Minister Bujar Osmani said that his salary is important to him because he makes his living from the salary only, but what should the majority of citizens of Macedonia use for proper living and whose salaries are several times lower than the income of this Minister and all other officials?!
In September 2023, the inflation was reduced from 19.8% in October 2022 to 6.6% in September 2023 and will continue with a downward trend, the Minister of Finance Fatmir Besimi triumphantly announced in his column last week (21.10.2023). In the same article, he also says that there is a decline in unemployment, which was reduced to 13.1% in February 2023, and before the pandemic, it was 17.3%. Finally, he shared with the public the good news that the trend of poverty reduction continues.
Where does the Minister live? In Macedonia or in another country? Just a few days before his optimistic messages, an economic-social analysis was published by top experts, according to which an alarming jump in poverty is happening in our country.
It is the same analysis that was the reason why Deputy Prime Minister Fatmir Bitiqi was explaining himself in front of the media that he does not wear branded clothes and that the jacket he wore that day was sewn by "Uncle Borche" with his "golden hands", that his shoes are made by Bargala from Shtip, and he also bought the socks he wore that day from the textile factories in Shtip.
Kudos to this supreme demagoguery of the Deputy Prime Minister, but that does not reduce his responsibility as a second person in the Government and as a second person in the ruling SDSM party for delaying the law with which they were supposed to "normalize" their salaries as officials, which, apparently, will not be adopted at least for a few more months. Or, let's say - it will not be adopted while they are in power, that is, it will be adopted, but it will only become applicable as soon as the new government comes into power. Or, maybe before the election campaign, so they can win some additional voice in the battle to preserve power.
The poverty is becoming alarming
In the meantime, over half a million citizens of Macedonia are poor and do not even have enough money for food, as shown by the study on the inflation impact on poverty in Macedonia, prepared by experienced economic researchers, including Branimir Jovanovic, a former adviser in the Ministry of Finance. By the end of the year, it is expected that about 80 thousand citizens will spend the day with 60 denars, that is, they will not even have money for bread and milk. More than 440 thousand citizens will have only 200 denars per day in their pocket.
The results of the analysis show that extreme poverty, as a consequence of this crisis, will grow by at least 12,000 and 28,000 people at most, which is between 20 and 50 percent increase compared to the previous situation.
Before the crisis, the country had 56,000 people living in extreme poverty. The numbers are even higher in the so-called moderate poverty, which will increase for 80,000 to 160,000 people. Before the crisis, that number was around 360,000 people, and according to the latest data, it can reach up to 510,000 people!
Hence, the theatrical costume of Deputy Prime Minister Bitiqi, and we say theatrical because that is exactly his purpose - to make theater for the public, cannot hide the fact that THEY are wearing shiny costumes and shoes, and the ordinary citizen is wearing shabby and worn clothes. and even the tailor "Uncle Borche" is unattainable for these citizens as if he were Armani.
Macedonia, together with Ukraine, Moldova, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Albania are the five poorest countries in Europe. But that was not the reason why our economic and financial leaders not to fly to the exotic Morocco for the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank which took place from October 9-15. However, their return coincided with the day for combating poverty. At the same time, there was a "collision" of the data - on the one hand, the pink data from the Minister of Finance, and on the other hand, the pessimistic forecasts of the economic experts published in their study.
The Minister of Finance Besimi, in his appearance on national television, under the obvious impressions of (still) mingling the rich in the mystical Marrakesh in Morocco, assured us that in a situation of crisis, our country managed to continue the trend of reducing unemployment and poverty. He says that salaries are growing, and since April they are increasing more than inflation, so this is, the minister said, a great success for our economy and society.
Sugarcoating the situation?
Now who should we trust? The Minister or the researchers who base their findings on the real situation. Or let's ask the following - if the improvement is already evident, then why is there under preparation a new (ninth) consecutive package of measures worth over 4.5 billion denars and intended for citizens and companies, in order to deal more easily with the price and energy crisis? Could it be that the Macedonian society has reached a stage where those who are the main responsible people to create an economic environment are trying to sugarcoat the situation in order to prevent possible social unrest, especially after the selfish decision of the authorities to accept the increased wages and pretend that they are preparing a law to reduce them?
The Federation of Trade Unions demanded that official salaries be reduced by exactly 78 percent of the increase. But the Union itself does not believe in such a possibility. Especially because the Union submitted a draft law that has been in the Parliament for three months and there is still no feedback - it was ignored by the Parliament.
It is interesting that the proposal is equally ignored by both the ruling majority in the Parliament and by the opposition, which is usually vocal about workers' rights and growing social differences, but when it comes to the reduction of officials' salaries, it has decided to remain silent. This clearly indicates the lucrative interest of the opposition MPs, because the salary reduction will also concern them, as well as the mayors from their political party, who are in the majority on the local self-government map.
For those reasons, the government announced that they are preparing a new law on salaries that will mean their reduction, which are met with skepticism in the public and in the trade union organizations. If the authorities wanted to correct that injustice, they had seven months to do so. But they did not do that.
The prices are "frozen", but hot
It is surprising that the Government did not even take into consideration the pre-election period in which the country is and is not trying to make life easier for the citizens who struggle daily with the declining economic standard.
The measures that were adopted in September were not even felt in the family budgets. The 10 percent reduction in prices of rice, flour, bread, and other bakery products, as well as meat and meat products and milk and dairy products, did not have the expected effect as traders shrewdly amortized the reductions by increasing prices of other products that are not covered in the package but are used in the everyday life.
It did not even noticeably affect the living standard of the people. The consumption basket of the trade union was 48,379 denars in September, which is 966 denars less than the previous month. This "success" is due to the so-called guaranteed prices, but let's be realistic – how powerful is the assistance of an additional 966 denars in one month? If that is the entire effect of the government measures, then it is logical to ask what awaits us after 30th November, when the measures will end, and the pre-New Year's spending will begin, when the consumption fever enters every home whether we like it or not.
The expensive living threatens to destroy the trust in the government institutions, but the real question is whether anyone cares about that. If we used to talk about the gap between the rich and the poor, today we are talking about the gap between the poor and the state officials in Macedonia.
Media reports showed that the salary of our prime minister, which is 2,600 euros, is four times higher than the average salary in the country. The Macedonian prime minister is among the highest paid officials in the region – twice as much as, for example, the Serbian prime minister, and more than the Montenegrin and Kosovo prime ministers.
The ratio between the salary of the prime minister and the average salary is more decent even in Croatia, which is a member of the EU, where that ratio is three times. Minister Bujar Osmani said that his salary is important to him because he makes his living only from that salary, but what should the majority of citizens of Macedonia use for proper living and whose salaries are several times lower than the income of this Minister and all other officials?!
The blog was created as part of the “Tales from the Region” initiative led by Res Publica and Institute of Communication Studies, in cooperation with partners from Montenegro (PCNEN), Kosovo (Sbunker), Serbia (Autonomija), Bosnia and Herzegovina (Analiziraj.ba), and Albania (Exit), within the project "Use of facts-based journalism to raise awareness of and counteract disinformation in the North Macedonia media space (Use Facts)" with the support of the British Embassy in Skopje.
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