“The Dark Side of Belgrade's Development: There Is a Construction Mafia”

16 November 2007 - Comments (0) Reflections

“The Dark Side of Belgrade's Development: There Is a Construction Mafia” Anybody who had to deal, at any degree, with the construction business in Belgrade knows that it is, for the most part, a rotten business. One that is plagued by corruption, abuses, irregularities and organized crime. The Argus Project, a project from the Beta News Agency about fighting corruption and organized crime in Serbia, has just published an excellent, uncompromising article about the dark side of Belgrade's development.

Corruption everywhere

The main aspect of the depressing situation of Belgrade's development is corruption. A long chain of corruption at all levels:

«The chain of corruption begins in the City Planning Institute, which prescribes the conditions for development, and continues into the municipal and city administrations, where construction permits are issued. It also includes the development inspectorate, and only at the very end, the courts. The first violations happen at the Institute, where, by leaving out certain elements in the documentation, investors are enabled to construct buildings far larger than are allowed. The investor, then, in cooperation with the municipal official in charge of issuing construction permits, works his way around the law by adding floor space to the project -- either by enlarging floors or inserting new ones -- which is illegal.»

Citizens Against Corruption in the Construction Business (Portal Argus: 25/10/2007)

Having to deal with such a widespread, deeply rooted, corruption is not easy if you want to stay away from it. There are, in fact, two possible consequences of the corruption:

  • regardless of the existing rules, everything is possible thanks to corruption
  • regardless of the existing rules, nothing is possible without dealing with corruption

If the article from the Argus project makes us believe the first proposition is true in Belgrade, our experience so far makes us believe the second proposition is not true at all. If it was, there will be no possible business for us here. And that is actually, what might be missing in this article. One positive note to say that not everybody is corrupted and that it is possible to do legal construction business (although probably only at very small scale) without dealing with corruption. The downside being that it takes much longer and is much less profitable. The key is to do everything legally, respecting all rules in place.

Fighting against corruption campaign

Fighting against corruption campaign in Serbia (source Transparentnost Srbija)

No end in sight

Will the situation improve any time soon? Nothing is more unlikely. As Djordje Bobić, Belgrade City's Chief Architect, says it:

«Illegal development is the main source of corruption. (...) We receive complaints from citizens daily, regarding corruption in municipal and city administration offices. Most of the reports are anonymous because people are apparently unwilling to file complete complaints out of fear of retaliation. Development is a very lucrative business and the general belief is that one is better off not making any enemies.»

Djordje Bobić, Belgrade City's Chief Architect (Portal Argus: 25/10/2007)

It would take a strong political will to change things and that won't come easy as the politics are themselves the ones to beneficiate from the system.

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