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Serbian government's term marked by reforms, Prime Minister Zivkovic says

Zoran Zivkovic

Belgrade, Feb 26, 2004 - Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Zivkovic presented a report on the government's activities in the past three years, stressing that reforms marked the work of Serbia's first two democratic governments in the past 50 years - the government of late prime minister Zoran Djindjic and the cabinet which preserved its continuity.

The outgoing government is the first-ever government in Serbia's modern history to leave several millions of euros to its successors, a funding that can be put to use once the new parliament adopts a budget law, said Zivkovic, adding that the government did all in its power to facilitate and normalise the lives of its citizens over the past three years.

In 2000, Serbia was considered one of the world's poorest countries, the Prime Minister recalled. It was a country excluded from international institutions, a country left with destroyed infrastructure following the NATO bombing and with no control over part of its territory.

Per capita debt was €2,000, with hard currency reserves standing at $300 million, said Zivkovic, noting that 80 percent of workers were employed in loss-making companies.

What is more, Serbia had unresolved relations with Montenegro as its partner in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.

As part of its term, the government launched thorough economic reforms, made every effort to revitalise infrastructure and passed the necessary legislation, Zivkovic noted. The Prime Minister went on to say he expects the parliament to approve ten reform laws out of the 41 bills which the government forwarded for adoption last year.

According to the Prime Minister, the government privatised 1,200 companies over the past three years, raising revenues which made it the regional leader in sell-off receipts and bringing the world's major players to the Serbian market, including Philip Morris, British American Tobacco, Lafarge, Holcim, Titan , Henkel and Lukoil.

Over the same period, the Serbian Development Fund disbursed between 10 billion and 12 billion dinars in loans to small and medium-sized enterprises, said Zivkovic, also noting that the state built and repaired some 1.500 kilometres of roads and 26 bridges, and invested substantial funding to stabilise the electricity system.

The Prime Minister stressed that Serbia returned to international organisations and financial institutions such as the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, highlighting the importance of the write-off of 66 percent of the debt to the Paris Club of Creditors.

The overall safety situation in the country was improved, and both domestic and foreign organisations stated that Serbia is one of the safest countries in Europe. That was achieved largely with the help of the Sablja (Sabre) police operation which almost completely uprooted organised crime in Serbia.

Zivkovic said that citizens regained confidence in Serbia, huge overdue social debts were paid off and the debt to pensioners was reduced. Pensions were increased four times and salaries as much as five times. He added that during the privatisation process, the Serbian government insisted on the implementation of social welfare programmes and the care for workers laid off during the privatisation.

The Prime Minister said that one of the Serbian government's successes is the payment of allowances to families with two, three and four children, introduced by the Law on financial support to families with children. The government also launched the pay-off of the old foreign currency savings and liabilities to depositors of Dafiment and Jugoskandik banks.

Zivkovic recalled that during its mandate, the Serbian government forwarded almost 200 bills to the Serbian parliament, of which 130 were adopted.

He said that the assassination of former Serbian Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic is the major failure of the Serbian government, and it was the result of the fact that new authorities which came to power on October 5, 2000 failed to immediately break away with the past and the former regime.

The Prime Minister expressed his personal opinion that one of the government's failures is that it did not manage "to take off Serbia's back the heavy burden of the Hague tribunal ", adding that although the cooperation with the tribunal was largely improved, it was not completed by the end of 2003, as it was planned.

Zivkovic stressed that the three years of transition in Serbia were not wasted, saying that it will be much easier for the new government to complete its tasks since it will have much better starting positions than the previous one.

He wished success to the new government, concluding that the main measure of its success will be its capability to carry on with the reforms.

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