With the economic crisis leaving many unable to pay bills, Serbian citizens claim that new debt collection practices are an invasive and unconstitutional abuse of authority.
By Igor Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 25/08/12
The unemployment rate has reached nearly 25 percent in Serbia, and many people are months behind in paying their bills. [Katica Djurovic/SETimes]
The debt now amounts to tens of millions of euros.
In late May, companies began hiring debt collectors to recoup their losses. The activity ramped up in August, and as many as 2 million citizens may have reason to fear if a debt collector comes knocking on their door.
Though provisions of the Law on Execution and Security states that the use of private executors is legal, some experts and citizens believe that the law is not in compliance with the constitution. A greater number think that the law has given private executors too much authority.
On the other hand, many lawmakers say that the execution of verdicts under the new law will be more efficient and encourage greater financial discipline.
According to the law, there can be a total of 334 extrajudicial enforcement officers, one per 25,000 citizens. They have the status of officials and can inventory, seize and evict debtors from their homes, with police assistance if necessary. The executors can do their jobs seven days a week from 7am to 10pm, and, in extraordinary cases, even during the middle of the night if there is an evasion of obligation or danger of postponement for which explicit court approval is no longer required. And, they are paid commission on the debt that they collect.
According to Vesna Rakic-Vodinelic, a professor at the Union University Law School, the new law has demonstrated the state's lack of care for the citizens. "It did not take into account the difficult social situation in Serbia," he told SETimes.
Rakic-Vodinelic said it was "controversial that the debt collection can be carried out at night and on non-working days," adding that it was necessary to ensure "the respecting of dignity of the debtors, who should have effective legal remedies at their disposal."
Jovan Ristic represents a group of citizens that is preparing an appeal to the law to the Constitutional Court of Serbia. He told SETimes that the citizens' debts have piled up because they've lost their jobs, because they have low salaries that are often paid months late, and because of the decline of the dinar's value and the increase of credit installments.
"Very few people don't pay their bills because they don't want to, rather people are generally in a very difficult position," Ristic said. "On the other hand, the state is a big debtor and many companies cannot pay out salaries because the state owes them money for the work they've done."
He added that he believes the law on private executors is unconstitutional, because it gives individuals court authority.
Ristic is not the only one complaining about the new law.
"I've lost my job and can't find a new one," Nikola Markovic, an unemployed salesman from Belgrade, told SETimes. "How am I supposed to pay my debts and why would they seize my property and storm into my house in the middle of the night?"
Jelena Mikovic, a private debt collector from Sremska Mitrovica, told the Serbian media that citizens have no reason to fear the executors.
"We don't wear stockings on our heads, we don't carry weapons, we too have families," she said, adding that their work is closely supervised........