A new report by BIRN Serbia and Civic Initiatives, “Publicly about Public Competitions: Overview of Project Financing in the fields of Media, Civil Society, Culture and Youth in 2022”, shows that Serbia allocated 6.8 billion dinars, equal to 58 million euros, on public competitions last year.
Through such public competitions, the state should support the work of sectors dealing with the protection of the public interest. For many organizations and media, this type of financial assistance is an important potential source of money.
This is why it is crucial that this money is spent in a transparent and responsible manner.
However, the research and data collected by BIRN Serbia showed that the opposite is happening; this year, as in previous years, procedural and administrative errors, abuses and non-earmarked spending of money, were all recorded.
“Essentially, there is no real support for activism. The most significant amounts of money are being misspent in the areas that should be priorities,” said Tanja Maksić, one of the authors of the report.
Stagnation and the accumulation of inherited issue problems are a key feature of the competition in 2022.
The main findings from the report are:
- Access to information in an open format improved compared to the previous research year. The researchers received more than half of the documents that the administration provided in Word or Excel format based on the request for data reuse.
- Although the government’s strategic goal is accelerated digitization of the public administration, only a small number of data sets on public competitions can be found on the open data portal (data.gov.rs).
- Administrative silence remains a big problem; one fourth of the institutions did not respond to BIRN’s request for data.
- The distribution of money through public competitions did not follow set priorities in public policies. For example, despite the proclaimed fight for the birth rate and women’s rights, research shows that it is in this area that some of the biggest abuses of money took place.
- Compared to previous years covered by the research, in 2022 there was an increase in total spending through public competitions. In 2021, about 5.1 billion dinars were spent; in 2022 this rose to 6.8 billion.
- The civil society sector got the most money (over 3 billion in 2022, i.e. 44 per cent of the total allocated money), and almost all institutions have developed models of cooperation with associations.
- Individual projects in the media sector were the most generously financed; the average value of these projects was twice as high as in other sectors.
- A large number of organizations and media regularly receive money; 2,814 are repeating from year to year.
- Regular activities are also covered by project financing – there were at least 308 projects in which the titles of the projects indicated the subject of financing of regular, annual activities of the organizations.
- The most expensive project in 2022 was awarded to Japi com company from Novi Sad, almost 48 million dinars for digitization of archival materials. Among the top winners in terms of the total amount of money in 2022 were also organizations that have been on this list for years – OPENS, Exit festival, and four regional TV stations whose editorial policy is close to the government (TV Novi Pazar, TV Belle Amie from Niš, VTV Subotica and TV Zona Niš).
- In the procedural sense, the biggest issue remains the lack of evaluation of what has been achieved, the publication of non-standardized and non-harmonized decisions on the allocation of funds, an inadequate appeals mechanism that cannot prevent abuses, and the non-transparency of the work of competition commissions, because documents on their appointment and work are almost non-existent.
BIRN’s previously published investigation showed that almost half of the money allocated by the Ministry of Family Welfare and Demography in the 2022 competitions – 1.3 out of 3 million euros – was allocated to a network of related organizations, and there are no results of their work.
“Some received per 30 million dinars (during 2021 and 2022), without knowing what they received the money for. We handed all the information to the Prosecutor’s Office and the police,” said Aleksandar Đorđević, one of the reporters that worked on the investigation, saying that the institutions must react and investigate possible fraud.
For the fourth year in a row, BIRN and Civic Initiatives have been monitoring the spending of state money through project financing, that is, competitions for the implementation of projects in the public interest.
The report was created on the basis of information from the database, which currently provides insight into over 22 billion dinars of public money spent at all levels of government in the period 2019-2022. It is the largest open database of this type.
Apart from BIRN and Civic Initiatives, 16 researchers from local civil society organizations participated in the research.