While the battle for Kosovo is being fought, all other topics, particularly those that are most important to people’s everyday lives and survival, are pushed aside. This is why the news that the number of non-tax imposts paid by the citizens, entrepreneurs and companies in Serbia was finally determined has gone by completely unnoticed. So, all of them, or rather all of us, pay exactly 591 non-tax imposts. Just in case, I would like to point out that these are mainly, in a certain sense, “secondary” and lesser fees which we pay on top of the main, biggest ones – which are called taxes. These include – to mention only the most important ones – the added value tax, personal income tax, corporate income tax, salary taxes, excise taxes (tobacco, alcoholic beverages, oil derivatives, etc.), customs duties, etc. Tax revenue brings the country the most funds, but the non-tax income is not entirely negligible. Last year, for example, out of a total of nearly 2,000 billion dinars of state revenues, non-tax revenues accounted for about 250 billion, i.e. slightly over two billion euros or 12.5 percent of total revenues.
Ever since October 5th, the authorities have been promising to bring order into this area and, at least, determine the exact number of non-tax imposts. Until a couple of days ago, however, this was not done. During the time of Mladjan Dinkic, we were talking about some 300 imposts, but now – primarily, it must be said, thanks to the American USAID program – it turned out that the result exceeded all expectations.
Of course, not everyone is paying all these imposts, because many of them are related to specific jobs and situations, but their number, nevertheless, is terrifying. On the other hand, we still haven’t precisely calculated how many imposts an average company pays – by some estimates about 200, which is still, no doubt, an “impressive” number.
It is not, however, just a matter of the amount of money a company should allocate, i.e. earn, to pay all these fees. It must also employ people to keep track of the regulations which “impose the imposts”, calculate them, fill out payment forms, etc. All in all, an endless array of actions that demand time, energy, and money. It can almost be said that this “business” with the state prevents business owners from dedicating themselves to their core business, i.e. their livelihood, which could be summarized as meeting the needs of consumers.
In fact, this “business relationship” between the state, on the one side, and the citizens and businesses, on the other, has several very negative characteristics, as pointed out by the authors of the Non-tax imposts registry. First, parafiscal charges are being introduced on a whim, without any control. Secondly, as it is not determined by law, the amount of these charges is determined completely arbitrarily. Thirdly, the charges are generally much higher than the quality of the public service that is provided in return. And fourth, the “system” is non-transparent and subject to frequent changes that create uncertainty and (additional) costs. The conclusion to be drawn from this is quite simple: the citizens and business owners of Serbia live in a rather non-liberal, repressive and voluntaristic fiscal system.
And finally, I didn’t mention Kosovo at the beginning of this article just as a metaphor or for its own sake. Namely, speaking after those “unpleasant scenes” from Kosovska Mitrovica, President Aleksandar Vucic gave a short interview to RTS, probably intending to calm the citizens and bring them back to “normal”. On this occasion he said, “and we will continue to increase the surplus in the budget”.
In “normal” times and countries, this would be cause for alarm. This means that the state will continue to take more than it can spend. Why increase the surplus in the state budget? More money for the state – less money for citizens and businesses. Both for workers’ salaries and for investments. And the low level of private investment is the main cause of our weak economic growth. Which is something that, according to the words of the most powerful man in Serbia, we can expect more of in the future.
Translated by Marijana Simic