"State wouldn't give tycoons subsidies - so they took state"

BELGRADE -- The opposition Democrats (DS) say the offer to Milan Beko to take over as head of Serbian Railways is an unprecedented case of flagrant violation of the law.

Borislav Stefanović (Tanjug, file)
Borislav Stefanović (Tanjug, file)

Head of the DS parliamentary group Borislav Stefanović told reporters in the parliament building on Thursday that the offer that came from Prime Minister Aleksanadar Vučić was also a breach of election promises made by his Serb Progressive Party (SNS), and of "any moral values."

Stefanović also asked whether Beko planned to pay taxes owed by his private business once he becomes director of a public enterprise.

"It is a violation of election promises. Vučić said, and I quote, 'Never again with tycoons, tycoons are with the Yellows (a derogatory name for the Democrats), not with the Progressives.' My question is, where did this come from?" said Stefanović of Beko's announced appointment.

He stressed that another reason why the offer was "obviously contentious" is the fact Railways director by law must be chosen through a job announcement, something that "Vučić overlooks."

Stefanović asked how it was possible that Beko and Delta Holding owner Miroslav Mišković have been investigated and accused (in corruption cases), and now one of them is "offered Railways, and the other is merely received to have coffee with so he can give advice about the functioning of the Serbian economy."

"Why don't you give the the latter (public gas enterprise) Srbijagas, and then together we can all go toward the future in which we believe. With this, Vučić has shown that he cares neither about the law nor about procedures," said the DS MP, and wondered how Beko could be offered the job, considering he was "one of the bigger tax debtors."

"Because they (tycoons) realized - if the state won't give us subsidies, the we'll take over the state - and that is what is happening now with Beko, probably tomorrow with (Miodrag) Kostić. Every citizen has a great perspective because soon we will all have to work either for Vučić or for some tycoon, who will be pardoned for all that happened in the past and for tax evasion," said Stefanović.

Head of the parliamentary group of the opposition New Democratic Party (NDS), Marko Đurišić, however, said the offer to Beko was "an interesting idea, if one looks at his business biography and how he came to the great wealth that he has."

"We should wait and see the results of his work. We cannot make an assessment in advance," he told reporters, and noted "it would not be the first time that Beko manages a large state firm."

During the 1990s, continued Đurišić, Beko was president of the managing board of the Kragujevac-based Zastava company, "so the results were publicly scrutinized."

Ruling SNS party MP Milovan Drecun said the fact that Beko was about to take over the managing of Serbian Railways "will bring good results to this company, because Beko has adequate experience, largely ignores political circumstances and has learned to do positive personnel selection."

Drecun added that this was "an interesting attempt by the government to make a fairly significant and unprecedented combination of people who have a successful private business and their involvement in public enterprises, such as Railways."

Speaking about the legal proceedings against the businessman, Drecun said it was "a matter for the relevant authorities - if he violated the law, no one can expect he will be excluded from the proceedings by competent authorities."

He added that Beko "did business during the time of previous governments and will likely be doing business after this government."

Deputy head of the SPS party parliamentary group Đorđe Milićević said "the idea to include a businessman in the management of public companies is not bad," but that the party, a junior member of the ruling coalition, "cannot declare itself of individual names before it has the final form of the proposal."

However Milićević believes that the government will find "the best possible solution for those who will take over responsibility for some state-owned companies," and that the goal was "to pull losses-generating companies out of the bad financial situation."