Q: The government has undertaken some important reforms to issuing construction permits recently. How well is implementation going, in your opinion, and what is the significance of these reforms in terms of Serbia’s ability to attract more foreign investment?
A: By amending the planning and construction law we have made an important reform step related to the issuance of construction permits in Serbia. Construction permits, which used to take on average 249 days, are now issued in fewer than 30 days. On March 1, 2015, we started with the procedure that means that all the necessary evidence for the issuance of the documentation is gathered by a competent body. The fact that 45% more construction permits were issued in July this year than July 2014, and that the annual number of permits issued exceeds our seven-year average, are proof of an excellent implementation of the new law.
In January 2016, the issuance of electronic permits will start, which will round off the reform process. The ministry has been monitoring the implementation of regulations closely, organising workshops and consultations, and is planning to conduct training for electronic issuance of permits this month.
With bylaws, and above all the law on land-use conversion, we have created a positive climate for all the investors that are planning to build in Serbia. By implementing strict and detailed regulations that ensure secure investments, reducing taxes for the development of construction land and exempting production and warehouse facilities from this tax, we have created safe conditions for investors.
Q: What are the other priorities of your ministry at the moment, and in particular which key initiatives, reforms or projects is the ministry undertaking that will affect the investment environment?
A: First of all it is important to say that this government has faced issues that Serbia has not faced for decades. In May last year catastrophic floods took many lives and damaged infrastructure, the transport network and the energy network severely, and thus affected our GDP too. Now we are dealing with the migrant crisis situation. We are participating actively in solving problems and we are getting acknowledgments from world officials for our humane and fair treatment of the migrants.
The results of the reforms that this government has started are measurable after only a year. We are one of the very few countries that has experienced economic growth in the middle of fiscal consolidation. The latest assessment of the IMF, the World Bank and other international institutions confirm that we as a country are on the path to progress and success.
In order to improve our business climate, we formed the Governmental Working Group at the beginning of the year, which I chair, whose task is to enhance the position of Serbia on the World Bank’s Doing Business list.
This working group has initiated reforms of several laws that will improve investment conditions, including the law on tax processes and administration and the laws on property tax, energy and public notary services. Apart from the shorter time required for the issuance of construction permits we have also introduced the electronic submittal of tax withholding return and the submittal of VAT returns, as well as electronic payment. The fee for construction land exploitation has been abolished, which reduced the number of procedures in the area of payment by 12 and the time of getting connected to the electricity network from 90 days to 15. The registration of properties has been simplified as well.
Currently, the group is finalising the action plan that will oblige all institutions to simplify procedures that investors encounter in Serbia.