Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,
Given the timing of this event and the uncertainty about which time zone the Maya were referring to in their predictions, you may or may not hear the end of my speech!
But, let’s assume for a minute that there will still be an Earth, a Europe, a Serbia after midday and that issues and problems that Serbia needed to address this morning to re-kick economic growth and improve living standards, will still be there this afternoon and tomorrow.
There is wide recognition that situation is serious and calls for acceleration, rather than slowing down reforms … or standing still, hoping that others will solve their own problems and their recovery will “pull” the recovery of Serbia.
The flurry of legislative initiatives, and that of public statements, indicates that there is recognition that times calls for action, bold action.
We’ve seen - or heard about - reforms in many directions: establishment of a “Fiscal Council” in March 2011, steps taken to bring down the budget deficit, modernization of the cadastre that brought down the time needed to register a property from 186 to 11 days on average, improving the governance of state enterprises, reforming public procurement, commitment to address the terrible ranking of Serbia on construction permitting, etc.
These are all steps in the right direction in areas where Serbia needed to act.
Speed, however, is not or should not be synonymous with haste.
To illustrate, let me mention an anecdote about the Duke of Talleyrand-Perigord who was Foreign Minister to Emperor Napoleon the First.
He was due to attend an important event at Court and was being dressed by his manservant. He was late and, in his haste, his servant was doing everything wrong: putting left shoe on his right foot, putting the shirt front to back, putting the wig astray, etc. The Duke then turned to him and said: “Please, slow down. I am in a hurry !”
Rushing through can indeed impact quality.
In particular, the legislative framework needs to be stable. A half-baked, incomplete, not well thought-through law will inevitably have to be revisited, amended in future.
However, the legal framework is precisely there to provide stability and predictability. This, in particular, is critically important for economic activity, given lag for instance between decision to invest and expected return on which decision is based.
There may be cases where special procedure may be justified, but this should be the exception, rather than the rule.
On the reform path, it is important to balance speed with thoroughness and quality: good impact assessment, taking the time to look at international good practices, ensuring consistency with Serbia’s international commitments or EU path, take public consultation seriously, giving a chance to stakeholders and end-users to provide comments and inputs, try to reach as broad a consensus as possible.
The initial cost in time will likely be more than made up later.
Second, a good law is only as good as its implementation. Clearly, this is an issue that also needs to be addressed.
There is a need to reduce drastically the delay between the passage of a law and the issuance of bylaws. These should almost be ready by the time the law goes to the Parliament, leaving only, hopefully, relatively small adjustments to be made when the final text is voted upon.
One also needs to carefully assess the institutional capacity when preparing the law. A law, a good law, that only remains “on paper” for lack of implementation capacity is not doing good and can actually be harmful as it undermines credibility and confidence in the legal framework.
So, the message is yes, Serbia needs to continue reforming, and accelerate reforms, and it is great to be here to recognize the reformers. They should be congratulated for their vision and for courage in pushing ahead, at a difficult time, the necessary and beneficial changes!
But in the effort to reform Serbia’ society and business environment, maybe it can also be helpful to remember the advice of the Duke of Talleyrand to his manservant?