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Ursula Läubli, Director of the Swiss Cooperation Office, Counsellor, Embassy of Switzerland

Citizens Need to Have Their Say

Enhanced citizen participation, along with transparency, accountability, and efficient and effective processes, represents a precondition for successful Swiss- Serbian cooperation. Through our engagement with more than 40 communicates throughout Serbia, we have shown how good governance principles positively change the everyday lives of citizens

The Swiss Cooperation Office has been supporting the implementation of public finance management reforms at national and local levels in Serbia for several years already.

“These reforms are crucial for the EU accession process, such as our support to the Ministry of Finance for implementing Public Internal Financial Control, to the National Bank and the Statistics Office for improving the government’s financial statistics and reporting, but also important from the revenue point of view,” says Ursula Läubli, Director of the Swiss Cooperation Office and Counsellor at the Embassy of Switzerland.

“With our support to the Public Debt Administration, Switzerland contributed to reducing vulnerability to financial shocks through strengthened debt management and improved staff capacity. We are particularly satisfied with the excellent results of this support that contributed to significantly reducing public debt, from a peak exceeding 70 per cent of GDP in 2015 to around 55 per cent of GDP in 2018, as well as an improvement of Serbia’s credit rating.”

To what extent were these policies successfully transferred to the local level?

– When it comes to the implementation of Public Internal Financial Control at the local level, Switzerland is assisting over 40 Serbian municipalities in introducing the Financial Management and Control system, the Internal Audit function, and oversight of 30 local enterprises. Official results (PEFA assessment) show that improvements at the local level are already evident in the areas we support. This confirms that we can make a difference in Serbia, as the only donor providing long-term support in public finance management to the subnational level.

Understanding and work on good governance principles are important in cooperation with Serbia. Are the results of good governance visible in Swiss projects?

– As already highlighted in the interview with our Ambassador, enhanced citizen participation – as well as transparency, accountability, efficient and effective processes – is a precondition for successful Swiss-Serbian cooperation. We see tangible results, for example, in our support to local authorities in applying good governance principles that impact on the everyday life of citizens.

Together with the EU, which financed the reconstruction of green markets, we have provided a set of rules that the local authorities adopted. They envisage how traders can bid for points of sale so that everyone has fair rights, specifying funding sources for maintenance costs, as well as an improved management structure for sustainable green markets based on citizens’ needs and priorities.

Another example is our project supporting local governments in raising property tax, which simultaneously supports the dialogue between local governments and their citizens on how tax revenue should be used: for schools, nurseries, local roads and communal infrastructure.

We are particularly satisfied with the excellent results of our support contributing to significantly reducing public debt, from a peak exceeding 70% of GDP in 2015 to around 55% in 2018

In your opinion, to what extent does the introduction of dual education help address the looming shortage of high-quality workers and make Serbia more competitive in creating new jobs?

– The introduction of dual education is, of course, only one piece in the puzzle. The Serbian Government requested Swiss expertise and the advice of ETH Zürich on the introduction of dual education to Serbia. We are happy to provide such support, in close cooperation with our Serbian partners. Switzerland suggested a gradual introduction of dual education and backs up this process with evidence and research.

An innovative element is indeed, to be accompanied by a real cost-benefit analysis for the companies and close follow up on how teachers, parents and students perceive this major reform. In any case, such a new scheme needs to remain flexible, as economies are changing fast and students need knowledge for their entire working life – and not only for a specific job.

Through our programme “From Education to Employment”, we support non-formal education matching young unemployed people with companies offering both training and jobs. You can have a look at these offers on the project website.

What would you highlight as the major achievements of the recently completed project to support rural and regional development?

– Switzerland works at different levels when addressing a certain issue. We have worked closely with the Ministry of Agriculture on releasing 175 million euros of EU funding for rural development, while at the local level we have encouraged cooperation between the private and public sectors and civil society organisations. With Swiss support, the installing of a cycle path was completed in Srem. The aim was to further promote ecotourism by linking urban, rural and protected natural areas, such as Zasavica and Obedska bara [nature parks], to unlock their economic potential. In Šumadija, more than 50 rural women developed their own businesses. More importantly, we nurtured their entrepreneurial spirit and encouraged them to use new technologies. You may see their offer of rural accommodation and products on www.selo.rs. Moreover, as part of our support to the Association of Šumadija Winemakers, the Royal winery in Oplenac was reconstructed. Built in 1931, this space now serves for promotions, wine tastings and the reception of tourists. I can definitely recommend spending some time there.

To what extent has the government succeeded in including the UN’s SDGs in its policies?

– Serbia has just prepared its first Voluntary National Report on the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2030, which was due to be presented at the UN High-Level Forum in New York in July. This is an important step towards the development of a national SDG framework, which is a challenging process. We hope that it will allow for a society-wide and evidence-based dialogue on developmental priorities in Serbia, and we believe that the process of European integration will underpin it.

Switzerland will, together with Germany, support such a broad dialogue with civil society. Additionally, this project will also support the Serbian Government on efforts to better coordinate and finance the implementation of Agenda 2030.

How do these efforts translate at the level of the work of the National Assembly?

– We can say that, in the future, the National Assembly’s monitoring of how the Government of Serbia implements Agenda 2030 and the SDGs may gain even more importance. Serbian parliamentarians have been aware of Agenda 2030 since the early stages, and they joined the leaders in promoting the SDGs in Serbia. They have formed a cross-party caucus on SDGs, which actively advocates for Agenda 2030 within the National Assembly.

In December last year, the SDG caucus lobbied for funding in the 2019 national budget to be earmarked for the work of the inter-ministerial council that will deal with localisation of the SDGs. Two Swiss-supported projects (parliamentary and SDG support) will work hand-in-hand on the promotion and implementation of SDG related issues. 

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