While Serbian officials adopted the state budget on time, the process lacked public input, participants in the Fourth National Budget Forum concluded on Monday.
At the forum, which was organised by BIRN and PRO CONCEPT, participants said the most significant progress made in Serbia's budget process is prompt voting, but they lamented the lack of public participation.
The forum brought together over 100 representatives of ministries, members of parliament, civil society representatives and experts, representatives of embassies in Belgrade and local governments.
Vlajko Senić, State Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, said the budget is realistic, and added that in creating it, the Ministry considered the remarks of the Fiscal Council related to the improvement of budget control.
“The establishment of a quarterly expenditure control mechanism introduced tougher discipline and better transparency," he said at the forum, which was held at the National Parliament.
Responding to the comment that there was no public debate before the vote on the budget, Senić said that a new government was formed in the final quarter of the budget season, and there was no time for wider public involvement in the decision-making process.
Vladimir Vučković, a member of the Fiscal Council, told participants he was pleased that the Ministry had acknowledged and adopted numerous comments made by the Council. He described the budget as realistic, while pointing to areas of risk on both the expenditure and the revenue sides.
"Non-tax revenue and income taxes have been overestimated in the projections, but it is still possible to reach the projections if the inflation rate increases," Vucković said.
On the expenditure side the most important test for the Ministry of Finance will be to hold to planned salaries and not to succumb to social pressure and abandon the tight control of wages and earnings, he added.
Meanwhile Dimitri Boarov, a journalist from the weekly magazine "Vreme", said he was pleased that the Ministry of Finance had adhered to the budget calendar and followed the advice of expert bodies, but noted that such steps do not bring about fundamental change to the process.
"It is almost certain that the budget will face major risks in implementation, primarily the risk of not maintaining levels of planned expenditures," Boarov said.
At the forum on Monday, BIRN and PRO CONCEPT presented the Citizens Guide to the State Budget, which was drafted by the two organisations.
The first manual of its kind in Serbia, the Citizens Guide was created with the aim of making the preparation, adoption and execution of the budget more accessible and more comprehensible to the public.
"We have forgotten about the citizens and the fact that the budget is actually in their interest. This guide is designed for citizens and is part of an effort to make it easier for them to actively engage in monitoring the budget, " the guide's creators told the forum.
The editor of the economic section of "Večernje Novosti", Gordana Bulatovic, who represented the media at the public hearing, said that not only were citizens deprived of basic information related to the budget, but media outlets were also given inadequate information.
"The media can not find anything about hidden costs and how much money is given to each Ministry. For many subjects we have no counterparts in government. Reporting on the budget was reduced to tabloid newspaper and transfer of parliamentary replicas, while there was no analysis of the law and its impact on citizens," said Bulatovic.
‘The Silent Scream’, a documentary dedicated to the victims of wartime sexual violence, produced by the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BIRN BiH) premiered on Wednesday in Sarajevo.
The International Protocol on Documentation and Investigation of Sexual Violence in Conflict was launched today in Sarajevo. The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in BiH, a partner in the project, presented several testimonies of sexual violence survivors.
The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BIRN BiH) will on November 19 premier its latest documentary film dedicated to the victims of wartime sexual violence in Sarajevo, at the Business Center Unitic.
The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network Bosnia and Herzegovina held the second of its annual countrywide round of meetings with representatives of the media and judiciary in Travnik on Wednesday.
For the eighth year in a row, 10 promising journalists from across the region will present the investigative reports they developed at part of BIRN’s annual Balkan Fellowship for Journalistic Excellence scheme.
“Civilsed Monotony,” a new report on the implementation of Kosovo-Serbia agreements was launched today in Prishtina.
BIRN's latest documentary ‘The Majority Starts Here’ was given its Washington DC premiere at the National Press Club on November 3, sparking a debate about transitional justice and reconciliation processes in the Balkans.
The Balkan Investigative Reporting Network Bosnia and Herzegovina started its annual countrywide round of meetings with representatives of the media and judiciary in Zenica on Wednesday.
A stalwart of our organisation since its foundation - and a much loved, respected and valued colleague - passed away on Wednesday.
Project financing is the way best way to distribute budget funds for the media – but the task will be a tough one, a BIRN conference on the New Media Economy heard in Belgrade on October 31.