Jelisaveta Vasilic, a member of Serbia's Anti-Corruption Council, told N1 on Monday that a referendum was the best way for the Government to see what people thought about the Rio Tinto lithium mine in the country.
But, she warned that the secrecy surrounding the project meant corruption.
„If the Government does not provide information, that is not a capital, but a corruptive project,“ Vasilic said.
However, she said that even a referendum, announced as a possibility by President Aleksandar Vucic, did not mean it would be successful.
„If it is held in democratic countries where everything is done transparently, it succeeds. But where there are hybrid regimes with reduced democracy, there is a problem because people don’t have all data, and it’s difficult to ask them whether they are pro or against it. We have to tell people what is that about,“ Vasilic said.
She added that if Vucic provided all information with proves, there would not be a problem.
Some environmental NGOs and later several opposition parties staged mass protests over the Rio Tinto project, saying it would destroy nature and endanger people’s health.
Vucic said the referendum on the lithium mine might be held, but described the protests as populist and against the country’s progress. He also said that all Rio Tinto projects in that area „must meet the highest ecological and technological standards because there is no economic development without preserving a healthy environment.“
Vasilic said that Zorana Mihajlovic, a deputy Prime Minister’s promise that the documents would be made available to the public, was a confession that it had not been available so far, which prompted the Council to demand answers to the disputable questions.
„We asked for that because the state declares many projects as capital. This one is, but many others are not. They (the authorities) believe when they say a project is a capital, they don’t have to say anything else,“ Vasilic told N1.
She added it was essential to have data on financing. Whether it comes from the budget, investors, the World Bank, the European Union…
„It is important that we know it because we can lose natural resources if such a big project is realised; we may lose water, mountains,“ Vasilic warned.
She added the state had no deadline or obligation to provide the project’s documents but said she believed it would be „a bit pressured“ into it.
„Rio Tinto isn’t state’s project, its public property, and that makes us all responsible for taking care about what is going on and who becomes an owner,“ Vasilic said, adding that „we must not allow the privatisation of the public property.“