How to Put a Price on a Reform?
I am often asked why I work for the government when I would have much better opportunities in the private sector. After nineteen years, my answer is still the same: I firmly believe that a real change can only come from the inside. Therefore working hard to improve the system is a small contribution from all of us, government employees, to make life better in our country.
International affairs, specifically the European Union, have been my main professional and academic interest, and it has been a privilege to be a part of all the major steps that Serbia has undertaken in its path towards EU membership. I stepped on board when the negotiations were initialized between the EU and Serbia on concluding the Stabilization and Association Agreement, when these negotiations were called off, and again when the Agreement was finally signed. When Serbia submitted its application for EU membership and the European Council granted Serbia membership candidate status, I took part in the screening process, during the formal start of Serbia's negotiations to join the EU and negotiation process for chapters on Free movement of capital, Financial Services, Taxation, Economic and Monetary Policy, Customs Union, Financial Control, and Financial and Budgetary Provisions.
All these integration steps implied that changes had to happen through adequate, efficient, timely and realistic reforms, and the benefits that these reforms would bring to our citizens had to override the cost of their implementation.
Five years ago, I started to monitor and coordinate the process of drafting Economic Reform Programme (ERP) of the Republic of Serbia. Thanks to my wonderful colleagues, I can say that I am a member of an incredible team that is creating the most important strategic document in the economic dialogue with the EU, crucial for sound economic policy planning and management of reforms, for improving competitiveness, encouraging new jobs and facilitating social inclusion, as well as for meeting the economic criteria in the EU accession process. The ERP puts forward the most important structural reforms that are undertaken in Serbia to reach the mentioned goals.
Despite the experience and professionalism of the members of the ERP team (which in Serbia is quite numerous), an efficient coordination system, and the new modernization and digitalization process underway, we are still facing many challenges: international deadlines collide with national ones, the ERP process is bilingual, and all updates must be made in parallel. To top that, we have had challenges related to additional costs and adequate indicators for the structural reforms foreseen in the ERP. The Structural Reforms Better Integrated Within Fiscal Frameworks (FISR2), a regional IPA project implemented by the Centre of Excellence in Finance (CEF), has provided us with much needed help in this area. In addition, public officials from the region involved in the ERP development process have often been gathering to exchange ideas and promote national reform processes to learn as much as possible from each other. The network of ERP participants expands every time with the updating of new reforms and thanks to the CEF, we can meet and discuss all the topics and changes ahead of us to be better prepared for them.
Regardless of the large number of challenges and stressful situations, this whole process welcomes changes and benefits from the regional network for cooperation between people who deal with the most important regional issues and whose priority is to complete the European integration process and implement lots of successful reforms.
Next year, we will start the 10th ERP cycle and we are already looking forward to that. So, if I ask myself whether we can put a price on the reform, I would say that no matter the costs, reforms have to happen.