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New 03 Dec 14

‘Absurd’ Fines Draw Flak in Macedonia

The Macedonian opposition and human rights activists have urged the authorities to stop imposing what they say are unnecessary fines on people who live in poverty.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic

Skopje | Photo by: Sinisa Jakov Marusic

The main opposition Social Democrats, SDSM, expressed concern after the government recently announced fines ranging from 1,000 to 3,000 euro for failure to obtain energy efficiency certificates for households that undergo renovation.

From the start of the new year, owners of houses and flats who are renovating their facades must obtain such certificates from the authorities or will be fined.

"This is absurd,” said the head of SDSM’s commission for transport and communications, Blagoj Bocvarski.

“The authorities are threatening steep fines instead of helping people renovate their homes and save energy through subsidies. This pattern of taxing and fining for just about everything has gone too far," Bocvarski said.

Bocvarski's party argues that fines are often way too high compared to the average Macedonian monthly salary of just over 300 euro, as calculated by the State Statistical Office. 

The minimum wage in Macedonia is considerably lower, at around 140 euro, and the monthly state social allowance, which for some is the primary source of income, is some 50 euro.

According to UN standards, some 30 per cent of Macedonians live below the poverty line. The country's unemployment rate is also 30 per cent, which is a record in Europe.

In the past couple of years, the authorities introduced several fines that were widely opposed and ridiculed on social networks as being too steep or impractical for people in a country that struggles with widespread poverty.

A fine of 100 euro was introduced recently for people who don’t have lights on their bicycles. A safety helmet is also required by law, but a policeman cannot issue a fine for not wearing it.

Fines of up to 500 euro are imposed on people who cannot finish the construction of their new houses within three years. If a household has no sewage connection, the owner is fined 400 euro.

The government also recently put an end to the widespread tradition of making ajvar, a traditional type of relish cooked as a winter reserve, in urban areas, by imposing fines of 250 euro on everyone who is caught cooking it with a wooden stove placed outside.

The authorities however withdrew a regulation that if passed, could have imposed fines from 100 to 150 euro for drying clothes on a terrace or window.

Human rights activist and former head of Macedonia’s Helsinki Committee, Mirjana Najcevska, remarked ironically that “Macedonia is a place where it is punishable to be poor”.

"It turns out that if you are poor in Macedonia, you ought to be even poorer, you ought to be scared and dependent. It turns out that people should be thankful to the all-powerful government for each day they get through without a fine,” Najcevska said.

A recently-proposed draft law on employment published by the Labour Ministry envisages obligatory state licensing for informally employed people doing small home repairs, with fines ranging from 1,500 to 3,000 euro for those who do such work without a license.

Some 150,000 people in the country are listed as informally employed and many of them make a living in this way.

The draft that is expected to pass in parliament early next year. But faced with growing concerns about the new legislation, Labour Minister Dime Spasov recently told media that "the draft will certainly undergo changes" and the fines will be reduced.

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