It’s high time we introduce a meritocracy and start putting the right people in the right places. By playing great leaders and deliberately implementing the “divide then rule” strategy, we brought the state and all institutions in the direction of not having the trust of the citizens, being a place for those who do not want to progress, being a place for party or staff employment. We have to admit our mistakes, some in the personnel policy, which is why our focus now should not be on who will form a coalition with whom, but what are our key values and principles, to create a measurable program with deadlines and to see who will be the people who will stand behind that type of program. SDSM should re-initiate consensus building with the largest opposition party on key issues of interest to the state and citizens. And here I am not only thinking about the constitutional amendments, but also about everything that follows in terms of key processes. After all, SDSM and VMRO DPMNE are the two largest parties in Macedonia, which is why they have to bear most of the responsibility for the future of the country, says Despotovski, who is one of the former candidates for president of SDSM, its current official and member for almost 30 years.
A company from an attractive technology destination in Southeast Asia is the new foreign investment with which the Directorate for Technological Industrial Development Zones (TIDZ) will start 2024. As the Director of the Directorate Jovan Despotovski reveals in an interview for MIA, the investment will be announced tomorrow, the location is TIDZ Skopje 1, and by the end of the investment period, he expects over 15 million euros per year just for salaries.
With this investment, according to Despotovski, a completely new chapter opens in terms of the type and quality of investments, especially in terms of high salaries and hiring young people with high qualifications. The company has representative offices in several countries around the world and already employs young staff from this country, but with the agreement that has been reached, the number will increase twentyfold.
Despotovski also talks about the entry of domestic companies into the zones – something that was announced, but so far has not happened. As he points out, he will not deviate from his intention and in cooperation with the International World Organization (IFC) will push the work “to the end”. Given that “the structures in the system did not allow this successful project to be realized”, Despotovski will insist on introducing a system of penalties for non-action of certain institutions. It is no longer about one, he says, but about ten potential investment projects of domestic companies that should and will happen.
The director summarizes the results of the work done in 2023, but also points to the significance of the “The future begins at home” platform.
In the interview, Despotovski also refers to his political engagement. As a member of the SDSM for almost 30 years, one of the former candidates for the party’s president and its current official, expresses a deep conviction that the SDSM will be the leading political force that will bring the country into the EU in 2030, although he is absolutely aware, as he emphasizes , about the mood among citizens. The polls, Despotovski points out, show that the citizens are tired of promises and excuses, that they want concrete results that will personally change their daily lives. – We have to admit our mistakes, some in personnel policy, which is why now our focus should not be on who will form a coalition with whom, but what are our key values and principles, to create a measurable program with deadlines and to see who will be the people who will stand behind that type of program, Despotovski underlines.
Director, you are announcing a new investment that should be announced as early as tomorrow. Can you tell us what it is?
We are starting this year with a new investment. With it, we are opening a completely new chapter in the type and quality of investments coming to the country, especially in terms of high salaries and the engagement of young people with high qualifications. The investment comes from an attractive technology destination in Southeast Asia and already employs young people in the country, and with the deal we have reached, the number will increase twentyfold.
Yes, the investment will be announced tomorrow, and the location is TIDZ Skopje 1. It is planned that by the end of the investment period, more than 15 million euros per year will be invested just for salaries.
That’s all I can reveal for now. We will announce more details tomorrow, January 3, when we plan to make the official announcement.
What about domestic companies? You announced the entry of a Macedonian company, but we haven’t seen it yet…
I personally see the fault in myself. A good home upbringing does not allow me to be brazen enough and bring out all the “dirty laundry” in public, related to the structures in the system that did not allow this successful project to happen. And from this place I will say that I have no intention of giving up. In cooperation with a serious international organization, the International World Organization (IFC), we will work to realize this. And this time it is not about one, but about ten potential investment projects of domestic companies that should and will happen.
I also want to emphasize that, both in this and in any other future political capacity that I will have, I will not allow circumstances in which institutions and structures within institutions practice outdated policies and do not follow the law. And for this reason, I will insist on introducing a system of punishment for non-action of certain institutions, because the damage done to the budget, in this particular case, is millions, and it is a direct damage to the pockets of the citizens.
In a recent press briefing, you summed up the 2023 numbers. What has been the focus of the past 12 months and what has been the result?
The past year, 2023, was marked by the largest foreign greenfield investment since the country’s independence. We brought in the Taiwanese giant “Yageo” with a contract worth 205 million euros. We have shown that with a wise approach and a small country like Macedonia, you can be a serious player in attracting investments.
We started the year with a new investment of 40 million euros by the Canadian “Magna Mechatronics”, and we are ending it with reached contracts of over 480 million euros, which bring over 7,000 new jobs, some of which have already been implemented.
The effect of foreign investments and the direct benefits for citizens are the most important and that is the main priority we are guided by. If in 2016 the average salary was over 19,000 denars, this year we expect an average net salary of almost 40,000 denars, which is a growth of 92 percent in just six years. The number of workers in the zones has risen to almost 18,000, which is twice as much compared to 6,000 in 2016. Also, if in 2016 we had 650 million euros of investments, now we are at two billion reached investment agreements. We have a continuous growth of payments to the budget from companies, which this year is expected to be around 70 million euros, which is seven times more compared to the period of six years ago.
We managed to show the world that Macedonia is no longer a country of cheap labor. The labor of the Macedonian workers must be paid. I am especially proud that we have had wage growth for two years in a row. Initial analyzes show an increase in wages of at least 20 percent for companies in the zones compared to last year, but also that they will be above the national average. Therefore, for me, it is the greatest success that we managed to impose higher wages for our fellow citizens to be a key segment in the investment plans of future foreign investors, thus definitely abandoning the concept of cheap labor.
We are aware that there is a problem with staff that companies need, not only with us. We are aware that we must work to keep young people at home, which is why we invest in technologically advanced companies that will offer them job opportunities and where they can capitalize on their intellectual potential. We also invest in training programs. Several companies are already using the measure we introduced last year, with which the state covers up to 50 percent of the costs of training or further education of appropriate staff.
With the Chamber of Commerce, you started a new concept and cooperation under the motto “The future begins at home”…
One of the first things I set myself three years ago was to provide well-paid jobs for our fellow citizens and create opportunities especially for young people to thrive here at home. We are already achieving the goal we set for ourselves in TIDZ for European and well-paid jobs. And we don’t want to be selfish, we want to make that contribution at the level of the whole society. This is where the idea for this platform came from, the purpose of which is to promote young visionaries, creators, drivers of future changes.
The goal of the initiative is for already successful youth to motivate young people. All our successful and creative young individuals should serve as a driving force in our society. They must be given the chance to build their careers here at home, and we must try and make every effort to offer them a future at home, not a life packed in suitcases.
This project involves young successful people from different fields – from domestic companies, from companies in the TIDZ, as well as high school students and students. Our partner in the project is the Chamber of Commerce, we also have the support of the president of the country, but I expect all other institutions and partners to get involved and continue together with us in the realization of a common goal – to reduce the trend of emigration, to convince them young people that the future begins at home.
The purpose of this project is not to talk about politics, nor what we have done. The goal is for young people to speak for young people. The campaign starts now and will not end – it will last until we reach our goal, which is not when we stop the trend of displacement, but when we bring back the last person who moved out.
This is a reminder that our future success as a country lies within our own borders, and these young people and many more examples like them show us that we can and will succeed, here at home. I am a father of three children and I want my children’s future to really start at home, and it does start at home. That’s how it should be for all children in this country.
Apart from being the director of the Directorate of TIDZ, you are also an active member of the ruling SDSM. Elections are not expected in the spring, so the question is inevitable – how do you evaluate the current and upcoming political developments?
I have been a member of SDSM for almost 30 years. And if you ask me today, I can say that I am honored to be a part of that party and in periods when decisions were made that were crucial for the country, starting with the independence referendum, the vote for the first Constitution of independent Macedonia, the handling of the conflict in 2001 , the candidate status in 2005, NATO membership in 2018.
I deeply believe that SDSM will be the leading political force that will bring the country into the EU in 2030. I am absolutely aware of the current mood among our fellow citizens which I fully understand and condone. In these six years, we have successfully completed many things, but there are still many things that have not been paid attention to, that is, where results visible to the citizens are missing. First of all, the rule of law and the fight against corruption.
I am also aware of the risks that exist in terms of international relations, which are related to the created impression of a certain dominance within the current ruling coalition. From my experience, I can say that relations with the majority of public office holders from our coalition partner are not only correct, but based on mutual respect and understanding. But the fact is that the public’s impression exists and I think it is due to the not always sufficient display of engagement and the work done by the holders of public positions elected by SDSM. And this must change. Not only for the sake of changing the impression, but also for the full respect of the principle of transparency and accountability in operations.
Surveys show that citizens are tired of promises and excuses, that they want concrete results that will change their daily lives. We have to admit our mistakes, some of them in personnel policy, which is why our focus now should be, not who will form a coalition with whom, but what are our key values and principles, to create a measurable program with deadlines, as well as to see who will be the people behind that type of program.
It’s high time we introduce a meritocracy and start putting the right people in the right places. By playing great leaders and deliberately implementing the “divide and rule” strategy, we brought the state and all institutions in the direction of not having trust among the citizens, with dissatisfaction with public services, to be a place for those who do not want to progress and work in the interest of citizens, to be a place for party or staff employment.
My personal view is that we should introduce a concept of a responsible politician, which delivers concrete results. I know that in these spaces these two words hardly go in the same sentence, but, in my opinion, right now it is most important to talk about how to reach responsible politicians. We need to change the approach in selecting people, especially for key functions. It was also part of “Concept 28” that I offered as a program in the last internal party elections for the election of the president. First, let’s define what kind of people are needed, with what characteristics, education, experience, then let’s discuss who can take those responsibilities and policies and implement them. And in doing so, we need to go beyond the boundaries of the party and the state and think broadly.
In that sense, SDSM should re-initiate consensus building with the largest opposition party on key issues of interest to the state and citizens. And here I am not only thinking about the constitutional amendments, but also about everything that follows in terms of key processes. After all, SDSM and VMRO-DPMNE are the two largest parties in Macedonia and as such they must bear most of the responsibility for the future of the country.