Thursday, 14 December 2017 | News today: 14

Dime Spasov: Providing care for the most vulnerable categories of citizens is a major priority

I do take such cases personally. Providing care for socially vulnerable categories is a primary goal to the Social Services - says Labour Minister, Dime Spasov, after an information about the treatment of a deaf child in Bansko Spa. Dept writing-off of the socially vulnerable categories of citizens is the new government's measure

The first measure, the first action of the new government refers to the very field you are responsible for, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy respectively, encompasses a set of measures for the most vulnerable category of citizens?

Spasov: Providing care for the most vulnerable categories of citizens is one of the major priorities not only for the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy but also for the government. During the campaign, we came forward with a specific program in which many of the projects were aimed at improving the life of the citizens that face difficult situations, people with disabilities, for whom we want to find various ways to realize a series of projects that will improve their lives.

The first project presented by the Prime Minister comes as a result of that. It is a one-time debt write-offs for welfare recepients, people that have been unemployed for longer than 12 months and are looking for a job. And, citizens at social risk as a result of death or disability of a spouse.

The fact that Macedonia went through really hard times as well as the whole world, followed by the great global economic crisis, these people were the most affected categories of all. That is the very reason we want to help them with this project. To write off all those debts that they have accumulated on the basis of electric energy consumption, heat, consumer credit and credit cards, categorized in D and E category and public service broadcasting charge.

We also presented a range of other measures that will be carried further on, as, for example, exempting welfare recipients from paying public service broadcasting charge. The legislative amendments were adopted by the Government. Additionally, a number of other projects, such as speeding up the process of legalization of illegal buildings just for welfare recipients. We determined by law, the Agency for Real Estate Cadastre to be bound to make such elaborates for legalization at the request of citizens who are receiving social assistance.

The proposed law on prevention and protection against domestic violence. It is a broad topic that encompasses our society as well as the entire European and global system?

Spasov: This is also a project from our programme. In the last period of time we worked on a detailed and comprehensive analysis of our system to protect victims of domestic violence, as well as the systems of the European countries and the countries of our surroundings. Most of the countries have a separate systematic law that regulates this subject matter. That is why we have decided to use the positive reforms that the European countries have implemented, to implement them in a legal text that will be dedicated and focused as the country’s response in the combat against domestic violence.

The law largely provides significantly greater protection to victims of domestic violence. Moreover, to provide greater protection to children that are victims or participate in domestic violence. A new series of new measures are also projected, such as fines of 2,000 to 5,000 euros if the perpetrator of domestic violence does not respect the temporary protection measure imposed by the court . The court, additionally, to decide within 24 hours when there the victim’s life is in danger, as a temporary measure, to kick out the perpetrator of domestic violence from the home, and not the victim. So far, the protection was aimed to protect the victim, to take them to some shelter centre and so on. This is а model similar to the Austrian one, which is very positive and provides great protection to victims and the very general provisions of the law, stiffer penalties respectively.

When discussing with representatives of associations covering these issues, the non-governmental sector says that often the victims of domestic violence are financially dependent on the abuser and remain in the home, and become victims again.

Spasov: Our law also defines that domestic violence as economic domestic violence, as it is defined in the international conventions. We project specific activities of the center for social affairs, employment centers, with a view to secure the victims’ economic independence through including the victims in active measures and employment policies and help the victims facing difficult economic situation to find a job. It is also projected free health care to the victim of domestic violence, interventions by the police and all the institutions that act in the protection process of the victims of domestic violence. In terms of prevention, we will introduce modules at all levels of education and pre-school education, where the children will be taught about non-violent behavior, respect towards the differences between men and women, the equality between them and so on.

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You mentioned the reduction of unemployment or employment of victims followed by the question of projects and policies in your sector to reduce unemployment. And there are a number of measures.

Spasov: Unemployment remains being the largest challenge and the largest open question on which, we, as a government continue to work. The series of activities conducted by the Government of the Republic of Macedonia are primarily aimed at creating new jobs. Regardless if it is a matter of foreign investments or capital infrastructure projects, all those projects open new jobs. As a government, for the first time in 2007 we began the implementation of active measures and policies for employment and therefore each year we continue with the implementation of the operational plan for employment that contains a range of specific measures that help the employment in the private sector, and which really give results. Most of the successful projects are self-employment grants and subsidies. In regard to younger people, the measure that exempts all private companies from tax payments that will hire young people up to the age of 29. The exemption presents 27 percent social contribution and 10 percent income tax. A measure that more and more private companies are using. Over 2,400 young people have been employed within three months of the measure’s implementation.

We also started with the implementation of the promised project of self-employment for young people with special loans with low interest rate of just one percent annually, with a grace period of one a half year and 66 months for payment of the loan. Every young person that wants to be self-employed can raise such loans through the Employment Agency and the Macedonian Bank for Development Promotion in the amount of 7,000 euros, or up to 23,000 euros if they employ another four people. That will additionally encourage the opening of small businesses in the country.

And more measures in this regard. Those that had low education or that do not know the skills required in the labour market will be trained so that they have better chances for employment. On the other hand, we will implement concrete numbers with which we will directly subsidize the private sector to hire unemployed people that are actively seeking work. All statistical data show that unemployment has been increasingly decreasing in the past few years, and we will continue to make efforts to resume the unemployment decrease and to increase the employment in the country, primarily in the private sector.

Debts write-off is always connected to banks as institutions. Considering they are rigorous institutions, how do they react on the debts write-off and the self-employment loans?

Spasov: As far as self-employment loans are concerned, three banks are involved in the project. I expect an increased interest soon and at least one or two other banks to join. In the debts write-off project, a virtuous and  humanitarian project, I expect that all entities concerned with this law will join. Notaries, bailiffs, banks, heating distribution company and EVN. Considering that it is a matter of social responsibility, we should all help citizens who are in the social risk category and in a difficult financial situation.

Numerous projects focus on childcare. Opening new kindergartens, the “Every Child Needs a Family” campaign, free holiday for 2.000 children from socially vulnerable families, care for children without parents and parental care.

Spasov: Of course, we have a dozen of projects that target the youngest, primarily kindergartens. Until recently, many smaller municipalities or rural areas did not have a kindergarten at all. Therefore, we launched a project for opening kindergartens and in such areas and providing protection, care and upbringing of children in pre-school age in all Macedonian municipalities. We plan to open at least 40 kindergarten facilities in the following 4 years. Also, the care for children from socially vulnerable families and we continue implementing the free summer and winter holiday for these children.

Maybe their parents do not have sufficient financials, but that does not mean that we, as institutions and government, cannot help them. These projects, of course, bring us joy through the smiles of these children and their own joy for the free holiday. For some of them this is the first time they ever leave for a holiday and that is precisely why we will continue this project. 2.000 children will leave for a summer holiday this summer and another 1.000 for a winter holiday, and we will continue this practice in the years to come. As well as care for children without parents and parental care and persons who were without parents by the age of 18. We continue the programme this Government has introduced for employing them in the public administration (83 were hired thus far). We continue granting them financial aid for studies. Every children from this category who will enroll in PhD or master studies shall receive a grant of MKD 12.000-14.000 to assist their graduation process, to help them walking down the right path and to find a job easily. There are numerous other campaigns and projects for this category of citizens. We aim to continuously help disabled children, children that come from poor families, children without parents and parental care… there is also a package of measures for continuous improvement of these children’s lives.

The recently published State Department report on human trafficking was underlined that child beggars will be treated as human trafficking victims. Will anything be done regarding this issue?

Spasov: Of course. That problem exists in many states. In almost every state. We have found a way to systematically influence this problem in Macedonia. The amendments to the Law on Family stipulate that forcing a child to beg is classified as parental rights and duties abuse. Hence, we stipulated a two-degree procedure. In the case when it is determined for the first time that the child has been forced to beg, a decision on supervisory of parental rights will be issued immediately, parents will receive counseling and a notice. If they still continue forcing or soliciting the child to beg, or even worse – if they abuse drugs etc., than the Social Services will temporarily take the child away from the parents and will initiate legal procedure for dispossession of parental rights and will file criminal charges against the parents. In my opinion, results are already visible in the field. Dozens of criminal charges against parents who breach their parental rights and neglect their children have been filed only in the last one week. Children’s health condition is severely deteriorated.

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Pensioners have received more benefits and are thankful. The home visit project grows, citizens with social risk receive additional care, spa and leisure… are there any additional changes?

Spasov: There are novelties in all areas. We, as a Government and as a younger generation, owe our respect to all elderly persons, who participated in the creation of this state. We owe them projects that will improve their life. The project for free spa and leisure project continues and 22.000 pensioners have used it by now. Another 5.000 pensioners will benefit from it this year. As of 2015, we will launch a project for free tourist weekend for pensioners, starting with those who receive lower pensions. The new Government has decided they will use public transport for free on Sunday too, as well as free railway rides for all pensioners and persons above 64 (men) and 62 (women). Every other week in the month, or one weekend – Friday to Sunday. However, young citizen categories were also not neglected and received certain benefits.

We intend to decide on a special operation plan for active measures and employment policies in 2015, which stipulates EUR 5 million a year for major employment projects. Also, the decision for free railway transport in the third weekend of the month has already been announced. Students will visit cinemas, theaters, museums, Millennium Cross cable-car for free, as part of the idea to improve the life of almost all of our citizens.

You work o these project with such passion and energy as if it was your first day in the ministerial chair. You are not even 30, how do you deal with all of it?

Spasov: To be honest, the volume of work is really extensive and the Ministry of Labor and Social Policies does cover many different areas. It is hard and it is neither simple, nor easy. However, I have a good team, which provides me with support, as well as my collaborators, whom I have a lot to thank for. On the other hand, realization of projects for direct influence on citizens’ lives affects targets people who received no state help at all thus far. The Ministry has a chance to stimulate employment – a serious challenge we work really hard for. Projects that include social and child protection and care for vulnerable citizen categories. In simple words, if it helps one or more people, it is a big pleasure and gives us strength and energy to keep going and to implement the projects stipulated in the Government’s programme. I, as a Minister, am motivated to help the realization of the sole goal – improvement of the life of all Macedonian citizens.

Do you have time for yourself? To see a football match, for instance, the World Championship is the topic of the day.

Spasov: To be honest, i have only seen one or two matches. I really do not have much free time, we often stay at work late in the evening. In the morning new activities are waiting. Free time is a rarity, but I try to use it efficiently. I sometimes do sports, I see a movie, and of course, i also want to go for a walk… Although I do not have much free time, I find ways to use it effectively.

Another activity that has begun last year and caused positive citizens effect, was the “We Care for  Warm Home” campaign. Will it continue this year?

Spasov: It will continue. It is an activity in which we all help together those who have less than we do. Citizens who have a surplus of furniture, clothes, appliances, donate it to those who need it. The 1.300 donations have helped over 1.500 families with social risk in the last 9 months only. We will continue with this and similar activities for donating books, child clothes. We all have something we do not need at home. Why not donate it, and the Ministry will help for the donation to find the right destination, since we are in touch with those who need this support the most.

In the end of this interview, I must ask you about cases which are often in the public, and in which the actors and victims are the most vulnerable, unprotected categories themselves, such as the child kept in inappropriate conditions in Bansko Spa. Do such cases affect you personally?

Spasov: I would first like to express my sorrow on this case. Immediately after the Ombudsman’s report I have ordered for the social inspection to start a detailed and thorough investigative procedure on the actions of the authorized Social Services Center that has referred the child to such facility, as well as the actions of Bansko Spa staff to determine whether and who followed the legal procedures. I expect results, investigation report soon and all measures in accordance with the law will be undertaken. Nothing is excluded, it all depends on the injury.

Anyways, I do take such cases personally. Providing care for socially vulnerable categories is a primary goal to the Social Services. Such isolated case requires intervention so it does not reoccur. Considering many expert workers do their job professionally, one such case should not cast a shadow on their work. However, it must not go by unnoticed and it will have my full attention, to make sure the appropriate measures and interventions are undertaken.

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By: Naum Stoilkovski

Photo: Aleksandar Ivanovski