Serbia is enacting a series of reforms to make the government more open and transparent to its citizens, as part of its EU integration process.

Recent reforms to the public sector include organising public hearings and working groups on new legislation before it goes to parliament, posting laws online and on social media networks and establishing call centres for citizens' questions about legislative work.

"In this way, we build trust in the institutions and motivate citizens to take a part in the definition of public politics, which ensures unity in the realisation of the most complex reforms," Gordana Stamenic, state secretary at the justice and public administration ministry, told SETimes.

Two years ago, Serbia's public administration was an independent ministry. In July 2012, it was joined with the justice ministry as part of the new government based on EU country models.

Before 2012, details of the public administration's work were not readily available to citizens and it was hard to reach authorities.

The EU accession process has direct implications on public administration in candidate countries, according to the Union. While there is no central EU body to monitor member countries' public administrations, the so-called European principles of public administration, which include transparency, must be followed by any country in the Union.

Stamenic said significant results have been achieved, including the adoption of laws on free access to information and audits of state institutions.

"The legal framework requires state bodies to make information available to the public in the most transparent way. Institutional and personal capacities to manage this task have been built. By ensuring transparency of the decision-making process, the details of regulations at all levels, from local to republican, have been available to the public," Stamenic told SETimes.

Increased co-operation with the civil sector also contributes to citizen participation in the decision-making process, she said.

"Co-operation and dialogue between the government and NGOs is an important part of achieving public policy transparency and information access improvement, and it ensures mutual understanding as well as the quality of actions," Stamenic told SETimes.

Irina Rizmal, a researcher at the Belgrade Centre for Euro-Atlantic Studies, told SETimes that one major step in co-operation was the live television broadcast of the EU-Serbia explanatory screening meeting on Chapter 23, Judiciary and Fundamental Rights, which was held in Brussels on September 25th and 26th. "This kind of communication is in accordance with EU standards, and is important for the EU accession as our joint and first political aim," Rizmal said.

A study by Spanish NGO Access Info Europe and the Canadian Centre for Law and Democracy published earlier this year ranked Serbia in first place out of 89 countries for having the most transparent public administration.

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"Serbian efforts in implementing the transparency principle in all segments of government work have been recognised in this recent research. According to the report, Serbia is the first state in the world that has regulated this area, in the most effective way and in accordance with international standards," Stamenic told SETimes.

According to the Tax Administration Bureau, new laws ensure more public input into administration work.

"Taxpayers are informed about a lot of things via our web portal, even about narrower professional processes and issues. Our legal obligation is to issue an information booklet, which is available on the website as well," the bureau said in a statement to SETimes.

What steps can Serbia take to ensure total transparency of the public administration? Tell us your thoughts below.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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