Public at a Distance – Democracy in Crisis

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Analysis of the procedures of Early public inspection and Public inspection based on selected examples in the period of the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020-2021

Conclusions pertaining to transparency and quality of informing citizens

Two detailed regulation plans which were at some stage of public inspection (early public inspection or public inspection) in the period of the pandemic were looked at in more detail because of the great public interest they had aroused. Procedures relating to the detailed regulation plans for a part of Makiško polje and Avala Film in Košutnjak, respectively, were in focus.

Early public inspection of the Detailed regulation plan for the Avala Film complex was conducted in the period after the state of emergency was lifted. That period was marked by alleviating of the epidemiological measures, and lasted until the new stepped up measures proscribed group gatherings (May 6 – June 16).

Public inspection of the Draft of the detailed regulation plan of the part of Makiško polje commenced in the period of lesser restrictions related to the ban of group gatherings (August 28 – November 6), however, over its course the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic were aggravated. The later stages of public inspection and public session took place in the period of very strict measures in terms of the ban of group gatherings (November 6 – December 31), also marked by the decision of the Planning Commission to restrict the number of attendants at public sessions (December 12). Public inspection of the Draft of the detailed regulation plan of the part of Makiško polje, municipality of Čukarica, was announced on October 26 and it lasted until November 27, 2020. The public session was held on December 15, 2020. The plan was adopted by the Belgrade City Assembly on December 29, 2020.

Analysis of two plans at public inspection, selected because of the great public attention dedicated to them, brought several general conclusions about the transparency and quality of informing citizens.

  • The official web site of the City of Belgrade does not reflect or respond to the media attention caused by great public interest, to numerous expressions of different attitudes and official statements about the plans at public inspection. Thus it fails to position itself as a public service which provides reliable and correct information to the public, primarily connected with these procedures.
  • Statements of the city officials quoted at the official web site of the City of Belgrade were mostly judged as incorrect or questionable, that is, unfounded. The results of the analysis suggest that, instead of timely informing the public, the official web site of the City of Belgrade continuously misinforms the citizens about the procedures and contents of urban plans.
  • A considerable number of groundless and incorrect statements quoted at the official web site of the City of Belgrade and in the leading media indicates a lack of responsibility on the part of the city officials when they present the work of the public institutions. This further reveals considerable flaws in the existing model of government which is only in theory based on democratic principles.
  • In addition to the observed deep polarization between the attitudes of citizens and experts in different fields on the one hand, and city officials on the other, there is a noticeable absence of any form of dialog, even about the topics and issues featured in the media. Namely, while the media put forward a considerable variety of different questions, the city officials’ statements reiterate a limited number of identical themes and responses. In both analyzed cases they were much more limited in scope than the questions asked, and failed to address concrete parameters and demands.
  • Results of our analysis show that the public institutions failed to use the great interest expressed by citizens and media for the two analyzed plans at public inspection as opportunities for public discussion, advance and development of participation and improving the democratic model of government. To the contrary, there is an active tendency to exclude the public from the processes of making decisions of public interest.
  • The analysis shows that city officials tend to base the legitimacy of interests expressed by the public upon the division between „private“ and „public“ interests. Namely, in the procedures of public participation (RJU, JU) only interests expressed by the owners of real estate addressed by the plan are considered as legitimate. Interests of other citizens, mostly based on the principle of defense of public goods, are being rejected as illegitimate. Such division is in direct opposition to the principles of participation of all interested parties in articulation and protection of public interest, as fundaments of democratic government.

For the overall analysis (of general indicators of intensity and subjects of interest in the plan, public reactions, credibility of statements by city officials and analysis of the minutes of the Planning Commission of the Belgrade City Assembly), see our publication in Serbian or the Serbian version of our web site.