In an interview with Kurir, Deputy PM and Minister of Mining and Energy Zorana Mihajlović announced a fight against the 'gas behemoth' – the general managers of public enterprises who do not do their job and so hamper and damage this sector as they line up their own pockets.
What will be your first steps as Minister of Mining and Energy?
"We are working practically around the clock, analysing the current situation, planning future steps, with a single goal in mind – energy security and improvements in the sector which in turn improves the economy and life in Serbia. There are endless untapped possibilities, as well as weak spots and sizeable problems, as the energy sector has long been unchecked, undisciplined, and disordered. Our goal is for Serbia to have enough energy and high-quality energy carriers, as well as to be a regional energy hub and a go-to route of energy transfer and energy carrier transport. To achieve this, we need the Trans-Balkan Electricity Corridor, the Balkan Stream and Niš-Dimitrovgrad gas pipelines, as well as investments in oil and oil products pipelines. We are introducing electronic procedures – at the moment, you lose between five months and two years getting the sector certificates, rights, and licences; to get any one document, you need about 20 more, which takes time and creates a space for corruption. Well, we're changing that."
You barely took office when problems cropped up involving PE general managers. What went wrong with Bajatović and Dukić?
"Names aren't important here. What's important is that these companies conduct their business transparently and turn a profit, and that their projects don't run late. Srbijagas is late delivering on its obligations in the construction of the Turkish Stream section – for which the procedures are unclear – and developing the gas infrastructure in Serbia. This has nothing to do with personal or party-related issues, or even the relations with Russia, as some have misrepresented it. Certain general managers appear to have convinced themselves that they are emperors or gods of sorts, and not the people who need to implement government policies and work for the benefit of this country's citizens. Let me repeat – Serbia does not need managers bought off by salaries and allowances. Such people could never ensure the success of a company."
You have levelled serious accusations against the general manager of Transportgas, Dukić, to the effect that he is blackmailed or bought off by means of his position as general manager and the allowances in the thousands of euros. Who exactly is blackmailing or offering perks to Dukić?
"Srbijagas has 14 subsidiaries and affiliates, in four of which it has a 100-percent ownership stake. And Srbijagas's general manager Bajatović – the Superman that he is – has appointed himself as either general manager or chairman of the supervisory committee at each of the 14 companies. On top of that, he has also appointed his little posse 'controlling' Srbijagas. In addition to the general manager of Transportgas Stevan Dukić, that is the case with the deputy general manager of Srbijagas Blaženka Mandić and executive managers Jovica Budimir and Milan Đukić. Some of them have even hired their spouses at these companies, among others. These folks have manager-level salaries at Srbijagas, as well as allowances running between 5,000 and over 20,000 euros a month – 10 to 40 times the average salary in Serbia. They've been trying to hide their business arrangements from the ministry, as if these were their private companies and not state-owned ones. This has gone on for years."
Do the PE general managers' efforts merit the high salaries that they receive?
"It's clear that the number of jobs held, or salaries received, by the people making up the 'gas behemoth' hampering the development of this sector has nothing to do with their competence, work, or efforts. It's really about the fact that development is halted at Srbijagas. Due to this – to give you an example – a gas transport company doesn't even have a licence for the work that it does, while the people who should represent the interests of the state protect the private interests of Srbijagas's managers instead. When these managers start running their own private companies, they can do as they please – they can let their projects run late, conduct their business in non-transparent ways, or renovate commercial buildings for the price of a space shuttle – it's their business. But that's not possible over here, because every cubic meter of gas and every chair they sit on belong to the citizens of Serbia. The ministry has also filed criminal charges against the top management of Srbijagas, Transportgas, Distribucijagas, and Gas Bečej d.o.o., as they have not elected their management bodies in line with the Law on Public Enterprises, which raises the issue of the legality of the documents they have signed."
You have announced a reform of Srbijagas. Do you think that Bajatović won't oppose you on this? Does he merit a salary to the tune of 10,000 euros?
"Firstly, his salary is much, much higher than 10,000 euros, and that's just at one of the affiliated companies. Each euro that they have taken from the affiliates without earning it is damage inflicted by these general managers on every citizen of this country – from tea ladies to engineers and university lecturers. I'm not having any of that, and I'll fight against it. I'll also propose personnel changes, and the Government can decide on the choice of general managers. Whether any of the general managers will like my proposal is of no concern to me – I am not responsible to the company managers but to the citizens of Serbia and the President."
ON THE ARRESTED ASSOCIATE: 'There is no evidence that Poledica is guilty.'
The Prosecutor's Office has filed a motion to indict against Miodrag Poledica on suspicion of malfeasance in office in relation to public procurements. Why have you brought a man suspected of public procurement mismanagement over to another ministry?
"The Criminal Procedure Code clearly stipulates the presumption of innocence – everyone is considered innocent until their guilt is proven in a court's final disposition of the case. Under the law, state bodies and the media must comply with this. I have said many times before that I have no reason to think that my state secretary has done anything illegal. I have not in the meantime learned of any proof that would make me change my mind."
Kurir.rs, Katarina Blagović