A model that works

The development of e-system for construction permitting, introduction of eCounter for cadaster registration and electronic registration of seasonal workers in agriculture via web portal and mobile application are the reforms we saw from others. We went to visit them to learn how they overcame the problems we also had, and then worked hard to use their experience and think of something better and genuinely better. And this is a method that works, a combination of knowledge and defiance.

In 2014, Macedonia was ranked 10th in the world in terms of construction permitting, while Serbia held the 186th position. On the path to a permit, applicants had to go through 18 procedures that lasted 270 days, and this was a result of continuous unsuccessful reforms in this field, that started off back in 2003. A new law was developed in 2009, with further amendments in 2011, 2012, 2013 but it only got worse. The result was a continuous and stable decline in the number of issued construction permits, ever-growing duration of the procedure and corruption, until finally, in 2015, we reached the lowest position Serbia ever had in the World Bank's Doing Business report - 186th out of 189 global economies. 

At that point, within the regional cooperation program, using the Business Friendly Certification methodology, NALED worked on developing a comparative analysis of the local business environment in local government in the region and we learned about a fascinating examples of cities and municipalities in Macedonia, which issued construction permits in 74, from Veles to Skopje. 

They had reduced and simplified the procedures, developed an electronic system for issuing permits, and everything we saw inspired us to design our reform. And they were ready, willing and open to help us learn from them.

After five years, Serbia reached 11th position by the efficiency in issuing construction permits, while Macedonia is positioned two spots below. Everything that has been done has directly contributed to an increased number of construction permits and improved transparency in this field.

If you don't know how, ask. This is what they taught us when we were children. 

A similar process was seen for the cadaster reform, where we once again followed the good method we used for construction permits - observe the situation in the region - find a best practice (Macedonia once again) - optimize the procedure - adopt the new law - create a one-stop shop e-system - train everyone who would implement the law - monitor law implementation and continuously report on the most efficient services in implementing the law. 

The new Law on Real Estate and Utility Lines Cadaster Registration Procedure introduced an electronic system for property registration via public notaries - eCounter. Starting from 1 July 2018, citizens and businesses no longer need to engage in direct contact with the Republic Geodetic Authority and the tax authorities, but perform all tasks related to ownership registration at a single spot - at a public notary, who further performs these tasks through electronic communication with other institutions via the eCounter. In nine months of work, the new procedure was used for submitting even 200,000 applications.

A third example is the establishment of a system for hiring seasonal workers in agriculture. The initiative for reform in this field was launched by businesses and the City of Sremska Mitrovica due to major challenges imposed by the procedures.

If you need 500 workers for a period of 10 days to pick apples or apricots, and you depend on the weather conditions, it is hard to comply with the Labor Law, to sign a contract with one of them, register them in the Central Registry of Mandatory Social Insurance, and if the rain falls you need to de-register them and terminate the agreement, or simply pay for everything even though they did not work that day. The goal of this procedure was to protect the workers, but the result was entirely opposite - the employers would simply not register them and they had no labor-related rights. Out of nearly 80,000 seasonal workers, only 3,500 a year get registered.

We repeated the same principle - we learned from the examples in the region (Croatia and Hungary) – we developed the optimized procedure - established the electronic system for seasonal workers, a better one than our neighbors (the system in Croatia is based on daily stickers being placed in the employment booklet) - and now we are monitoring the implementation.

Over the first three months since the system was established in Serbia, 4,200 seasonal workers have been registered, even though the high season has not yet started. 

In all of the cases, there were three key ingredients - experience from the region, the desire to be better than our teachers (colleagues from the region) and digitalization.

Electronic solutions contribute to higher competitiveness of the entire region, as information technologies enable faster economic growth, and each of the regional economies has expertise and digital solutions for electronic services for citizens and businesses - ePublicPocurement, eInspector, eSeasonalWorkers, eAgrar and many others – and they are willing to share them with others.