Ahead of the budget debate, the issue of the cost of the New Year tree installed in Republic Square has been raised in the Belgrade City Assembly.

Balsa Bozovic, head of the group councilors from the opposition DS party, told reporters ahead of the session on Thusday that “one meter of the tree cost EUR 5,500,” adding that “such a tree was three times cheaper in, say, Rome,” and describing the situation as “corruption and the pillaging of citizens.”

Belgrade Mayor Sinisa Mali quickly reacted to say he was “himself surprised” to learn about the price tag, adding that the contract with the supplier would be terminated, “while the penalties will not be paid by citizens.”

All this comes after the whistleblowing website Pistaljka reported earlier in the day that the holiday tree – called in Serbia the New Year, rather than Christmas tree – is among the world’s most expensive, not counting the decorations.

It cost EUR 83,000 – and was installed three days before the decision to award the contract to the company KeepLight was formally made.

The city has been buying holiday decorations from this company for years, the website added, and said that both last year’s and this year’s tenders had been “rigged.”

For comparison, the report further observed, the undecorated Christmas tree – a Norway spruce at least 20 meters tall – installed in front of New York’s Rockefeller Center cost USD 25,000, while the artificial 18-meter tree in Belgrade, decorated with plastic and plush ornaments, cost four times more.

KeepLight reacted on Thursday to announce that they won the job “through public and transparent public procurement announced by the City of Belgrade and carried out in line with the law and regulations.”

However, the company continued, they “understand the mayor” and are ready to terminate the contract worth EUR 83,000 – and also, to “donate” the controversial tree and the lighting “to all Belgraders.”

Jelka na beogradskom Trgu republike od 83.000 evra postavljena pre nego što je tender završen. Ugovor dobila firma Keep light koja ima monopol na novogodišnje osvetljenje https://t.co/nc90TsiP1E pic.twitter.com/fnZrpeRKE4

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