Dragana Čukić, Deputy Chairwoman of NALED’s Managing Board and a member of ACES’ Managing Board in an interview for Diplomacy&Commerce.
We welcome the Government’s willingness to set aside such a large amount of money, more than five billion euro, and help the economy in this way.
NALED is the first organization to have proposed 10 emergency measures to the Serbian government with the view of helping the economy, as well as 15 emergency measures to support the functioning of the healthcare sector. “We will continue to gather information on what the needs of the economy are and to strive to find the best solutions because, without an efficient and stable economy, there is no stable society as a whole,” says Dragana Čukić, Deputy Chairwoman of NALED’s Managing Board.
How did you organize your business activities?
In terms of NALED, we have been conducting all our business activities from home since the first half of March in order to protect our employees. Even in such circumstances, we are actively involved in finding the best solutions to combat the pandemic and its consequences for citizens and the economy. In addition to the health of citizens, which is in the first place, we also certainly need to think about ways to mitigate the consequences of the inevitable fall in economic activity and rising unemployment.
We did a mapping of municipalities and cities by the population’s age to locate where is the greatest need for supporting the most vulnerable categories. On our website, we have created a COVID-19 section where companies can ask questions and get answers about doing business in the state of emergency, as well as talk about problems and suggest what would be a good solution for resolving them.
Together with our partners – the Government of Serbia, the Ministry of Public Administration and Local Self-Government, the government’s Office for Information Technology and the EBRD, we have launched a contact centre for inspections, where individuals and businesses can report unlawful increases in the prices of food, medicines, medical supplies and protective equipment.
We also thought of local governments and launched a unique platform which contains an overview of all required donations, which shows that the needs of the first municipalities that contacted the platform are already exceeding 80 million dinars. The goal is to connect donors and socially responsible companies, on one side, with municipalities and towns that need the help the most.
We have many other ideas too. We will continue to gather information about the needs of businesses and to advocate the best solutions because, without an efficient and stable economy, there is no stable society as a whole.
First, you proposed 10 measures for supporting businesses, then 15 for preserving health and supporting healthcare systems. What are your expectations from these measures?
The Serbian government has adopted a package of measures that is largely along the lines of what NALED, on behalf of more than 300 of its members, has proposed at the outset of the coronavirus outbreak.
I am pleased to see that three of our key recommendations have been accepted, namely deferring payment of payroll tax and contributions during the state of emergency, providing favourable liquidity loans, and paying financial support to small business owners and SMEs or their employees. The government has also accepted an additional suggestion from NALED and businesses which is to abolish paying VAT on donations, as an important incentive to support healthcare institutions and vulnerable categories in times of emergency.
We believe that one of the key measures in supporting large enterprises is co-financing the wages of employees who are prevented from working so that these companies can keep all of their employees. One question that remains open is what will happen to the local governments which are entitled to a share of tax revenue belongs, which they will not be able to count on now. NALED proposes that a special support fund should be established with these local governments in mind.
In terms of healthcare, we have proposed 15 emergency measures and have forwarded them to the relevant institutions. All of these measures aim to facilitate the functioning of the system in crisis and enable a faster supply of the necessary protective equipment and disinfectants in the market. We also proposed expediting the procedure relating to importing the necessary medicines and raw materials for the production of medicines and disinfectants. The government has responded to the appeals from companies to allow the emergency import of protective equipment for their employees, as the question about finding enough masks for employees was one of the most common ones we had received. For chronic patients, for example, it would be a good idea to urgently switch to electronic prescription, and we have also suggested issuing e-approvals for sick leave.
How do you spend your private time during the pandemic?
The state of emergency has also brought extraordinary responsibilities for parents. My daughter goes to the third grade of elementary school, so my free time is largely devoted to school activities, but I also try to set aside time for movies, books and online socializing, which have become a part of daily routine.
What will you do first after the state of emergency is abolished?
This is a question we all ask ourselves. I am not planning on going on special trips or embarking on new ventures. My biggest wish is that we all return to “normal” activities that made up our daily lives as soon as possible, which we are now surely going to view from a different perspective.