Although a lot has been done in the last three years, that does not mean that we can relish in social well-being as yet. Serbia still has to face many big obstacles and challenges in the future, while our Ministry focuses on helping the most vulnerable groups and their inclusion.
REFORMS AS GOVERNMENT’S PRIORITY
In the last three years, the Government of the Republic of Serbia has done a lot on building and functioning of new institutional mechanisms, coupled with a wealth of expertise and long-term projected vision of development, with clearly defined strategic determinations in the field of economy, international economic relations, foreign policy relations and other areas of importance for the entire social and economic development.
Despite the fact that a lot has been accomplished, and although we have covered the majority of reform path, this doesn’t imply that we can just relax and relish in social well-being. We still have to face many big obstacles and successfully complete important tasks.
From 1991, which marked the beginning of the transition in Serbia, to 2014, when Aleksandar Vučić was appointed the Serbian Prime Minister, there was no clear political determination in our country to abandon the old way of thinking. This hesitation regarding social reforms, demonstrated by the previous governments, embodied in the frequent implementation of populist measures that once protected social peace, but essentially extended the agony of rigid insistence on keeping the obsolete and ineffective social system alive, was so visible and manipulative that, during that period, the citizens of Serbia refused to give massive support to these rather vague, inconsistent and undefined attempts at reforming the society.
Such a collaboration between the political leadership and one segment of academic community in exacerbating social differences and tightening the measures towards those who they cynically called “the transition losers” has managed to create a sense of hopelessness and unpredictability in the majority of the citizens of Serbia, as well as a growing sense of dissatisfaction.
It was this civil discontent that proved to be a fertile ground for the reform programme that Aleksandar Vučić devised and proposed. Citizens recognized a clearly formulated proposal for a rounded and consistently implemented transformation of the society in line with the postulates of the market economy and improving the living standard of all citizens of Serbia, with no-one being privileged or excluded from that process so that the burden of reforms is thus evenly and equitably distributed.
In a short amount of time, the government has managed to achieve a sustainable balance between the reform goals and IMF’s requirements. The initial budget savings put a stop to further negative tendencies and growing deficit. Successful large-scale projects in residential construction, road and railway infrastructure construction, greenfield and brownfield investments, industrial parks, investments in renewable energy resources, processing of wastewater, large investments in the Serbian metal processing and power generating sectors, as well as considerable investments in hotel and tourism industry are all good enough reason to continue being optimistic. We expect the economic development of such size and intensity to continue in the near future, and to trigger the development of all other segments of the Serbian economy and a real increase in the living standard.
In terms of the priorities of the line ministry that I helm – the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran, and Social Issues – we are devoting special attention to inclusion and care for citizens belonging to socially sensitive categories. This can be seen from the 2018 budget which has considerably higher allocations for the care of the most vulnerable groups. Perhaps the most important task regarding this care, that the Ministry is facing now, is producing social security cards.
SOCIAL SECURITY CARDS
On one hand, social security cards will help the state authorities in tackling corruption because they will contain information about assets and income of one person or several connected persons, while, on the other hand, it will facilitate the fight against social stigma since there are citizens who are ashamed of applying for welfare that is rightfully theirs. Many countries in the region, like Macedonia and Montenegro, have formed databases that can be used by many state institutions. This ensures that certain population categories are not included in the relevant regulation because they are not eligible to have certain rights, while, on the other hand, those persons who are eligible will be able to exercise their rights more easily.
For now, only Scandinavian countries have such social security cards. They also have a population registry, a good tax administration, and systems based on which they can have an insight into what kind of assets and income a person has at any given moment. The system of social security cards will be introduced in Serbia with the aim of ensuring fair and economical distribution of welfare and other benefits which purpose is having a more just exercise of civil and other social rights. The implementation of this system will increase efficiency in the segment of social policy and assistance, as it will facilitate faster and easier implementation of citizens’ rights while reducing possible abuse of rights and avoidance of obligations. Their ultimate purpose is for people to be able to exercise their human rights, guaranteed by the Constitution.
The need to develop social security cards stems from the analysis of the state of poverty in the Republic of Serbia, the state of the social protection system and the state of development of information systems in the Ministry. This need was also mentioned in the exposé of the Government of the Republic of Serbia’s Programme at the National Assembly on 28th June 2017, and it is also set as one of the priorities of the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs. The implementation of the social security card system will prevent possible abuses, and allow for more equitable distribution with the view of social welfare reaching those people who really need it.
The importance of social security cards could be summed up in the following way – a social security card represents a documented way of measuring the socio-economic power of an individual, family, region, and total population. It includes indicators of the socio-economic situation of the population: records of the population structure (gender, age, education, unemployment rate), working population, salary / income level, level of education and other indicators, and its content enables monitoring of the current, and planning of community development at two levels:
1) individual (micro level), which includes data about a person and a family (household), which helps state bodies to ascertain the person or the family’s status, i.e. their rights and obligations, based on the data contained in the state authorities’ databases.
2) regional and national (macro level), which includes status data and the data on the wider community’s trends, based on statistical, aggregated data, with the view of facilitating social development planning in the future.
Based on the aforementioned data, and mimicking the model used in Denmark, the country that has perfected it the most, we, in Serbia, want to form a unique database that is based on the social status of our citizens and that is going to serve as a platform for public policies in the segment of social welfare, employment, pensions, healthcare and other areas.
I believe that with such just and fair approach, the state will have a better insight into who really needs a certain type of assistance and to what extent, as it will make sure that this assistance reaches those citizens that need it the most as soon as possible and without undue delays, in addition to effectively helping with prevention of possible misuse.
Overcoming economic and social crisis is not easy or simple. Although we all believe in the fast and efficient accomplishment of the set goals, economic, social and other indicators show an even more complicated situation in the national and labour economy. The new institutional mechanisms that should replace the old ones are still not fully functional, primarily because we have inherited old systems with an old administration that adheres to old work ethics and has old work habits.
REFORMING THE VALUE SYSTEM
Creating and implementing economic policy in the desired direction should be carried out parallel with the process of reforming the society’s value system while, at the same time, encouraging the change of the current view of the world and redefining the attitude towards work, especially in the part of the population whose job involves taking responsibility for other people.
I think we can confidently say that now, at the end of 2017, we can be cautiously optimistic based on the success of the overall development policy implemented by the Serbian government, as well as have faith that we are going to accomplish better results in 2018 while working towards the fulfillment of the set goals.