Magical Christmas lights? No… New year, old tricks.

While we are waiting for foreigners to come to Belgrade to celebrate the New Year’s Eve, young and educated people are leaving Serbia. Can the last person leaving this Balkan ‘inn’ turn off the light, please? Sorry, I meant turn off the Christmas lights.

There is a good old saying that goes – “One man’s sunset is another man’s dawn”. And it seems that the day is dawning for the company of the fitting name – Keep Light – which was in charge of putting up Christmas lights in Belgrade and several other towns. As for the man who is experiencing the proverbial sunset, that would be the Belgrade mayor who just cannot keep out of trouble. While the Bulgarians are getting ready to come to the Serbian capital city in droves to celebrate the New Year’s Eve, Sinisa Mali has a lot of explaining to do to the Belgrade citizens regarding the 83,000 EUR Christmas tree. Obviously, he couldn’t be bothered with the fact that the said amount equals 207 average Serbian salaries, and gave a lame explanation about not being aware of the cost and promising to immediately terminate the contract.

Wait a sec! What about the penalties for unilateral termination of the contract which are applicable in such cases?! Forget about the penalties. The company that put up the Christmas tree all of a sudden decided that they would not charge the city 83,000 EUR for it, but rather donate it, before the deadline for submission of tender bids expired.

Since, as we all know, good begets good, the city government immediately concluded another agreement with Radovan Djumic’s company, but this one was worth 200,000 EUR. Tit for tat? Let me see who is going to convince us that all of this had not been arranged in advance – as in you do it to me, and I’ll do it to you. What about the Belgrade citizens? Who cares about them?! They are being robbed, and robbed blind.

President Aleksandar Vucic, who still can’t forgive himself for not defending Mali faster, better and more fervently, is now making up for that, and claims that all previous city governments have also been cooperating with the Keep Light Company. But lo and behold, even before Vucic even said this, the editor of TV Pink’s news programme, Informer, Dragan Vucicevic used the exact same words. He added that the information about the company had been transparent all long, saying that it was founded in 1997, and that it had been cooperating with the city since 1999. Well, the company information is transparent all right, but the Business Registers Agency shows that the company was registered on 6th April, 2000. So, who is lying here? Dragan Vucicevic, his sources or the Business Registers Agency?

Both the Serbian President and Informer’s editor could see for themselves that Keep Light started developing rapidly after 2013. That year, the company’s net profit was just under 8.5 million dinars which doesn’t even come close to how much the controversial Christmas tree cost. Then, all of a sudden, their profit began to rise like sourdough first to 16.9 million dinars, then to 31.4 million dinars, and then to 64.5 million. In four years, the company’s profit increased almost eight times. Impressive! It is interesting to note that their profit grew in years 2013, 2014 and 2015, when their revenue was stagnating at around 210 – 220 million dinar, only to jump last year to 350 million dinars.

Surprisingly, none of the city officials found it strange that, in 2016, public enterprise Javno Osvetljenje Beograd (Public Lighting Belgrade) paid over half of the aforementioned amount (i.e. 190.6 million dinars) to Keep Light. Another 20 million dinars were paid to the company by local governments in Smederevo, Valjevo and Brus.

This year, the Belgrade government decided to be even more generous, and all of the contracts that it has concluded are worth between 220 million and 230 million dinars, VAT included. Apart from Belgrade, Nikola Tesla Airport also paid Keep Light for their lighting services (7 million dinars), as did the town of Zajecar (2.7 million dinars), and public utility enterprise Krusevac (18 million). Bear in mind that Keep Light has several other projects going on in Krusevac. In early September, a consortium of companies, which hired Keep Light as a subcontractor, concluded a 678-million-dinar agreement, valid for 15 years, which stipulates reconstruction, rationalization and maintenance of a part of the public lighting system in several of Krusevac’s quarters.

So, this is what, more or less, public-private partnership in Serbia looks like. Old recipe for New Year! Just as the cost of Christmas lights suddenly went up between 2015 and 2016, so did the revenue generated by public enterprise Javno Osvetljenje Beograd from premiums, subsidies and donations – from 24 million to 190 million dinars. Which is the exact price of the mentioned Christmas lights!

Bearing in mind all of this, it really comes as no surprise that young and educated people are continuing to leave Serbia, and that Serbia’s population has been decreasing.

Can the last person leaving this Balkan ‘inn’ turn off the light, please? Sorry, I meant turn off the Christmas lights. So that at least we don’t see what is going on….

By Milan Culibrk

(NIN, 02.01.2018)



This post is also available in: Italiano

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