By Biljana Pekusic
Although the political party financing bill envisions that parties disclose financial sources on their website if the donations exceed the average Serbian salary — about 360 euros — only six parties publically declared the information. Serbia has 81 registered political parties.
“The bill has gaps and ambiguities that allow parties to avoid public disclosure of financing,” Anti-Corruption Agency board member Cedomir Cupic told SETimes.
The Anti-Corruption Agency bill does not give the institution jurisdiction to effectively combat the concealment of financial income of political parties. The Agency can only file misdemeanour charges, which in most cases, yield no results.
“The Agency is not given investigative and enforcement powers, so investigative and judicial proceedings are indefinitely delayed,” adds Cupic.
By law, an individual can donate up to 20 times the average monthly salary [about 7,000 euros] to political parties, and businesses up to 200 times the average salary [about 70,000 euros].
The ruling Democratic Party declared its largest donation as 40,000 euros from party vice-president and Belgrade Mayor Dragan Djilas. The largest opposition party, the Serbian Progressive Party, declared its largest donation as 3,000 euros.
“While the public advocates the fight against corruption, political parties secretly conduct the largest financial crimes and corruption,” Dimitrije Arsic, a retired Belgrade teacher told SETimes.
The parties manage to avoid disclosing their financial sources. Though it is obvious parties receive large amounts of money, the six parliamentary parties officially announced a small number of donors in 2011.
The Agency claims that the parties, in order to hide traces of receiving money, often use a variety of business arrangements, give money through a third entity, or establish NGOs through which they are funded.
A significant amount of “gray” money circulates via Serbian political parties, says Vladimir Goati, president of the NGO Transparency Serbia.
“In Serbia, 35 to 40% of money is generated in the ‘gray’ zone, where money circulates from one pocket to another, impossible to trace, but large amounts end in the political parties, the government and opposition” Goati told SETimes.
Fines for acts of corruption range from 2,000 to 20,000 euros; so far none of the parties in Serbia has faced penalties.
The Anti-Corruption Agency announced in November it will review the operations of seven political parties, suspected of using money from the state budget that was intended for their regular activities, to fund election activities instead.
The Serbian Progressive Party New Serbia, Sandzak Democratic Party, the Party of Democratic Action of Sandzak, the Liberal Democratic Party, Social Democratic Party of Serbia, the United Regions of Serbia and the Coalition for Sumadija will be investigated.
Although parliamentary elections have not been announced yet, the Serbian Progressive Party convention nominated its official Aleksandar Vucic for mayor of Belgrade.
United Regions of Serbia has presented candidates for municipality mayors and presidents.
“Parties are not allowed to organise a convention outside the election campaign, nor engage in charity work, [or] present their candidates,” the board President of the Anti-Corruption Agency Zoran Stojiljkovic told SETimes.
All seven parties that the Anti-Corruption Agency called to financial accountability grumbled loudly.
“The Anti-Corruption Agency needs to do its job, and the job of all political parties is to present their programmes,” said the United Regions of Serbia Deputy President Suzana Grubjesic.
Aleksandar Vucic, deputy president of the Serbian Progressive Party, reacted similarly saying that “The Agency should focus on the fight against corruption, not torment and harass the Serbian Progressive Party.”
Serbia has a state audit institution, but its president, Radoslav Sretenovic, says he lacks the number of employees required to control political parties’ financing.