Serbia’s State Audit Institution Reports Deficiencies in Social Protection Service for Children’s Personal Companions; Decline in Afforestation; and Management of Systems for Unified Billing in Public Utility Companies
January 28, 2021
On January 26, the State Audit Institution (SAI) released the results of three recent performance audits.
SAI reported that local self-governments did not undertake sufficient measures to provide and supervise delivery of the support needed for large numbers of children in need of personal companion services. In its report entitled Services in the Field of Social Welfare – Personal Companion of a Child, SAI concluded that personal companion services were not established by 33% of cities and municipalities in Serbia in 2019. In nearly 29 local self-governments, where this service was established, services were provided by unlicensed organizations, which raised questions about the quality of services provided. Inefficient and inadequate provision of services resulted from the lack of planning and financial resources in the budgets of local governments for the implementation of this service. In addition, the lack of local regulations, a small number of licensed organizations to provide services, and insufficient monitoring created the risk of inefficient provision and deprived children of needed services.
In its performance audit Afforestation in the Republic of Serbia, SAI reported a significant decline in the volume of afforestation in Serbia. SAI underlined the need to improve the condition of existing forests and expansion of forest areas. SAI found that in the period from 2015 to 2019 the volume of afforestation decreased by about 40%, from 992 hectares in 2015 to 614 hectares in 2019. Several problems were encountered including strategic planning documents and action plans in forestry were not adopted, resulting in ineffective planning for development of forests and forestry. In addition, in contradiction of the law, over 86 thousand hectares are registered as agricultural lands even though forest are actually located on the land. There are plots managed by public utilities and leased by the local self-government pursuant to the Law on Agricultural Land, thus preventing their afforestation. SAI recommended that the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management – Forest Administration undertake strategic, planning and supervision to resolve above mentioned findings. Of particular importance is the need to establish and maintain a unified information system for forests and forestry of the Republic of Serbia.
SAI’s assessment of the quality of Management of Information Systems in Public Enterprises for Unified Billing determined that a lack of synchronization and update of systems results in an operating risk in the systems. With this audit SAI assessed how controls in information management systems work and whether they prevent, detect and eliminate inefficiencies in the management of information systems of public companies for unified billing of utilities in the three largest cities in Serbia. The exchange of the data of the participants in the system does not have all the necessary protection mechanisms and the lack of automated reconciliation of records creates the opportunity for frequent errors. SAI concluded that reducing operating risk is possible through better organization of security management, and better communication and response to such incidents. Although there is sufficient expertise and decades of experience, it is necessary to innovate the application controls due to the growing needs of users as well as new legal obligations.
More than 50 representatives of CSOs, the media, and other external stakeholders joined SAI’s January 26, 2021, press conference which was broadcast via UNS Press Center of the Journalists’ Association of Serbia You Tube Channel. Numerous others participated in the press conference via Zoom platform.
SAI holds press conferences every Tuesday between January 12 and February 9, at noon, online at UNS Press Centre, by order published on SAI webpage http://www.dri.rs/mediji/Konferencije-za-novinare—Predstavljanje-izvestaja-o-reviziji-svrsishodnosti-poslovanja.n-534.107.html
USAID Government Accountability Initiative supports strengthening SAI’s capacity to conduct risk-based selection of performance audits aligned with SAI’s 2019-2023 Strategic Plan.