Despite all the hullabaloo raised by the Minster of Economy and other gentlemen in power in Serbia about the “guillotine of regulations”, the famous "one-stop-shop" intended to boost Serbian collapsing economy and facilitate registration of legal entities, the reality is just as appallingly cruel and complicated as ever.
My endeavors to register as sole trader (SR: preduzetnik) prove beyond any doubt that the system is tailored to discourage any personal initiative and is, paradoxically, contrary to the proclaimed intentions and plans of the government to improve the position of employers and reduce unemployment rate which, as I write, is higher than 16%. Money is thrown for self-employment programs and trainings without result. More than 90% of start-ups fail in the first two years.
However, requirements for participating in trainings are fully harmonized with the bureaucratic practices that the shamefully incompetent government is trying to suppress – you must be registered with the unemployment agency for a period of more than three months, you cannot be currently employed or owning a company. How wrong. Most of the problems come up after you start working. It is than that you become aware of the fact that it takes more than just good will and plans for a brighter future to survive and profit from the game you inadvertently pushed yourself in.
But, I strayed from the main topic, which is why I sat down to write this thing in the first place. I am still so pissed off that structure becomes less important than the content. Generally, a few days ago I went to the website of the Serbian Business Registers Agency, the place where companies are conceived, born, live and, eventually, die. You wish! Actually, it is more like a place that is perceived as omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent – especially now that they have allowed for online registration!
So, I registered online. However, the website, which is voted top 10 Serbian websites (www.apr.co.rs) in anno domini 2009, does not tell you under any of the headings, subpages or main pages what inferno is awaiting you should you venture into the world of corporate tax payers. Well, I ask myself, what criteria were used to squeeze this website into the top ten in Serbia? It's certainly not design! And if you, as a person who wants to set up some kind of business, are not capable of seeing all the aspects of it on the country's most authoritative business portal and make plans accordingly, who on earth has the cheek to be wondering from their cozy leather armchair why so many fail?
Next, I went the SBRA on the fourth day from my online registration (you must do it within 5 days from the date you registered online) with a photocopy of my ID and a bank slip proving that I duly paid the 540 dinars (5.4 EUR) processing fee and a cute brunette (I was lucky) did a few clicks, scanned a few bar codes, pasted them onto the papers I handed in and gave me one page with all the info in return. There was my application number and she told me I could check the status of my registration online and, following approval from the almighty SBRA, come to the latter and get the papers. Ok. So, I did that. Checked on the internet, saw it was okayed by the SBRA, went down to the agency, picked up the papers and asked – “Now what?”
This time the not-so-cute skinny woman who never even took any heed to cast a look on my good looking body and martyred face slipped me two identical little pieces of paper with font 5 letters detailing the steps from 1) to 4) and then from 1) to 3) below, a total of 7 steps I had to pass to be fully accepted into the family of SBRA and said – “Well, now this.”
First thing, make a stamp. Done.
Second, tax authorities. But what tax authorities?
As many of the Serbs who left their crappy little towns in Serbia and came to Belgrade to find their happiness and place under the sun (which refuses to shine that bright these days), I registered at my cousin's place some 6 years ago. So, this is where I went first to look for the tax authorities on the municipal level – before that, I visited the City of Belgrade Tax Administration. They didn’t have the slightest idea what I wanted and why the hell did I come to them. Neither did I. All righty… It was just several bus stops away from the City Tax Administration building, close to the Canadian embassy.
“Good afternoon. I registered as sole trader. Since I am registered on the territory of this municipality, they sent me here for the tax issues. Do you know anything about it?” – “Well, what municipality will your company seat be?" Other, of course. It's always something other. In that case, I should go to that other municipality and see about taxes with them. "But if you're not going to display any sign you just come to us to report it and you wouldn't have to pay any taxes to us." At least, she was kind.
I went to the municipality where my company is registered at. The blonde at the info desk liked me, but she also had unpleasant news for me: "Tax Administration for the Zvezdara municipality is at 288 Bulevar Kralja Aleksandra St. You know that white building?” I did. I used to play football nearby. “But, anyway, you wouldn't be able to do it now, as they work only until 3pm". I thanked her and went home.
Today, I went to the place. Of course, the window for "sole traders" didn't work for me. The two meter high guy, whose head reminded me of the all-knowing computer from Hitchhiker’s Guide through the Galaxy directed me to another window. An artificial blonde, bored to death asked me what I wanted. "Tax identification number confirmation." I learned to speak their language. “When did you register?" "Yesterday".
Right... I had to go home and wait for a letter listing all documents I needed to hand back to them some other sunny day in 2010. However, I could open a bank account, hopefully, another item listed on the little paper of the things to do after. But, how funny, I forgot the stamp. And do I have a reason to be pissed off as hell!? Serbia in February is a cold, snowy and wet place. Not fun at all! Distances in town are not huge, but they accumulate. Trams are full of people, who cough, fart and stink. As the swine flu vaccine campaign failed, I would not be surprised if the Ministry of Health, for all the money they poured to the Swiss NOVARTIS, decided to teach its citizens a lesson by allowing the flu to spread. Just for the creepy Minister of Health Tomica Milosavljevic to be able to say: "I told you so!" There’s one interesting test called “How can you tell if you're from Serbia?" One point is: “You believe that everything is some kind of a conspiracy.”
The morale of the whole story is: the moment I find a proper place to go, I will.