Perspectives on corruption in Serbia

05 March 2007 - Comments (0) Reflections

Perspectives on corruption in Serbia Large-scale corruption, at all levels of the society, is a common problem in developing countries. In developed countries, corruption exist of course but it is usually sporadic and the result of the behavior of few individuals. In Serbia, a country in transition, corruption is still very present and it is a component to take into account in any business undertaking. We already had to deal with it at our level.

In 2002, in a report “Corruption in Serbia” [PDF], Slobodan Vuković, was saying:

“it is more than clear that corruption is present in Serbia in almost every pore of business and society. More precisely, bribery has become a necessary, although not sufficient, condition in almost even the smallest business undertaking.”

It is that year that Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic declared, “that battling corruption would be at the top of his government's agenda”.

And since then, the fight against corruption heated up and gave positive results, particularly for the high profile corruption. But corruption is far from being eradicated. On the 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index from Transparency International, Serbia was 3.0 on a scale that goes from 1.0 (worst) to 10.0 (best).

Europe Map of the 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index

Europe Map of the 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index (source Transparency International)

Why corruption is so present in Serbia

There is no easy answer but we can identify some of the reasons.

Low wages

Salaries in Serbia are low and unemployment rate is high. It is common to have a single person supporting the whole family with her salary. It is not easy to live off 250 euros in Belgrade. This is not a reason for corruption but does provide a breathing ground. If an opportunity arises to make more money, it has to be seized. If that opportunity involves some sort of corruption and if that can stay unnoticed it has to be taken.


This is not to say that there are no rules in Serbia, far from it, but there are some factors that help making corruption unnoticed. The lack of computerization, the lack of communication between governmental agencies, the lack of centralization, the lack of clear rules or the excessive complexity of the existing rules. This could be summarized as the lack of transparency of procedures and the lack of openness.


Sometimes, when dealing with the administration, you are in the fog. For instance, take a request for a tax calculation on a land. There is no way to know how long it can take. And you discover that a single person is actually dealing with them and that she has a pile of requests to deal with. You may choose to wait more but you don’t know for how long, or you may choose to pay to see your application on the top of the pile. The problem here is that you do not know what to expect and that is not an acceptable situation.

What can be done?

It would bring us too far to detail all possible measures to fight against corruption but at our level we see that few things could make big improvements.

Quality of service

This is especially applicable for the administration. Make clear what the user (us) can expect. When submitting any request, let’s say how long that request will take at most and let’s make it happens in that time. If the maximum time it takes to process a given request is acceptable and known in advance, there is little incentive to pay in order to get it faster. People can plan around a known delay. That will not only prevent corruption but will make the administration works much better.


Let’s make processes transparent. Again, in the case of the administration, it means that users should be able to see their information, the status of their requests and who is accountable for it. If everything is public it’s much harder to conceal the corrupted actions. The Law on Free Access to Information in Serbia was adopted on 5 November 2004 to support transparency, but its implementation is not without problems.

Simpler rules

If rules are too complex, some people will prefer to use corruption to bypass them rather than trying to follow them. This is very true in the construction business, where doing things the right way is really complex and could be streamlined.

Acceptable rules

Let’s make laws and regulations acceptable. In term of taxes for instance, that means not to go beyond the threshold of what people can genuinely handle. If it is too high, people will try to circumvent it.


Let’s educate people about the real cost of corruption and let’s explain them the benefit of having the propositions above implemented. Very few people like swimming in murky water. Let’s provide clear guidelines of the do's and don't regarding public administrations and let's educate citizens on the way they can respond if faced to a case of corruption. Some efforts are already under way.


And yes, once there is an acceptable way of doing things, those that do not comply should be sanctioned. And whatever is done, it will always be some people who want to abuse the system and bypass the rules. As time goes by, they will become a tiny minority.

This has been done elsewhere and Serbia has certainly the capacity to reform itself. Nevertheless, it's hard to know how long it is going to take. In the meantime, you should prepare yourself to deal with corruption, especially if doing any business in Serbia.

You can consult the web site of Transparency Serbia to learn more about the topic of corruption in Serbia.

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