The latest example of cooperation between companies and the most vulnerable local governments once again showed that NALED is able to unite its members, both in the fight against COVID-19 and in the major reforms that are ahead, such as the reform of the system of non-tax charges and parafiscal levies.
Synergy, togetherness, solidarity, participation and responsibility form the backbone of the system of values that NALED has been building carefully since its establishment and that it transfers fully to every new member. Some of the biggest reforms that NALED has participated in or encouraged would never have been possible without successful dialogue and the respecting of the interests of all parties.
“In an organisation that gathers more than 300 representatives of various sectors with interests that are not the same on many issues, it is not always simple to reach consensus, but the truth is that unity in these values helps us to find a route to fair and balanced solutions that respect the interests of all parties,” says Vladislav Cvetković, President of the NALED Managing Board and Director of Advisory Services at PricewaterhouseCoopers.
As he adds, “major reforms that NALED contributed to the implementation of, such as the introduction of the electronic system for the issuance of construction permits, would not have been so successful if the needs of both sides weren’t taken into consideration. The process will be similar with the reform of the system of non-tax charges and parafiscal levies, where it is necessary to find a way to reduce the burden on the economy, but also to find a solution that ensures local governments aren’t left with losses, because this is about money that is invested in development and cater for the needs of citizens”.
For some local governments, the arrival of large companies, and subsequent arrivals of their strategic partners, has meant the revival of local communities, not only when it comes to increased employment, but also in stimulating the economy, entrepreneurship and cultural life. Could you single out a few examples of this knock-on effect?
– The most representative examples of economic, social and cultural transformations are provided by the local governments whose participation in the Certification Programme for Municipalities with a Favourable Business Environment in Southeast Europe (Business Friendly Certification South East Europe, BFC SEE) has helped them reshape their administration in accordance with the needs of the economy and offer the highest quality services. I would use this opportunity to highlight the current holders of this certification, such as Novi Sad, Ruma, Čačak and Leskovac, which was successfully certified for the fourth time at the end of last year, with a level of fulfilment of the criteria exceeding 96%. Alongside domestic companies, a number of foreign companies also operate in Leskovac today: South Korea’s Jura, British company Aptiv, Greece’s Autostop, Germany’s Falke, Turkish Jeanci and numerous others.
More than 90 cities and municipalities in the SEE region have passed through the NALED certification programme, and more than 30 have done so in Serbia alone. And these are all examples of good practice that should be discussed and serve as role models for other local governments to follow
How well established is the institutional framework for this cooperation and to what extent can local communities create it themselves?
– The institutionalisation of cooperation between the economy and local governments is something that NALED has been advocating for years, and one of the models that we’ve offered through the BFC SEE programme is the formation of economic councils in cities and municipalities that will enable local government leaders and businesspeople operating in those communities to come together around the same table. Establishing a functional council is also among the criteria for obtaining BFC SEE I certification.
While the institutionalisation of cooperation has yet to take a stronger foothold, at the start of this summer we launched another initiative that can help on this path: the BFC Club, the club of the most successful local governments in Serbia, which currently comprises 25 cities and municipalities.
In which ways can companies and the local communities in which they operate collaborate in the areas that have been identified by NALED as priorities of future work?
– Companies can implement projects together with local governments that won’t only be important to their operations, but rather will be of general importance to the entire community. Just such projects are now being implemented together with NALED, and with the support of German Development Cooperation (GIZ), and we are certain this will be a model for future undertakings. For example, within the scope of the project “Glass Packaging Management in the Western Balkans”, we connected companies Sekopak and Apatin Brewery with the cities of Niš, Sombor, Kragujevac and Varvarin, in order to improve the system of collecting and recycling glass waste. Approximately 600 waste containers have been installed in these cities and will make it easier for citizens to properly dispose of this type of waste and make their community cleaner and more responsible towards the environment. Likewise, on the project “Increasing the Recycling Rate of Batteries and Light Bulbs”, the cities of Belgrade and Kragujevac are cooperating with companies Božić i sinovi and E-reciklaža, while company EsoTron is participating in the project “Towards Better Food Waste Management in the Republic of Serbia”.
When it comes to the development of e-Government, I would mention the project “Improvement of Municipal Services in Serbia and BiH by Introducing the ChatBot Application”, in which company SAGA is helping the cities of Sombor and Šabac to make it easier for citizens and businesses to traverse the most important administrative procedures with new modern solutions like the virtual assistant that’s available 24/7. Likewise, within the scope of the project “Digitalisation of Municipal Land Management”, company Telegroup is helping Sombor, Vrbas, Inđija, Bačka Topola and Subotica, as well as their farmers, to use software and modern meteorological stations to monitor weather conditions with great precision and thus improve production.
How important to the modernisation and development of new municipal services is the maintaining of a good dialogue between companies and local communities?
– NALED has offered an efficient model for public-private dialogue through its working bodies – thematic alliances that gather representatives of local governments and the business community with the intention of working together to improve conditions for doing business. Within the framework of our organisation to date, we have seen the forming of the Fair Competition Alliance, the e-Government Alliance, the Healthcare Alliance, the Food and Agriculture Alliance, the Property and Investment Alliance and the Environmental Protection Alliance. Each of these alliances strives, within their own domain, to determine reform priorities in a given regulatory area, offer solutions and secure support for their initiatives from relevant institutions, ministries, the Government and the National Assembly.
Our alliances have provided a significant contribution in the area of improving and modernising municipal services. Thanks to the e-Government Alliance, branded and dedicated counters that provide support in the use of services on the e-Government portal have opened in almost 150 local governments, while a mobile device application for informing businesses and citizens about municipal services has been launched in four local governments in Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Similarly, a series of useful analytical papers, covering the field of legalising real estate facilities and the application and authentic interpretation of the Law on Cooperatives, have been prepared by the Property and Investments Alliance, while the Healthcare Alliance provided its own contribution through its Grey Book and recommendations for improving healthcare services. The analysis of the situation in the domain of water protection and purification, with proposals for improving the capacity of local administrations and examples of good cross-sectoral cooperation, is the work of the Environmental Protection Alliance, while parafiscal reforms are in the focus of the Fair Competition Alliance, which recently presented its analysis of local non-tax charges. Finally, the Food and Agriculture Alliance can boast of its project to digitalise municipal land management and its application to support farmers that has been introduced in five municipalities.
Together with NALED, and with the support of German Development Cooperation (GIZ), companies implement projects together with local governments that won’t only be important to their operations, but rather will be of general importance to the entire community
To what extent has corporate philanthropy proved to be an important factor in confronting the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic?
With the desire of uniting the membership in the fight against COVID-19 and redirecting the attention of socially responsible companies towards the needs of the most endangered local governments, NALED launched a platform for donations at the very outbreak of the pandemic that very quickly met with a positive response. In a period of just over a month, this channel enabled the collection of donations worth 250,000 euros for as many as 41 local governments, and those donations included: 52 tons of food for 11,000 households, 67 computers for schools and municipal services and 140,000 euros for the procurement of medical and protective equipment. Among the donor companies were Apatin Brewery, Atlantic Grupa, Bambi, Marbo product, MK Grupa, Mlekara Šabac, SAP, Roaming solutions, Asseco SEE and others.
Socially responsible companies that have come together as NALED members donated more than two million euros, either directly or in cooperation with philanthropic organisations. Our experience has shown that the economy would be ready to donate even more, especially in food, if they were not prevented from doing so by high VAT costs. Additionally, discouraging legal solutions compel companies to destroy huge surpluses of foods with “best use by” expiry dates, despite these being food products that remain safe for human consumption. NALED is participating greatly in the working group tasked with drafting the guidelines on the donating of surplus food and, together with the Coalition for Charity, we last year submitted an initiative for VAT exemptions on goods (primarily food) and services that are donated to the public sector and humanitarian organisations.
Where can citizens find their place in articulating the needs of communities and why is their cooperation with companies at the local level relatively underdeveloped at present?
– The great needs of local communities that we saw during the pandemic, and the removal of obstacles to meeting those needs, are among the key reasons why we launched the project “Alternative financing and donations for local communities in Serbia”, with the support of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), via the German-Serbian Initiative for Sustainable Growth and Employment.
Under the auspices of this project, we worked on solutions to reduce the cost of donations, strengthen the capacity of local governments to cooperate with local associations on mapping needs and receiving and implementing monetary and non-monetary donations. During this project, we organised a contest to select the best ideas for group funding at the local level and prepared a guide with practical advice for a successful campaign. Thanks to this contest, the three winning local initiatives gained the opportunity to raise funds and improve the lives of citizens in their communities. I would like to use this opportunity to invite socially responsible companies and all people of good will to learn more about these campaigns and support them through our donation platform, www.naled.rs/donacije, because together we can make a difference.
The most successful local governments in Serbia can be leaders in the development of the country, and as such they also have an obligation to exchange experiences mutually and with less developed municipalities
Corporate philanthropy would receive a wind in its sails with the abolition of VAT on donations, but also the adoption of regulations enabling donations of surplus food to find their way to public kitchens and the Red Cross
We are overjoyed that the state has recognised that the cities and municipalities that have a business council and certificate should be specially recognised and respected