NIŠ—It is necessary to perceive citizens as allies, and actively involve them in budget planning in order to fulfill their security needs.

The need for active involvement of citizens in the budget planning was highlighted at the event organized by the Belgrade Centre for Security Policy (BCSP) in Niš, on December 18th, 2018.

Opening the panel discussion, BCSP Researcher Saša Đorđević emphasized that the budget for 2019 was adopted without a proper debate in the Assembly and that that time was spent submitting 550 amendments to the two laws preceding Law on the Budget. Citizens for the second year in a row did not have the opportunity to hear in the Parliament about how their money will be spent and on what.

“The budget of the Ministry of Interior (MoI) is increased by 14% for 2019. However, we should be cautious with optimism because there are problems with poor implementation of capital projects that are repeated year after year. Also, 75 percent of planned expenditures are consists of salaries, social benefits and other employee-related costs,” said Đorđević.

BCSP associate Vladimir Erceg pointed out that the budget for the MoI for 2019 was increased in two significant aspects – salaries were increased by 9%, as well as expenditures for capital investments. This primarily relates to the renewal of the fleet of the Helicopter unit and further equipping of the police in the field of procurement of vehicles and emergency equipment.

“It is important to look back at one very important thing – the budget is just a promise of how money will be spent. Often, these promises are not fulfilled by the end of the year. As in the case of the budget for 2019, it may happen that the unspent funds are transferred into the next year, and that it looks as if more money has been set aside,” Erceg emphasized.

Milan Stefanović, from the Center for the Development of Civil Society Protecta, emphasized the importance of educating citizens on how they can get involved in the budget planning process at the local level, and to actively involve them, instead of publishing information in a form that is too hard to understand to citizens.

“Police should use citizens as allies, ask them about everything related to their security. I know that it is utopia, and that there aren’t even many cases of good practice in the neighbourhood. Prior to any serious planning, the conditions for a dialogue between citizens and the police must be ensured,” Stefanović said.

Citizens’ participation can be encouraged through well-implemented decentralization, which increases accountability and enables that the community demands are expressed in the budget programs, said Aleksandar Marinković from the Standing Conference of Towns and Municipalities. Local security councils can be a useful tool for budget planning and citizen involvement in the process, he added.

“A centralized budget in the security area is common practice in most countries in Europe, and only the budget related to emergency situations is localized. However, there must be cooperation between national and local level, and active involvement of citizens,” Marinković concluded.

Danijel Dašić, from the National Coalition for Decentralization, emphasized that money is not a key issue for decentralization. The major problem is the centralization of the decision-making process and the flow of information, as well as the fact that the decisions most frequently come from Belgrade is used as an excuse for bad decisions by local authorities.

“The passive right to pay for this ‘charade’ citizens should turn into an active right to participate in decision-making,” Dašić pointed out.

Nebojša Rančić, from Media and Reform Center Nis, pointed to the public debate on the city budget for the year 2019 as an example of a bad process that did not adequately involve citizens. The public debate lasted for a month and covered only one round table and one public reading, which is was why it was not possible to discuss security separately.

The citizens of Nis would be a lot safer if the local Security Council were to function well, Rancic underlined.

“If the local Security Council meets on a regular basis, and if it is open to civil society, the academic community and citizens’ proposals, it can successfully function and contribute to the security of the citizens of Nis,” Rančić pointed out.

After the panel, members of the Assembly of the City of Niš, current and former employees in the Police Administration Nis and representatives of civil society organizations, who were present at the event, participated in the discussion afterward.

The local debate was organized with the aim of opening a space for discussion on how we can enable citizens to be heard on the local level about their security needs, in a system as highly centralized as the police, as well as formulating recommendations for the activities of civil society organizations and the police that would contribute to improvement of the police that is in service of citizens.

The debate is part of the joint efforts of the Centre for Research, Transparency and Accountability (CRTA), National Coalition for Decentralization (NKD), Belgrade Centre for Security Policy (BCSP) and Partners for Democratic Change, in cooperation with the Centre for Civil Society Development PROTECTA, to foster the participation of citizens in decision-making at the local level, through project “Civic Action for Accountability” supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The views expressed in the debate are exclusively the views of panelists and do not necessarily reflect the views of the USAID.

Translated by BCSP intern Ana Milosavljević.

TAGS: AdvocacyBudgetFinancial ManagementPanel DiscussionPolice ReformProcurementSerbia