By Gordana Andric
A Serbian NGO has worked out that Belgrade has spent about 450 million euros each year on social programmes, salaries and various projects in Kosovo over the last decade.
The figure of almost half a billion euros a year was calculated by the NGO Policy Centre, which gathered the data from 18 ministries, six public companies and 10 state institutions.
“It’s hard to get hold of information on government spending before 2003 because before that year federal institutions were in charge,” the director of Policy Centre, Dragan Popovic, said, referring to the now defunct State Union of Serbia and Montenegro. “But records show that since 2003 spending has averaged around half a billion euros a year,” he added.
The figure might be even higher, given that Policy Centre says it still hasn’t asked for data from several other ministries and public companies, such as the ministries of justice, culture and economy and the telecom company. The ministry of finance declined to provide the requested data.
Serbia finances a range of social programmes in Kosovo, including salaries for employees of Serbian institutions in Kosovo as well as their pensions and health insurance. Belgrade is also financing construction of roads, schools and sports facilities.
The government says it has trimmed expenditure for Kosovo over the last three years. “Investments in Kosovo and Metohija are [now] just under 250 million euros annually, including salaries, pensions, social benefits and capital investments,” the Minister for Kosovo and Metohija, Goran Bogdanovic, told Belgrade’s B92 recently.
But according to Policy Centre’s records, gathered so far for 2010, the government spent almost the same amount then as it did in previous years.
“According to what we have gathered, expenditures are at the same level [as before],” Popovic said. “Some state bodies did reduce giving, but others, such as ministry of youth and sport, have doubled theirs,” he added.
Popovic says the real question is not how much money was given but what it was spent on. “There is no transparency when it comes to the money that goes to Kosovo,” he said. “Some institutions that sent us their records provided just a general figure, without a list of things on which the money was spent.”
He said that while government money is intended to support Serbs living in Kosovo, “at the same time we read in the media that the work of soup kitchens is jeopardized”.
Minister Bogdanovic insists that expenditure on Kosovo is carefully monitored.
“Tenders are obligatory and we’ve reduced the price of house constructions… so that the construction of apartments, houses and nurseries now costs about 300 euros per square metre, which is lower than the price in central Serbia,” he said.
Economist Goran Nikolic says government funds for Kosovo make up only a small part of Serbia’s overall spending. “It’s not such a large figure if you consider that total fiscal expenditures are about 13 billion euros a year, so you can calculate the percentage,” Nikolic said.