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News 15 Dec 17

Serbian Ruling Coalition Accused of Stifling Budget Debate

The Serbian opposition accused the ruling coalition of obstructing debate in parliament by filing hundreds of meaningless amendments that prevented proper discussion of next year's state budget.

Maja Zivanovic

Photo: Serbian Parliament.

Opposition politicians accused the ruling parties of stifling debate for filing more than 300 amendments to various laws this week, meaning that opposition MPs did not have time during the session to present their proposed amendments to the draft budget law for 2018.

“Our MPs filed around 100 amendments on the budget, but this obstruction showed the authorities’ intention to further destroy the political system and institutions in Serbia,” the head of Nova Stranka (New Party), former Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic, told BIRN. 

Zivkovic said that MPs from the ruling parties filed meaningless amendments and then withdrew them on Wednesday evening and Thursday morning.

Some of the amendments contained similar sentences and some of them were filed to amend the Budget Law for 2017, which will be in force for just 20 days.

Blic daily reported on Tuesday that each MP from ruling coalition, led by the Serbian Progressive Party, proposed on average 17 amendments using the same phrases, such as “to improve efficiency” or to “improve development”.

Some of these amendments were filed on each clause of the legislation that was tabled to be discussed before debate began on the 2018 budget law. 

The other laws were discussed at the beginning of the session which started on Tuesday, and MPs from the ruling coalition had the right to speak first.

The opposition warned that the discussion of such a large number of amendments on the other laws would eat up all the time for discussion of the 2018 budget law, as a total of 600 minutes is allowed for debate on amendments.

When that 600 minutes expired on Thursday morning, MPs from ruling coalition withdrew their amendments. 

The parliamentary speaker then read out the titles of all remaining amendments and put them to a vote.

The amendments from the opposition, which had not been discussed, were rejected. 

The opposition Enough is Enough movement, which filed 556 amendments, said that it had “watched absolute obstruction from the ruling majority during the debate on the budget for the next year”.

“The SNS [ruling Serbian Progressive Party] was obviously frightened about the budget debate because it could not explain to citizens why it unlawfully seized [money] from pensions and salaries, why money is wasted on subsidies and aid to non-reformed public companies managed by incompetent party staff, and on the other hand, why Serbia has the smallest economic growth in the region,” Enough is Enough’s press office told BIRN.

It alleged that amendments filed by ruling coalition MPs were “meaningless”. 

The opposition Democratic Party, which filed 292 amendments, described the past three days in parliament as an “unprecedented incident”.

The Democratic Party accused the ruling coalition of trying to prevent debate on the 2018 budget and ensure that its legislation was adopted unchallenged.

“The withdrawal of [ruling coalition] amendments in order to shorten the time for voting is just a confirmation that the intention was to abolish the procedure [by which laws are discussed] by adopting the first budget that was not discussed in parliament,” the Democratic Party’s press office told BIRN. 

A senior official from the Progressive Party, Zorana Mihajlovic, said on Thursday that the submission of a large number of amendments by the ruling majority was part of the “parliamentary fight”.

"It is the right both of the governing and opposition [parties] to propose amendments and explain in parliament what they are advocating,” Mihajlovic said in parliament, Beta news agency reported. 

Parliament adopted the budget for next year on Thursday. 

Opposition MPs criticised it for being non-transparent, and accused the government of having a poor economic policy.

But the Fiscal Council of Serbia, an independent state body charged with assessing monetary policy, said approvingly on December 4 that the budget was balanced and that the deficit was small.

The Fiscal Council of Serbia also noted that the fact that the budget is balanced was not being used as a reason to raise pensions again to the level at which they stood before 2014.

Reacting to the controversy over this week’s events in the legislature, the Open Parliament website, which monitors parliamentary sessions, said on Thursday that it will no longer publish information about the activities of MPs.

Open Parliament explained in a statement that the adoption of the budget without debate represented "the collapse of the parliamentary institution".

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