BRANKO RUŽIĆ, Minister of Public Administration and Local Self-Government in the Government of the Republic of Serbia: Minimizing Bureaucratic Obstacles

Along with reforming public administration, we are also going to focus on prefecting the knowhow and skills of civil servants in order for them to provide high quality services to both citizens and business people

We are talking to the newly appointed Minister of Public Administration and Local Self-Government, Branko Ružić about further steps in reforming public administration, e- and m-government, the Law on Civil Servants, reforming inspection oversight, and digitalization.

You have succeeded the now Prime Minister, Ana Brnabic in this position. How much do her and your priorities regarding the Ministry match, and in which segment of the ministerial work are you planning on doing something differently?

I have been lucky in that respect that my two predecessors have done a lot on reforming the public administration, and I am confident that the path that we are currently

on is the best possible path for the Serbian citizens. I am not going to swerve from this path, that’s for sure. It is important that we ensure continuity in optimization and modernization of public administration, because we are convinced that the undertaken measures are leading towards reducing red tape and increasing efficiency of public institutions, as well as towards reducing the required time and money that citizens spend on communicating to the administration which for us, in the state administration, is important because changes lead to better management of the system, both organizationally and financially. Apart from ensuring continuity, it is important for me to foucs on further advancing the skills and the know-how of our employees, to properly value good work and sanction subpar one. I would like to dedicate my work to civil servants because it is them, not buildings, that make public administration.

After becoming minister, you had talks with ambassadors from the US, Finland, Russia, Estonia and several other countries. What were the main topics at these meetings?

I see that I talk to a lot of my peers in the region and from the countries that are far ahead of us because I want to learn from the best and apply best practices in our system too. I don’t think that we are the smartest and that we can do everything ourselves. Serbia has gone through a lot of trouble and I am proud of what the government has done so far so that we can stand on our two feet and for other countries to be able to speak of Serbia in an affirmative tone. If we had closed the door behind us, we would have never got where we are today.

E-government is one of the government’s priorities, but there are speculations that the relevant Action Plan might include stipulations about m-government too. Is Serbia ready to embark on such move?

You probably know that, when it comes to e-government parameters, the UN ranked Serbia 39th out of 193 countries, and 3rd out of the 6 observed countries in the region. I am very happy to hear that, and my impressions from the regional talks at the Bled Forum are

very positive. We also praised our e-services for citizens like “Baby, Welcome to the World!” which ensures that parents can complete all the administrative procedures for the newborns while they are still in maternity hospital, and to be able to spend the precious first days of baby’s life at home rather than running around and trying to sort out documents. It is also interesting to note that we have networked all the registries in one place, and that civil servants will now have access to 14 different documents and can complete the relevant procedures by themselves electronically, rather than asking our citizens to submit copies of various documents, certificates etc. What we need to do is to continue developing m-government and make e-services available via mobile phones, which is our next phase.

How much is the establishment of electronic records of Serbian citizens an important step in that direction, and how will that specifically benefit the citizens of Serbia?

The Ministry has started creating a Central Registry, which contains all electronic data from the registry books. Already, a number of local self-governments are using e-data stored in the Central Registry in their work. In order to consolidate the data, it is necessary to incorporate the Citizenship Registry too, which is under the jurisdiction of the Interior Ministry. In this way, citizens will not have to go to their hometowns to get certain documents, as before, but will be able to get them anywhere in Serbia.

One of the key issues raised during the discussions with the IMF mission was sorting out local finances. What practical steps will be made to rectify this issue?

This issue cannot be solved by one ministry alone, but we, as in government, must come up with several proposals for the solution. There are available options, and we just have to properly examine all the circumstances. We cannot apply a rigid, one-off solution without taking into account the functioning of local self-governments. It is also important to

establish a system that will prevent such things from happening in the future, and we are already working on it.

The IMF also requested that the Law on Civil Servants should be adopted by the end of the month. Will you manage to do that?

The draft law has gone through a public debate, and we expect to forward it to the Government of the Republic of Serbia for adoption very soon. After that, the draft law should be sent to the National Assembly at the end of this month.

What kind of complaints did you hear during the public debate?

During the debate, we heard praise for the way in which the current system is designed, as well as for the reform of inspection supervision and of administrative procedures. This is good, because, in the end, we all want to have a more efficient and professional administration. Of course, we also heard different remarks and suggestions towards making certain laws clearer, and I can tell you that around 70% of these suggestions have been taken on board. Of course, a large part of the comments were about low salaries, and I would like to clarify something here – the law will not reduce anyone’s current salary. This law can only increase salaries depending on the savings made in the budget. We will define the value of all jobs in public services and estimate how much salaries in education and health should differ for instance, i.e. we need to differentiate between the salary of an admission nurse and an ER nurse. By doing so, we are creating a system that is manageable, transparent and fair, which has certainly not been for decades, and to finally have motivated employees who will better serve the citizens. Only in a well-regulated system, which will ensure a fairer distribution of money, employment of best candidates, employees enjoying more protection, rewarding quality and having dedicated staff, we can expect our citizens to be satisfied with the quality of services they receive in hospitals, schools, cultural institutions or from social services…

How ready are local civil servants to respond to the challenges of new working conditions, including a much more dynamic interaction with foreign investors?

Together with the EU and SKGO, the Ministry has organized several training sessions. We are constantly working on having a two-way communication with local civil servants, because only if we share the same view that changes are good for all of us, we can actually implement them. Again, this boils down to our key tasks – education and skills improvement.

You have recently introduced 188 models of administrative procedures in nine areas at the local level. What does this mean in practical terms when it comes to the attitude that local authorities have towards citizens and businesses?

There are locally-defined jobs, created by a municipality or city itself, and there are jobs defined at the state level. We have given directives to local governments how to skip administrative procedures when it comes to performing the tasks defined by the state, and recommendations for locally-defined jobs. All these changes are accompanied by adequate training. It is important that we make the work performed by the public administration less burdening on citizens and business people so that they can invest their time and money in right things.

You have participated recently at the Bled Strategic Forum. What are your impressions of the Forum, and how big is the region’s need for further digitalization?

All of the participating ministers pointed out that digitalization was priority, hence it is important for us to continue exchanging experiences and opinions about this topic in order for the entire region to progress together, both in terms of digitalization and modernizing public administration. Serbia has done a lot apropos devel oping e-government and it was my great honour to present these results at the Forum. At the same time, I was glad to hear about services that other regional governments have developed. I also had an opportunity to talk to my Macedonian counterpart, Damjan Mančevski who was very interested in our reform of inspection supervision thanks to which we now better coordinate the work done by inspection bodies which now play more of an advisory role rather than a repressive one. The effects of this reform are excellent. Since the beginning of this year, the number of newly registered companies has grown, and it currently stands at 20,284.

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