The value of Serbia’s Jaroslav Černi Water Institute cannot be measured in money and the government needs to declare it an institute of strategic interest instead of selling it, according to civic organizations and experts. They have pointed out that some of the data on waters in Serbia are classified as state secret, arguing that they cannot be given to private owners.
After the Ministry of Economy of Serbia issued a public call for offers for the sale of the Jaroslav Černi Water Institute, a group of nongovernmental organizations launched a campaign for the institution’s independence and its activities in public interest. They urged the public, and especially the members of the expert and academic communities, to rise up for the preservation and improvement of water quality and natural resources and for a sustainable future of public health in Serbia.
At a press conference, the environmentalists stressed the significance of analysis and appropriate solutions in water and wastewater management for society and pointed to the danger from climate change and pollution.
The strategic interest status would limit the possible share for sale to 49%
Jaroslav Černi needs to get the status of an institute of strategic interest, in line with the Law on Science and Research, according to the representatives of the civic sector. They noted the government’s minimum share would be 51% that way.
Huge funds have been invested in the institute over the past several decades and there is no sum that can compensate for its value for society in Serbia, they said and warned of risks for data on waters in the country that are classified as state secrets. The initiative already launched a petition on the Kreni-promeni platform against the privatization, arguing a sale would affect the quality, price and availability of drinking water.
Jaroslav Černi must work for public not private interest
Olga Nikolić from the Network for Academic Solidarity and Engagement (MASA) said today’s Serbia and the future generations would suffer greatly if Jaroslav Černi would work for private interests and not for the public. She expressed concern that the current procedure may open the way for the sale of other institutes.
Jaroslav Černi designs dams, hydropower plants and waterworks, it is active in the defense against floods and in the production of environmental impact studies, Nikolić underscored.
Ruin it and sell it
Iva Marković from the Pravo na vodu (Right to Water) network said the public discussion shouldn’t be about selling the institute but about how to improve its work and secure its independence. She acknowledged Jaroslav Černi has already backed controversial projects that she said are impacting the environment and breaching the right to drinking water for citizens.
“We aren’t closing our eyes to the issue of devastated institutions. But, very similar to the previous privatizations, the easiest way is to bring an institution to ruin, whether it is material or the decadence of work ethics, and then say: why wouldn’t we privatize it?” Marković asserted.
Marković: The sale leads to squandering of public funds for elementary flood safety and the supply of drinking water
When it comes to efficiency, the best example is that Jaroslav Černi gave the best offers to public institutions in numerous tenders, she said. Marković claims the sale leads to squandering of public funds for elementary flood safety and the supply of drinking water.
The starting price of EUR 2.5 million is “disgraceful,” she stated and compared it to the EUR 250 million the government earmarked for the national football stadium. On top of it, the Jaroslav Černi institute brings profit, she said. Marković added the privatization of such activities never benefited the population and the authorities in cities and countries around the world, but that they have been forced to buy back the firms they sold.
Hydrogeologist Branislav Božović said the knowledge accrued by the institute should indeed be secret as those who have data on water would tomorrow rule the world. He revealed Serbia’s water resources have been cut down to the level of strategic reserves, which need a lot of time to be renewed. He asked who in their right state of mind would sell something that is worth “billions” and added: “What is more important to you? Water or lithium?”
Institute has authority important for access to drinking water
Vesna Jakovljević from the Organisation for Saving Nature and Animals (OSNA) expressed concern that the privatization was launched because of the residential construction projects and metro line at Belgrade’s Makiš water resource, the intended exploitation of underground waters at the Great War Island in the city, Rio Tinto’s planned lithium mine and processing unit and the EUR 300 million project with the European Union for wastewater processing as well as for the announced construction of hydropower plants Đerdap 3 and Bistrica.
If they take the institute, profiteers can alter the status of water designated for drinking and block the citizens from accessing them that way, she said.
The said secrets would be covered by the privatization contract, but it can be expected that the contract would be hidden from the public eye, like a lot of information before it, according to Jovan Rajić from the Renewables and Environmental Regulatory Institute – RERI, who pointed to the examples of changes in several laws in the past year.
The law stipulates the privatization of the Jaroslav Černi institute must be conducted in line with a program adopted by the Government of Serbia and other documents that aren’t publicly available, if they even exist, Rajić said. He noted the only condition is the financial offer and warned the Water Institute could be acquired by a firm that has no experience in the sector.