The Protector of Citizens was guest at Beogradska hronika program on Radio Television of Serbia.
There is a wide range of areas where one might need Ombudsman’s assistance. This institution has existed in Serbia for years. It’s there to legally assist the citizens, clarify, and indicate the shortcomings of the institutions’ work. Sometimes more successfully, sometimes less. What have the citizens mostly complained about in the two years of the pandemic, what cases were successful, and what were the other ones, the guest of Beogradska hronika will tell us, the Ombudsman, Zoran Pašalić. Good evening. The pandemic has been going on for two years, we have talked prior to the program, and you said that there were complaints by the citizens that they wait for too long for surgeries, to inappropriate doctors’ actions. How much are you able to respond to all those requests amid pandemic?
- It’s proven that the number of approaches during the state of emergency has risen by 60 percent and that the number of approaches to the Protector of Citizens rose significantly as regards the pre pandemic conditions. It is much higher, so the Institution had to introduce different working hours, different relation, reception, and contact with the citizens in order to solve many of the emerging problems.
What have the citizens complained about? If you say by 60 percent up, it’s really significant.
- If I were to enlist now everything that they complained about, we would need two of these programs. Here, we have three predominant points. The first one is what you’ve just said – treatment conditions, while the second and the third one mainly refer to property-legal protection. The second very big problem is addressing the Pension fund, i.e. waiting too long for pensions. The third one refers to some property-economic conditions such as cadaster, legalizations. The pandemic has significantly slowed regular activities down and certainly the citizens eventually approach us when they are dissatisfied with how quickly their problems are being resolved.
When it comes to the problems they had with the doctors in the hospitals, to what extent can you assist them now amid pandemic?
- We can help a lot.
- In many ways. Chiefly, we, regarding specific cases, firstly contact the ones that manage those healthcare institutions, and it is usually at that point that we solve the problems, and in the cases when it is impossible, we contact higher instances that handle these sort of issues.
What is the biggest problem when it comes to exercising the right to pension? How is pandemic an excuse?
- Long waiting time, which brings citizens entitled to pension in a very bad situation, because such a vacuum between the cessation of employment and receiving first pension really brings them in a difficult situation. Then, they contact us, and we in our contacts with Pension fund solve it.
Are there any institutions that cooperate less with you, that are less responsive to your recommendations?
- I have emphasized several times and that is what I said at the beginning of my term of office, just like now, regardless of the intensity of the epidemic – that’s the contact with the citizens, including outside Belgrade. You’re Beogradska hronika, and I don’t know how it’s related to you, but to us the primary thing when visiting local self-governments, is to solve problems, a good deal of problems springs from local self-government.
When it comes to the Ministries, are there the ones that more gladly provide you with information, act on your orders and the ones that are aloof?
- It’s not strictly related to their willingness or lack of it. It depends on different circumstances of a case. How a Ministry, or generally an institution of the executive, understands our approach, so, how, according to them, this problem is hard, or easy.
You don’t have an option of forced implementation of your recommendation, what do you do in those situations?
- We don’t have a possibility to force, we are practically an independent, but the most significant independent institution, that even has constitutional treatment, which doesn’t have a possibility to force, not even in the sense of initiating some procedures or filing reports for some failures to act. It’s either an absolute and obstinate constant pressure on the institutions that for any reason ignore acting upon our recommendation, or what we have fought for and what the new Law provided us with, it wasn’t the obligation then, but now it is – to publish the names of the institutions that fail to act upon our recommendations, and that is a sort of pressure.
Do you go to the media, are they receptive if you ask them to publish names, something like that?
- Depends on them. A good deal of information about some problems of our citizens, we obtain from the media, but what I have always highlighted that, irrespective of anyone’s viewpoint and taking offence – we first check whether the information is accurate. In a good deal of cases, we cannot prove that it happened exactly like that.
I didn't mean that. I thought if you have a problem with an institution, they are not approachable, do you call the media and say it is important to us that this ...
- I know what you are thinking of. We always issue...you see, we had 4700 statements in last year and that proves the relation.
You have compiled a Draft Law amending the Law on Public Order and Peace where violence, threats and offences on social network would be punished as misdemeanor offences. What’s this got to do with journalists and whether and when will this come to work in order to make life easier for all of us?
- It primarily has to do with journalists. Because, you have a great number of what is colloquially called in the world of journalists “an attack”. However, an attack is a much severe qualification and falls under the domain not of misdemeanors but criminal acts. That is, constant insults via social networks. Journalists aren’t the only ones that we wish to protect, the journalists are the primary ones and then the sanction would have a different meaning, it would be stiffer i.e. it would be considered a qualification of that sort of misdemeanors. To put it simply to citizens, you have a situation when somebody insults you on the street – it is absolutely punishable. It’s disturbing public peace and order, not to go in details there, by arguing, quarrelling, heavily insulting, and on the other hand you have constant insults via social networks which, not only you can consider a public place, but as a public space available to everyone.What was indicative, besides the reports filed to us by our citizens regarding that sort of insults, was our constant communication with social networks for doing our job, and then you come to a situation that somebody hidden behind a keyboard, computer or screen is capable to heavily insult certain citizens, groups of citizens, ethnical groups on any grounds – gender, national or religious grounds, and to go absolutely unpunished.
And it may leave huge consequences in everyday life.
- If the same thing happened to you on the street, it would be punishable then.
Whether and when will the amendments to the Law be adopted?
- It’s on us to table it, then we all know the procedure.
Do you have a response?
- No I don’t have a response but it is very important for us to be understood in the right way, primarily regarding the quantity in which such a procedure will mitigate what is happening daily.
So, you have no response yet, we’re waiting for it. That’s some form of pressure that you’ve talked about.
- We’re waiting as well. It is how it is.
Thank you for being guest at Beogradska hronika.