The wave of reforms in recent years driven by the EU accession process has produced a large amount of legislation whose quality has not always been satisfactory. The process has been too rapid and not sufficiently transparent or inclusive. Owing to the speed of the reform and because the Serbian electoral system gives more weight to the large cities, too little has been heard from the regions and municipalities. At the same time, institutions have come under increasing public pressure to be more transparent and exercise more scrutiny over public expenditure through the National Assembly. The economic crisis in Serbia has shown that the country's public finances need to be more efficiently managed and monitored. The National Assembly plays a decisive role in overseeing the budget and public expenditure.
More transparency in the National Assembly
Switzerland is helping to improve the quality of the legislative process and to ensure that citizens' interests are taken into account. The project also promotes the National Assembly's powers of scrutiny over public finances.
Involving the public and ensuring scrutiny
As part of the project, public hearings have been set up to debate and analyse government policy developments. Peripheral regions can put their concerns and demands to parliamentarians during these regional events.
National Assembly mobile committee sessions have been organised at municipal level. This platform for direct communication allows specialists and the general public to take part in debates on items on the National Assembly's agenda to improve its effectiveness.
The project supports more efficient administration of public finances through the introduction of electronic tools for the scrutiny of government spending. Thanks to e-governance the National Assembly can directly monitor the financial flows of the public budget and the management of fiscal affairs.
Enhanced representative powers
The programme has already borne fruit, including the introduction of a public consultation procedure for new laws (act on gender equality, electoral act, act on the funding of political groups). Surveys indicate that citizens consider the quality of the discussions in the public hearings to be 60% higher than those broadcast during televised debates. The public hearings process has furthermore had a positive effect on public participation.
The mobile committee sessions, too, have shown significant results. For example, for years overpriced land tenure leases have prevented farmers from generating secure incomes from agricultural activities. The agricultural minister was asked during a mobile committee meeting to adopt a position regarding this state of affairs. Following the public meeting the minister swiftly undertook to reduce the lease prices. Committee meetings represent communities' concerns and increase citizens' trust in the National Assembly.
The project has helped establish a women's parliamentary network. The network is made up of representatives from municipalities and businesswomen alongside MPs. It has already managed to bring a number of gender-related issues into the "Budget System Law".