Money laundering machine

By Milica Srejić

What can be done with the 17.8 billion euros that will be invested for EXPO and a little more? What kind of investments are we talking about? Where does such an investment lead? And what does that have to do with corruption? The questions keep coming, and the answers are few.

What we do know is that, according to FEFA faculty professor Goran Radosavljević, this amount of money would be helpful in building Serbia to look much better than today, because, as he says, annual public investments in the entire country amount to around seven billion. Economist Milan R. Kovačević points out that taking on a debt that costs more than the money needed for economic growth is disastrous.

More than a month ago, the Serbian President announced that in the next three and a half years, 17.8 billion euros would be spent on the specialized exhibition EXPO 2027, all the projects and everything he wanted to achieve (whatever that may be). The president further said that 2.4 billion euros have been earmarked for this in this year’s budget, which would mean that another 15.4 billion euros will be allocated to it from the budget for the years to come. Where will this money come from and what could be done with it?

To compare, the total costs of this year’s Summer Olympic Games in Paris, according to data from December last year, amounted to around 8.8 billion euros. And since the construction of stadiums is becoming increasingly popular in our country, it would be interesting to note that, for instance, the renovation of the Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid – which the president called “the most beautiful in the world” – will cost more than one billion euros.

If we look at the Serbian state budget and take, for example, the allocations for the Ministry of Defence and the Serbian Army, we would see that the Army, taking into account the current allocations (about 1,355,402,000 euros), could be easily financed for another 13 years with 17.8 billion euros.

A modern aircraft carrier costs somewhere around 13 billion dollars, while NATO’s civil and military budget for 2024 is significantly lower than the expenditure for EXPO. The civil budget is around 438.1 million and the military budget is 2.03 billion euros. If we multiply this by three and a half years – the period over which money for the EXPO would be spent – it would still be nowhere near the 17.8 billion euros. In this fun enumeration, we can also mention the construction of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the tallest building ever made by man, which cost about 1.5 billion dollars.

IT DOES AND DOESN’T MATTER

Bearing in mind all these examples, the question is where does that much money really go? During the president’s guest appearance on state TV, he partially answered that question. However, this is where the whole thing gets confusing. Namely, in addition to the construction of the “state-of-the-art fair building” and the residential block where those exhibiting at the EXPO will be housed, this investment will also include a number of other things. These, said Vučić, are the construction of the 164-km-long motorway, called “The Vojvodina Smile”, which, according to the president “understood to be in the service of the EXPO, but actually has nothing to do with it”, and will cost 2 billion euros. Further, the Belgrade-Niš high-speed railway will cost almost 3 billion to build. The airport in Niš, magnetic resonance imaging, maternity hospitals and mammograms – the list seems to go on and on. Direct costs for hosting the EXPO, according to Aleksandar Vučić, will be around 2.5 billion euros.

What does this actually mean? What does it mean “it will be in the service of the EXPO, but has nothing to do with it”?

Last year, a special law called the Law on Special Procedures for the Implementation of the EXPO International Specialized Exhibition EXPO BELGRADE 2027 was passed. Article 14 of this law stipulates that companies formed for the purpose of hosting the EXPO will not have to adhere to the relevant public procurement law

WHERE DOES ALL OF THIS LEAD?

Economist Milan R. Kovačević says that it is possible that “everything will be done without carrying out public procurement” and that the situation is catastrophic. “The president talked about renovating the maternity hospital and schools and building new roads, but none of that would be financed from the aforementioned 17 billion,” Kovačević added.

He thinks that everything was done this way so that nobody would even consider doing public procurement, which opens more room for corruption. “Unfortunately, we see that in our country is that corruption takes a huge part of the gross domestic product. The more broadly we apply this special law, then you are given free rein to reward whomever you want and punish whomever you want. You have created the opportunity for arbitrary decision-making,” he says.

Director of the FEFA Institute and professor at the FEFA Faculty, Goran Radosavljević, says that EXPO would be used as “a money laundering machine” and that there is no good reason that Serbia, as one of the poorest countries in Europe, hosts and finances such an exhibition. Secondly, Radosavljević wonders why this project is shrouded in the veil of mystery and hidden from the public eye and why a special law has been passed which creates the opportunity for state money to enter illegal flows. This, he says, has been the case so far with projects like Belgrade Waterfront, the construction of public infrastructure and others.

“From time to time, a whistleblower comes out and says: ‘We paid twice as much for the Šabac motorway than we should have,’ and nothing happens,” says Radosavljević. He adds that this government likes nice and pompous announcements, along the lines “we are the biggest, the best, we are alpha and omega, and we will spend 18 billion”.

“The state will probably spend 18 billion euros in the next few years, but not on EXPO”, explains Radosavljević.

HUGE AMOUNTS OF MONEY FOR WRONG PROJECTS

What can be done with this amount of money? Radosavljević says that annual public investments for the entire country amount to 7 billion euros.

“These are incredibly large funds. It would be futile to talk about what we could build with that kind of money because everything that Serbia produces in one year amounts to 60 billion. In short, a lot could be built in Serbia with 17 billion, in order to advance the country”, says Radosavljević. This amount, he explains, is quite “inflated”, because nobody knows how much everything will cost in the end.

Bearing in mind that healthcare and education are in a very bad state, Radosavljević believes that money should be spent on those sectors. “We have already spent huge amounts of money on the wrong projects”, he concludes.

(Vreme, 08.03.2024)

https://vreme.com/vreme/masina-za-pranje-para/

This post is also available in: Italiano

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