The political and legal dispute over the confidentiality of the several agreements that the Government of Serbia had concluded with foreign governments or companies have led to the publishing, in mid-August 2014, of some of those classified documents. Some were meanwhile obviously amended in line with the demands by the European Commission. Joint venture agreements with companies from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), based on the Serbia-UAE inter-governmental agreement on cooperation, encompassed partial privatisation of the loss-making Serbian national air carrier Jat Airways (which, rebranded as Air Serbia, became part of the Etihad Airways group) and a long term lease of thousands of hectars of arable land in Vojvodina to a company from the UAE.
Similar disputes also followed the launch of the Belgrade Waterfront, a 3 billion USD worth mega-project aimed at transforming large part of the river Sava bank in downtown Belgrade into a futuristic business and luxury apartment-bloc environment, dominated by a 180-meter high emblematic tower. Belgrade Waterfront is also based on an inter-governmental Serbia-UAE agreement.
The main remarks put against all these ventures by Serbian watchdog NGOs such as Transparency Serbia were primarily targeting the classified nature of the agreements and the circumventing of laws on the required transparency of the private-public partnerships (PPPs). Against both remarks, the excuse was that the joint ventures were based on the intergovernmental agreement whereby confidetiality was demanded by a foreign partner as part of the contract. Similar rows in the past, during several previous Governments, respectively had included (a failed) contract for a construction of a motorway Horgoš-Požega, as well as some major privatisations such as of steelworks in Smederevo, by the US Steel Košice (who later sold it back to the Government), or of the Zastava car plant in Kragujevac, by Fiat.
Serbian NGOs, as well as opposition parties (but only as long as they were out of office), claimed what the theoreticians had warned at a long ago - that PPPs were among the most corruption-vulnerable acts of government. Needless to say, PPPs thus need stricter rules and monitoring by society as a whole, while any attempt to cloud the details of such agreements naturally arises suspicion. As Transparency Serbia commented, declassification of several agreements should not mark the end of the monitoring, but rather a true beginning of a dialogue on whether or not and to what degree the projects were indeed in the public interest.
In 2013, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF) launched a project titled Freedom Barometer Western Balkans, which besides other issues dealt with the prevalence of corruption. Its aim is to evaluate freedom. It has measured, on a scale between 1 (worst) and 10 (best), ten different aspects of freedom in the five Western Balkans countries encompassed by the activities of the FNF Office in Belgrade (Croatia, BiH, Serbia, Montenegro and Albania), in three major fields: political freedom, economic freedom and rule of law. One of the main aspects of the rule of law is corruption (namely, curbing it). From 2014 on, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Greece will also be monitored, evaluated and included into the (renamed) project. Kosovo might eventually also be included, once reliable data for all relevant aspects are gathered during several consecutive years.
FNF index of corruption was created by adapting the already established indices of the other, renowned organizations to the format of the Freedom Barometer project. In the report for 2014, the scores for eight Balkan countries will be put and commented. The score for corruption will be based on the Transparency International`s index CPI for 2013. The following chart and table show CPI in Balkans in 2013 as compared to 2012.
As displayed, Croatia is the most advanced (that is, the least backward) Balkan country regarding the perceived corruption. With the CPI score of 48 points out of 100 (as compared with 46 in 2012), she was placed as 57th of 177 countries of the world. Macedonia and Montenegro follow with 44 points each, sharing the place 67. In 2012, Macedonia scored 43, while Montenegro had 41. Then come BiH and Serbia, sharing the place 72 with 42 each. In 2012, BiH also had 42, while Serbia scored just 39. Bulgaria is 77th with 41 points (same as in 2012), while Greece is 80th with 40 (a jump from 36 points in 2012). Albania is lagging far behind and to it losing pace: in 2013 she actually witnessed a backlash. In 2012 she scored 33 points, while in 2013 just 31, thus being placed as 116th.
As put in the forward to the FNF brochure on the Freedom Barometer WB 2013, the gathered data might be a good food for thought to politicians, economists, or human rights advocates (or to that matter also to other NGO - or political party - activists). Moreover, that could be an incentive for more openness, more public scrutiny over public affairs and public spending, and thus for allowing less opportunities for corruption, hence for more rule of law and more overall freedom for the citizens.