The Protector of Citizens was a guest on the show "New Morning" on Pink Television.
In the past few days, the public was horrified by the story about the abuse of an old woman in a home for the elderly in Voždovac. How common is violence against the elderly in Serbia and how to stop it? That is one of the questions for the Protector of Citizens Zoran Pašalić. Good morning! Did you submit a report to the RS National Assembly by March 15?
- That was our obligation and by March 15 we submitted a report to the National Assembly on the results for the previous year.
We will get back to that regular report, but now let's talk about the abuse of the old woman in the home for the elderly in Voždovac. Your office responded. In what way and what is happening now?
- On March 16, we sent a letter to the Ministry of Labour stating that we must react in regard to that case. And they reacted really quickly, so the license of that home was suspended. However, that opened one big topic that we are dealing with and we will especially deal with it in the next period. I always emphasize that a society, its quality, is measured in relation to those who are under special protection, and that is children and the elderly.
And the ill, of course.
- Yes, but this time I put the emphasis on the elderly.
In the regular report, the one mentioned before, you dedicated a significant part to the care for the elderly.
- Yes, we did. This is one of our primary activities, principally focusing on the position of the elderly in homes, the inspection of all homes, both public and privately owned. Also, contact with the owners of privately owned homes for the elderly in order to see everything that is needed to prevent the situation that we have from ever happening again. You gave an example.
How many complaints have you had when it comes to homes? On the other hand, we had various types of media captions. We will not state that every one of them is correct, namely those mentioning homes that resemble houses of fear, unregistered homes, unlicensed homes… As far as we understand, there are about 60 to 80 illegal homes?
- That's right.
Let's talk about what was said first. How common is violence against the elderly in general?
- It is a very common problem, because they are old, and it does not have to be just physical violence, they are also exposed to psychological violence. What is less visible, for example, is the so-called economic violence, which means that their income is taken by others, whether by relatives or under one of the contracts. They are often deprived of their legal capacity, so someone else disposes of their property, and that is also the subject of our interest. In the next period, we will inspect all homes, regardless of whether they are state homes or privately owned homes, because we have a mandate for that according to the Law on the Protector of Citizens, primarily as a preventive measure. On the other hand, which is just as important, we will speak to the Ministry of Labour, which is responsible for this issue. And the most important thing, and that is, we will talk directly with the users of the services of those homes, that is, with the elderly, in order to find out first hand what their position is and what can be done to improve that position.
What are the most common complaints?
- They mostly refer to accommodation and the attitude of employees towards them in different ways. From some fundamental things, such as food, accommodation, to...
Lack of medical care, right?
- To that too, but primarily to the attitude towards them. That is the key because you must always take one fact into account. A person in their life can choose whether they will be married, whether they will have one or more children, what their career will be like and which direction it will take. But one day we will all be old people and we need to think about that and go in the direction of improving the relationship with the elderly, our relatives, our mothers, fathers,and we should do this to the maximum degree possible. In that way, we will show and we do show that we are a society that knows how to solve this problem.
And how will you solve the problem of illegal old people's homes? As far as we understand, there are 60 to 80 of them, and the capacity is very large, that is some 10,000 beds. Is that true?
How does someone dare to keep an illegal home?
- There are 250 nursing homes in the Republic of Serbia, 160 of them in Belgrade, and those are the homes that are legal, that meet the conditions necessary for the home to function.
These are the homes you will actually go to inspect?
-That's right. As for illegal homes - it is known whose responsibility that is, but will we also deal with it, and that is why I say that we practically have three ways of action. One is aimed at the relevant ministry, which should regulate the existence of these illegal homes. There are different ways in the region to regulate the attitude towards the elderly who are not taken of by someone from the family or someone who cares for them on some basis. For instance, there is the example of Croatia where they had the so-called “family homes” and this proved to be very bad. These are present, for example, in smaller communities where someone who has a bigger house, then they take in several elderly people and take care of them. But it turned out to be bad because they were out of the realm of inspections. I'm not making a true comparison now, but... inspection, inspection, inspection, that's what we're going to do.
What are the main complaints besides these? Not only in the elderly population, but also in other categories that require special attention and care?
- If you refer to special attention and care, there are children with special needs who require it. But if you ask me, most of the complaints are related to property and legal issues - the cadastre and the legalization of buildings. This is also what we will focus on in our coming activities.
Many of your, let's say, former colleagues, now solicitors, lawyers and people who deal with these issues, told me about the problems with the cadastre, that they could not get the document, decision and what is needed to resolve the property-legal status. What are the most common problems and how can you solve them now as a protector of citizens?
- The first and basic thing when we approach such a problem is that in an institution, I will explain it colloquially, we have constant contact with someone who coordinates the work of the institution and who has direct contact with someone who coordinates the same type of work in our institution. It is like a liaison person, which works well when dealing with the Ministry of Internal Affairs, where there is a person who, when a problem arises, we can contact and get information from as soon as possible. So, we don't have to wait for our information to get to them first, and then for it to be returned to us, so as to avoid wasting a lot of time and to react immediately. Because, what the citizens complain about the most is that the process lasts too long, it is exhausting, and not to mention the problems of legalization which are the problem of local self-governments.
Yes, it is the silence of the administration or some slowness of the administration that is the problem. How to solve it, there are countless examples, not just relating the cadastre? It's just unbelievable. People say that now it's a little different with this e-government, but in some spheres it doesn't change much.
- E-government is good, but there is always a person behind every e-government platform who needs to take certain actions in order to get the job done.
I’m getting a message..., for example, to whom should we complain about an illegal home for the elderly?
- To us.
I don't think people know exactly what you do, they don't know all the areas that you cover. Where can they get the information?
- They can come to 16 Deligradska, but also there are phone numbers, emails, etc. Our address is 16 Deligradska, where they will certainly be met by someone who processes the data, and probably by me too, if I am available.
And then you carry out the inspection based on the formal complaint? You come to inspect?
- No, we address the competent ministry when it comes to illegal homes.
Specifically, in this case it is the Ministry of Labour?
- That's right. And we can act, initiate as we initiated this case on March 16, immediately after getting information from the media.
Of course. It is amazing how much it can go, let's say, unnoticed if someone does not have living children, or if they are alone and old.
- This is not only a problem of Serbia. That is the problem of the whole of Europe. We are an old population, Europe is old and the old population is prevalent. Then there is migration due to the search for a better, more adequate jobs, which is not only a syndrome of Serbia, but of absolutely all countries in Europe. This is a burning issue. And I repeat, caring for the elderly shows the humanity of a society.
Absolutely. It is best that we end up like that kind of society. Thank you very much.
- Thank you!
I have one more question. Some old people say: if we don't pay for electricity or something, 30% of a pension is taken for the debt.
- It's probably the collection agent’s business. I guess that is what the viewer had an objection to.
Yes, maybe that is a too large amount for pensions of 25,000 dinars, as the gentleman says.
- Of course. Again, we are the ones to address to. They should contact us. I am not saying that we can solve every problem, but we can solve a large number of problems.
Thank you very much for being our guest! See you again soon.