William S. F. Infante is the UN Resident Coordinator in Serbia.
09 Jan 2013
When I was first posted to Serbia in 2001, the country and its people were still shaken and scarred by years of conflict. Returning in 2009 to lead the United Nations presence there, I was deeply impressed by the swift and substantive progress made.
Belgrade had new trams and buses, neighborhoods and parks had been refurbished, and efforts to consolidate democracy, build a more inclusive economy, and establish credible mechanisms to fight corruption were well under way.
Serbia is now emerging as an increasingly powerful source of security and stability in the region, contributing scores of peacekeepers to international forces, fighting organized crime, collecting and destroying some 100,000 illicit and unregistered firearms, and integrating women in the military and police forces.
Ministries are moving to adopt individual anti-corruption strategies known as integrity plans, and dozens of investigations have opened since the new government took office barely six months ago.
Parliament is engaged in more robust review and scrutiny, and its Speaker, Nebojsa Stefanovic, is spearheading a new initiative with UNDP to strengthen parliamentary oversight of spending. These and other governance initiatives aim explicitly to promote accountability, reduce vulnerability and risk of loss, and build the credibility and legitimacy of state institutions.
In the all-important sphere of governance and rule of law, Serbia now has its own Ombudsman, who has already addressed thousands of complaints, a Supreme Audit Institution that has conducted dozens of probes, a Public Procurement Office that is reducing risk and vulnerability, and a freedom of information agency that is spearheading free speech and citizen engagement.
Life is getting better, to be sure, and the Government has made tremendous strides in supporting some of its most vulnerable citizens, but more than 25 percent of the working-age population is unemployed. The new government’s principal task in 2013 is to support job creation, in an economy hit hard by the global financial downturn.