Public consultations and policymaking in Serbia: Form over substance

Being part of the wider public administration reform (PAR), policymaking reforms in Serbia entail improvements in implementing consultations with stakeholders, and public debates on policy documents and legislation (hereinafter: public consultations), throughout the drafting process. By consulting the target groups throughout, the effects of the proposed solutions are assessed, and the costs minimized, which makes public consultations one of the most valuable tools in the preparation of draft policy documents and legislation. Moreover, involvement positively impacts sustainability of policies and ensure their responsiveness to real needs of the society.

However, public consultations are still insufficiently widespread in policymaking in Serbia, and when they are conducted, it is often pro forma, without ensuring the quality of the process. As a result, policies are often not adapted to the citizens’ needs, and their implementation degree is low. This further contributes to the reduced citizens’ trust in institutions[2], resistance to policy implementation, and ultimately, makes policies unsustainable.

The results of the National PAR Monitor 2019/2020 for Serbia indicate that there has been no progress in conducting public consultations compared to the baseline PAR Monitor for the period 2017/2018. In other words, public consultations have not been consistently conducted, there is a lack of continuity in reporting, and the real influence of public participation is limited due to minimal adoption of suggestions and comments. In addition, the competent authorities are insufficiently engaged in proactive informing and involving of stakeholders in the various stages of these processes.

Download the policy brief here (English) and here (Serbian).


Public engagement in developing key strategic public administration reform (PAR) documents

Consultation is structured public engagement, which involves seeking, receiving, analysing, and responding to feedback from stakeholders, by defining the purpose and subject of the consultation whether it is a policy initiative, regulatory change, or legislative proposal.

The use of public consultation has different implications for the improvement of the regulatory framework. If undertaken in a timely and effective manner, consultation captures the collective intelligence of a society and helps collect empirical information for analytical purposes, especially as a precondition for the move towards more analytically‐based models of decision‐making processes. Furthermore, consultation mechanisms are increasingly characterised by greater openness and accessibility, particularly for smaller, less organised interests, which leads towards more pluralistic approaches. Consultation is inherent to transparent and effective governance.

In North Macedonia, based on document analysis as regards the overall public consultation process, it can be said that evidence-based findings produced by CSOs are rarely referenced in the sample of adopted government policy documents. All in all, 19 policy documents in three areas, which are currently being implemented, have been analysed, out of which only 6 contain references to findings produced by CSOs.

Read more here (in English).


Accountability – a vital prerequisite for public authorities

Accountability is a precondition for public authorities in order that they could be liable for the results or lack thereof while operating with resources entrusted to them as part of the mandate/competence conferred upon them. It ensures that public officials’ actions and decisions are subject to oversight, which on its part ensures that government initiatives achieve envisaged objectives and address needs of citizens they are intended to serve. In general, accountability arises when the Government’s performance is subject to oversight or requests by other persons or organizations for the Government to provide information justifying its actions.

Accountability and proactivity of public authorities have significantly advanced in the past two years.1 North Macedonia has progressed in most areas covered by the accountability principle and is now a top performer in the Region, albeit some important weaknesses still persist.

The new Law on Free Access to Public Information (LFAPI) has significantly improved the legal grounds for the implementation of this right. However, proactivity in the disclosure of information and datasets on official websites remain very low, which indicates a significant gap in the implementation of the LFAPI.

Find the Policy Brief here (in English) and here (in Macedonian).


Proactive transparency and the right of access to information: A conversation starter between the government and the people

Proactive transparency and free access to information characterize democratic societies, introducing the order of a country to ensure transparency of the work of its administrative structures. These structures need to provide a basis for initiating communication between institutions and citizens. Communication rests on reactive transparency of the administration and its pursuit of the Freedom of Access to Information Act. Upon this Act, citizens are to receive information upon request, while the administration published specific information on its own initiative for the purpose of informing the citizens of its work, on their rights and obligations, or to involve citizens in decision-making processes pertaining to laws, policies, actions and other. This communication takes place on different levels and through various channels, and the development of new technologies and wider use of internet platforms and social media opens opportunities for new ways of involving the citizens.

The Brief can be downloaded here (in English) and here (in BHS).


Public service and human resources management: Shortcomings related to merit-based employment and access to senior civil service position

Developed democracies as a rule boast professional, largely apolitical civil services, which have been recognised as a crucial component of good public governance. Their work is centred on protecting the public interest. Hence, a modern civil service must be governed by specific codified rules, which set standards and procedures for keeping the civil service merit-based and apolitical, while ensuring integrity and accountability of civil servants, as well as sufficient security of their job positions with a view to protecting them against politically motivated dismissals.

This Brief is focused on shortcomings of laws governing state and public administration related to the merit-based employment procedure and the criteria for access to senior civil service positions and it offers concrete solutions for overcoming such deficiencies, which have been persisting over a long period of time.

The Brief can be downloaded here (in English).


Early consultations in BIH: An exception, not a rule

Political involvement is the fundamental mechanism through which citizens are included in democracies, and it is frequently linked to increased democracy, higher accountability, and more effective policy decisions. Open government reforms are built on effective citizen engagement in policymaking, which has the potential to renew the connection between policymakers and citizens. Citizens’ participation in policymaking is a crucial component of successful governance because it provides a new source of ideas, knowledge, and resources while also bolstering public confidence in the government. Complete, objective, and relevant information, defined consultation goals, and enough time and flexibility should all be part of the process.

The citizen, according to public administration theory and practice, is increasingly at the center of policymakers’ discussions, not just as a target, but also as an agent. The goal is to provide policies and services that are tailored to individuals’ needs and appropriate to their circumstances. Terms such as “co-creation” and “co-production” have emerged to reflect this systematic goal of ongoing collaboration among government agencies, non- government organizations, communities, and individuals.

The Brief can be downloaded here (in English) and here (in BHS).


Politicization risks in Albania’s civil service: Exclusions from the scope of the civil service law and the integrity of the senior civil service recruitment system

A transparent approach to consultation processes, inclusive of civil society and open to the public, is essential to ensure the integrity, quality, and legitimacy of decision-making. The effectiveness and genuineness of such processes are integrally bound to the transparency provided by the institutions in charge of the decision-making.

To enable public scrutiny, access to public consultation processes must be ensured by the government, from the initial phases of law-making and policy-making, before the draft documents reach the Parliament. The Council of Ministers (hereinafter ‘’the CoM’’) is a key actor in such processes since it submits an average of 80–85% of all the draft laws that are reviewed by the Parliament every year1. Therefore, this policy brief will address public consultation processes at the central government level with the aim to expose factors that enable their circumvention. It argues that to conduct successful and meaningful public consultations processes, the shortcomings in the legal framework and institutional practice that enable the circumvention, need to be addressed. Lastly, it provides policy recommendations that aim to eliminate the identified legal gaps and improve proactive transparency.

Find the Policy Brief here (in English) and here (in Albanian).


The role and potentials of the SAO in improving transparency, accountability, and efficiency of institutions

In the public administration context, as set forth under the SIGMA Principles, it is extremely important for the State Audit Office (SAO) to apply standards in a neutral and objective way in order to ensure high quality audits, which subsequently will have a positive impact on the public sector functioning. The documents presenting the outcomes of audits should be guided by three principles, i.e., they should be aimed at strengthening the responsibility, transparency, and integrity of the Government and of public sector entities (protection of the public interest); then they should emphasize the importance of such principles to citizens, to the Parliament and to other stakeholders; and finally, they should demonstrate what it means to lead by a role model.

The SAO is one of the key institutions in identifying and disclosing irregularities, cases of illegal actions and possible cases of corruption and abuse of office. In this regard, the latest European Commission (EC) Report explicitly states that it is necessary to allocate adequate resources for this institution that has competences in the fight against corruption in order to be able to pursue high-profile cases.

Find the Policy Brief here (in English) and here (in Macedonian).


Addressing the lack of open data in Bosnia and Herzegovina

Open data refers to public sector information or government data that can be readily and widely accessed and reused. This data must be available at no more than a reasonable reproduction cost, mainly available for download over the internet, in a convenient and modifiable form. The main reason behind this is interoperability – the ability of diverse systems and organisations to work together, allowing for different components to intermix. The opening of public data represents a phase in the development of an idea of public administration transparency, an idea that contributes to society as a whole. Publishing public data contributes to the transparency of public institutions, the work efficiency of public administration, as well as to higher involvement of citizens in decision-making processes. By making governments more transparent, open data can provide clear information on how public money is being spent and how different policies are being implemented. Publicly available data can contribute to informing individuals on relevant state matters and contribute to opinion forming. With that, it can boost citizen participation in political life and promote the significance of public consultations. Furthermore, open data allows citizens to obtain necessary information without needing to directly contact public administration, resulting in higher efficiency and less workload for public institutions. This can also initiate long-lasting cooperation among different agencies and institutions in the public sector. Since there is a growing need for an open data policy in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the intent of this policy brief is to address this need, assess and analyze the current state in this regard, as well as provide recommendations for further steps on the path towards opening data, relying on WeBER PAR Monitoring Reports for 2019/2020.

Find the Policy Brief here (in English) and here (in BHS).


Flawed policymaking in Albania: Tackling lack of transparency and evidence-based policymaking

One of the critical dimensions of the public administration reform (PAR) in Albania and of the European accession process refers to the transparency of policy development. Access to information has been often described as the ‘oxygen of democracy’ enabling citizens to truly participate in an informed way in decision-making processes, hold those in power accountable and influence policy development. The absence of or inaccessibility to information can create a sense of disempowerment, mistrust, and frustration with those in power. Transparency is also a principle of good governance and requires a continues dialogue and cooperation between decision makers and other actors in society. Studies have shown that transparency benefits policy efficiency and is deemed as a crucial instrument to fight corruption. The free flow of information is thus paramount to democratic processes, building trust between government and citizens and contributing to the progress of policy development.

Through secondary resources and data collected by the WeBER 2.0 PAR Monitoring Report, this policy brief zooms into the practices of arbitrary policymaking and lack of transparency in policy development in Albania. It discusses its implications and outlines some key recommendations on how to reverse the current situation particularly in terms of increasing transparency through the engagement of civil society analysis and inputs, evidence-based policy and data-driven decision making. Although public consultations and participation in policy development is an interlinked dimension of the overall transparency efforts of the governments, it falls outside of the scope of this policy brief.

Find the Policy Brief here (in English) and here (in Albanian).