February 18, 2019 / 10:55 AM / in 2 months

IMF is 'accomplice' of Serbia's President, says opposition leader

* Djilas says IMF overlooked damaging government policies

* Djilas criticises low wages, growth, privatisations

By Aleksandar Vasovic

BELGRADE, Feb 18 (Reuters) - Serbia’s top opposition leader accused the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Monday of aiding President Aleksandar Vucic and his allies in the “economic destruction of Serbia”.

In an op-ed piece published by Belgrade daily Danas, Dragan Djilas, a key leader in the opposition Alliance for Serbia, said IMF policies were contributing to poverty and low living standards in the Balkan country.

Djilas is also the former Mayor of Belgrade and ex-president of the opposition Democratic Party.

The Alliance for Serbia is leading street protests against what they see as Vucic’s authoritarian rule and his Serbian Progressive Party (SNS).

Djilas accused the IMF and James Roaf, the former head of an IMF mission to review Serbia’s finances, of overlooking the government’s damaging policies.

Djlas said these include borrowing from China and Russia, corruption, subsidising state firms, privatisation of key assets such as the sale of the RTB Bor copper mine to China’s Zijin Mining and IMF-backed austerity measures introduced in 2014.

He also singled out low wages, poor living standards and weak economic growth estimated at 4.4 percent for 2018 and 3.5 percent for this year, among the lowest in the region.

“Having in mind their silence over ... catastrophic decisions of Alleksandar Vucic and the government they praise, ... IMF representatives in Serbia, led by Mr. Roaf, qualified for the status of accomplices in the project of economic destruction of Serbia,” Djilas wrote.

The IMF last week praised Serbia’s economic performance in 2018 and said it agreed with government plans to privatise a major bank and a loss-making petrochemical plant.

The IMF mission in Belgrade declined to comment.

Serbia ended a three-year, 1.2 billion-euro ($1.41 billion) loan deal with the IMF IN 2018. It did not draw on any of the funds.

That agreement came after the IMF in early 2012 froze a previous 1 billion euro ($1.13 billion) standby loan with the-then Democratic Party-led government due to overspending.

The IMF is currently monitoring the Serbian economy under a 30-month non-financial advisory Policy Coordination Instrument (PCI) arrangement, designed for countries that do not need the fund’s financial backing.

Djilas also said Serbia should nationalise some assets that were privatised since 2012 when SNS and their Socialist allies came to power, boost wages in the public sector and pensions, and end subsidies to state public utility firms.

$1 = 0.8847 euros Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Ed Osmond

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