In 2019, reforms were in full swing, but last year’s Covid-19 crisis gave little room for working on systemic reforms, the focus of institutions was on preserving public health and preventing a potentially dramatic decline in business. In 2020, however, some of NALED’s long standing vital recommendations were implemented.
A state of emergency was declared already in the first quarter, so the capacities of the public administration were focused on preventing the spread of the virus. Regulation was focused almost exclusively on adopting rules on the movement and gathering of the population and the work of businesses.
NALED responded to the social challenges by proposing measures to support businesses, joining the government’s efforts to preserve not only public health but also businesses and jobs.
Addressing the challenges of the pandemic, NALED formed the Covid- 19 digital platform (www.naled.rs/ covid19) during the first days of the emergency to identify problems and solutions, provide legal assistance, inform businesses and the public and collect donations for the most affected local communities and health facilities.
On the declaration of the state of emergency, NALED was the first to introduce a set of 10 priority measures followed by many sector recommendations. Their adoption and the joint activities of the government and business associations successfully helped many to survive the crisis. Serbia’s fall of only one percent of GDP was an exceptional result in Europe, where drops were calculated in double digits. APR business data and the positive net result of RSD 433.5 billion, better by a fifth than the year before, and 43.500 new jobs in companies submitting financial reports confirm this. When sole traders are added, last year ended with 10,000 businesses more than 2019.
10 PRIORITIES TO SAVE BUSINESS
3 out of 10 of NALED’s priority measures for supporting businesses and preserving jobs were adopted in the first support package by the government: the possibility of deferred payment of taxes and contributions without interest and access to cheap or interest-free loans to provide liquidity and refinance liabilities; a recommendation for direct financial support to businesses; and a moratorium of at least three months on the repayment of loans to banks and all state duties. A recommendation by NALED and other philanthropic organizations on the abolition of VAT on donations during the state of emergency was also adopted.
EMERGENCY MEASURES IN HEALTHCARE
The crisis committee accepted several of the 15 emergency measures recommended by NALED concerning operation of healthcare system under Covid-19. The first was to cancel the decision to ban the export of medicines, which enabled the uninterrupted supply of previously planned quantities to countries in the region and avoided shortages, especially of medicines not related to Covid-19. On our initiative, expired prescriptions were automatically extended for patients with chronic diseases (so-called electronic therapies) through the eRecept application. This measure was carried out despite certain technical difficulties in practice. Also adopted was our recommendation regarding electronic application for obtaining a license to operate vehicles for delivering medications and medical devices during curfew. HELP FOR FARMERS The government accepted three of NALED’s five emergency measures to help farmers and beekeepers. On our initiative financial assistance was provided for agricultural holdings – two regulations were passed securing assistance of RSD 2.6 billion for farms, and one of RSD 236 million that covered the purchase of surplus fattening cattle.
Although needed, this solution offered only a short-term respite, primarily for small farmers. NALED’s initiative also allowed the farmers to apply electronically for a permit to work their fields during the state of emergency. Unfortunately, the paperwork for both the public administration and the farmers created a great problem because they had to obtain individual permits for each day of work. In addition, farmers over the age of 65 were not allowed to visit their fields. One of the positive measures was the launch of the ePijaca portal, which initially established a register of agricultural producers. However, nothing could be ordered or paid directly through the portal.
NALED responded to the social challenges brought by Covid-19 by proposing measures to support businesses, joining government efforts to preserve not only public health but also businesses and jobs
SUPPORT TO THE CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY AND TRANSPORT
NALED also submitted a proposal for 20 measures supporting the construction industry and the infrastructure and transport sectors. Thanks to the coordination of the Ministry of Construction and the Ministry of the Interior, some filling stations were opened all day throughout Serbia where trucks were allowed to move, preventing the formation of large convoys of trucks at the border. In addition, a green corridor was introduced in May to allow trucks to cross borders in the Western Balkans, which boosted foreign trade and enabled a regular supply of goods.
The Ministry of Labour accepted the recommendation to move the expiry date of 2019 annual leave to the end of 2020, helping employers organize work during the state of emergency. Additionally, NALED’s recommendations to obtain permits electronically for the movement of goods transport were adopted. Help of around EUR 200 million was also provided for the roads to partially compensate for the loss of income.
Unfortunately, one of NALED’s important recommendations, to secure deferred payment of contractual obligations to the state, and the urgent settlement of obligations to transporters by the state was not realized. In fact, the opposite was done. The Ministry of Finance informed local governments to postpone the payment of agreed obligations.
SINGLE CONTACT CENTRE FOR INSPECTIONS
To prevent market irregularities like illegal increases in the prices of food, medicine and protective equipment during the pandemic, five days after the declaration of the state of emergency a single contact centre for inspections was established. The Contact Centre was launched by the Government in cooperation with NALED and with the support of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the Ministry of State Administration and Local Government, the Support Unit for the Coordination Commission for Inspection Supervision and the Office for IT and eGovernment played a key role. Individuals and businesses could report any observed irregularities or grey economy issues by phone or online via the website inspektor.gov. rs. Operators filtered the information received, directed it to the responsible inspections and further action within the legal deadlines. During the pandemic, about 1,600 reports were received per week, only to rise by the end of January 2020 to 16,000. People could also report violations of anti-pandemic measures to the contact centre.
AN EFFECTIVE VACCINATION APPLICATION SYSTEM
During 2020, the Government’s expert team and the IT and eGovernment Office worked on establishing a single vaccination management information system, which ranked our country at the very top in Europe in organizing immunization of the population. In January 2021, mass vaccination of Serbians began, with the electronic system enabling efficient management of available vaccines through monitoring each bottle from its entry into the country to its use.
The system also enables all interested residents to apply for vaccination through the eGovernment portal by filling out an online form, or through the contact centre, and then receive their vaccination appointment via SMS and e-mail.
Given the overall situation of the coronavirus pandemic, the reforms enacted can be considered the result of extraordinary efforts, but the challenges to reform in 2021 should be addressed with a more agile adoption of comprehensive solutions
REFORMS HAVE NOT BEEN STOPPED
Despite the challenging situation and judging by the results of the recommendations of the Grey Book 12, reforms did not stop. During 2020, two recommendations were fully implemented, while 11 were partially implemented. Given the overall situation of the coronavirus pandemic, what has been achieved so-far can be considered the result of extraordinary efforts. Although this result is in line with the resolution average of the previous 12 years, we believe that because of everything we have gone through, the challenges of reform in 2021 should be addressed with more agile adoption of comprehensive solutions, to prepare Serbian businesses for post-pandemic conditions.
Last year, the Ministry of Finance fully or partially implemented most of NALED’s recommendations, which is in line with the number and importance of Grey Book recommendations that are in the scope of work of this ministry. Implementation of electronic public procurement began in 2020, and the long-awaited new Law on Fiscalization was adopted, which will modernize and digitize retail sales and processing of fiscal cash register data in real time. Also, this regulation will enable the fiscalization of most business entities that had no obligation to issue fiscal invoices so far.
The first step towards the complete abolition of the obligation to submit proof of payment was made with fees for courts, since their central collection system has been established. Reduction in payroll deductions also went ahead although they are still insignificant, and new electronic tax services were introduced on the ePorezi portal.
The following ministries have partially adopted the recommendations of Grey Book 12: Ministry of Health – working on a plan to optimize a healthcare institutions network and solving the problem of state pharmacy debts; Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications and Ministry of State Administration and Local Self- Government – further developing eUprava in Serbia, from establishing the Central Population Register to eDelivery; Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs – started expanding the system for simplified registration of seasonal workers; National Bank of Serbia – work on simplifying procedures for assigning claims.
The Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Construction, Transport and Infrastructure, together with the Republic Geodetic Authority, are responsible for the complete resolution of two recommendations in 2020.
ELECTRONIC PUBLIC PROCUREMENT
An important advance was made in establishing an electronic public procurement procedure based on the Law on Public Procurement adopted during 2019, from 1 July 2020 when the provisions of this law began to apply. All communication between contracting authorities and potential suppliers in public procurement processes from the moment of the invitation, through the submission of bids, till the conclusion of the contract, is done through the public procurement portal which is publicly available on jnportal.ujn.gov.rs.
During 6 months of use, about 10,000 advertisements and public calls were published, and little more than 11,000 procedures were conducted, which shows the system was rapidly accepted.
eDELIVERY OF REGISTRATIONS IN THE CADASTRE
The reform of the registration of rights in the real estate cadastre enables citizens to electronically submit requests for registration through a public notary, and in future to receive cadastral decisions on their requests electronically. Through the eŠalter system it is possible for the solutions issued by the Republic Geodetic Authority to be delivered as an electronic document to the mailbox of the citizen. For those who have not opened an account on the eGovernment portal, a printed copy of an electronic document can be delivered by registered mail through a postal service.
Recipients have long been bothered by these registered deliveries being returned if the postal operator did not find them at the address at the time of delivery. More than 90% of decisions were not delivered. Amendments to the Law allow the shipments to be left at the nearest post office after the first unsuccessful attempt, and only after a 15-day period be returned. Additionally, in case the party does not pick up the shipment, it is published on the authority’s website, and considered delivered no later than 30 days from the day of its publishing on the site.