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.