By Biljana Pekusic
In terms of sheer numbers, Serbia has more administrative services, such as agencies, directorates, councils and funds, than any other country in Europe. There are about 170 in all, with often ill-defined duties that set up the frequent potential for overlap, redundancy and duplication.
“It is absurd that Germany, Britain, Finland, the Netherlands, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria and Romania, with 213 million inhabitants, have a total of 112 agencies, but Serbia, with a 7 million people, has 136,” Milenko Dzeletovic, an official with the opposition Serbian Progressive Party, tells SETimes.
He also notes that huge sums of money are routinely spent on unnecessary administration in Serbia.
In one sector for example, besides the Ministry of Environmental Protection, there is the Agency of Environmental Protection, the Fund of Environmental Protection and the Institute for Nature Protection of Serbia.
In the energy field, there is the Agency for Energy as well as the Agency for Energy Efficiency. Got a question about exports? Try the Agency for Foreign Investment and Export Promotion or the Agency for Export Credit and Insurance.
“Agencies employ party people, who for very little or no work, receive high salaries,” political analyst and sociologist Milan Nikolic tells SETimes. He is director of the NGO Centre for Policy Studies.
Party employment is most obvious in the Privatisation Agency, which — since its establishment in 2001 — has changed directors seven times. Also, in almost all of the funds and councils, managers changed with every change of government and the number of employees increased.
Salaries of managers in agencies range from 1,000 to 8,000 euros monthly.
“In a country where the average salary is about 400 euros, and which has 650,000 unemployed, it is arrogance of the state that so arrogantly rewards its people in leadership positions in public administration ” president of the United Trade Union Independence Branislav Canak tells SETimes.
Economists have calculated that with 800m euros spent annually on salaries within unnecessary agencies, Serbia could build a series of well-equipped hospitals and tens of thousands of new homes and apartments.
Proponents say all the agencies are required by the EU. But the number of such agencies in the EU member states suggests otherwise.
In Germany, Europe’s largest country with 80 million people, there are only six agencies. In Finland there are nine, Slovakia has eight, the Czech Republic has 11. In neighbouring Croatia, which is close to accession, there are 47.
Serbia is also infamous in Europe for its number of public sector workers. Unlike Germany, which has only 6.7% of employees in the public sector, one in three employees works for the state in Serbia.
“Only every 24th resident produces something, [on par with] Botswana, Namibia and Burundi,” president of the Union of Employers of Serbia Dragoljub Rajic tells SETimes. His union demands that the government eliminate more than 100 agencies established in the last five years.
And indeed, late last year, the government announced that it will pass a law on the cancellation of unnecessary agencies, councils and funds. For now however, nobody in authority can confirm that the effort is under way.