BELGRADE – Inefficient planning of capital expenditures, poor control over “secret” procurement procedures and reduced competitiveness in public tenders are the main problems of procurement for the police in Serbia.
The main topic of the discussion organized by POINTPULSE regional network on December 5 in the Media Center Belgrade was the police procurement of 710 “Škoda Rapid” vehicles. The aim was to address problems and possible ideas for improvements in public spending for the police.
The procurement of “Skodas” is a paradigmatic example of problematic procurement and indicates that external control institutions and the Serbian Parliament must be more actively involved in control over secret procurement process, stated BCSP researcher Vladimir Erceg.
“We have information that the Republic Commission for the Protection of Rights in Public Procurement Procedures has annulled or canceled 48 public procurements of the Ministry of Interior (MoI) in the last four years, which were intended for new police equipment. More than 55 percent of tenders announced by the Ministry of Interior end with only one registered bidder, which is below the average of other Serbian institutions”, added Erceg.
We have a Public Procurement Law, where it is clearly prescribed when and why a purchase is conducted as “secret”. We have not received any explanation why this public procurement was implemented in this way, said the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection Rodoljub Šabić.
“A large number of public institutions or public companies hold their contracts unlawfully as confidential – they simply pay the legal penalties and continue to hide them. We cannot adress the fight against corruption in Serbia if we do not raise the level of transparency to a higher level”, added Šabić.
We do not know when a call for competition was announced, who were the other bidders or how many applied. All available information is obtained through statements by officials who, we cannot fact-check at all, says Ana Novaković, a journalist at Balkan Investigative Reporting Network Serbia (BIRN).
“Due to the inability of authorities to provide answers pertaining to this public procurement, the media in which I work has launched an administrative dispute against the Government of Serbia. They have declared this procurement as secret, which is a precedent in such proceedings”, says Novaković.
The performance of the aforementioned procurement of police vehicles is much less questionable than the legality of this procurement, and it seems that the PR effects of this procurement are more important to the institutions than whether it has been properly implemented, Program Director of Transparency Serbia Nemanja Nenadić states.
“The transparency of this whole process could have been much greater. You depending on a government officials to provide you with information of public importance is the 19th century approach, when you use your legal right to access the information of public importance – that is the 20th century approach. But we are now living in the 21st century, when institutions should supply all the information they can before anyone requests them”, explained Nenadić.
The panelists hailed the procurement of new patrol vehicles as necessary and have agreed that the existence of “secret” procurement procedures is non-controversial, but instead brought into question the decision to make this procurement “secret”, despite making the process of handing the vehicles to the police departments a media event, and for making the reasons of procurement’s confidentiality non-transparent to the public.