The Government of Montenegro proposed amendments to the Law on state administration in a secret procedure without holding public discussion and without any involvement of the public. The Amendments to the Law have been prepared at the Government sitting of November 16th. The text of the amendments has not been submitted for consideration to the Public Administration Reform Council either- the advisory body of the Government, which, to make the paradox complete, has been established exactly for the purpose of considering drafts of regulations, strategic, planning and analytical documents related to the public administration reform. The Law on state administration is one of the key laws in the area of public administration reform.
With the amendments to the Law on state administration, the Government has limited holding of public hearings “when the law, i.e. the strategy regulates issues in the field of defense and security and annual budget; in emergency, urgent or unforeseeable circumstances; when a matter is not differently regulated by law”. Such a wide formulation leaves space for ministries to choose when to conduct a public hearing, i.e. to avoid public involvement in the procedure of adopting an act of their choice.
When it comes to the budget, the key reform document in this area, the Public Finance Management Reform Program (an integral part of the Strategy for Public Administration Reform 2016-2020), aims at greater openness and transparency of the state budget. The budget calendar defined by the Law on the budget and fiscal responsibility does not exclude the possibility of public discussion on the draft annual budget, although the Ministry of Finance has not organized it so far. Instead of moving ahead in this direction, now another law seeks to permanently ensure that the public is excluded from the budget formulation procedure. We recall that public discussions on the budget of local self-governments are explicit legal obligation while the aim of this proposal is to explicitly prohibit by law public discussion on the state budget. Hence we come to a new paradox, citizens are invited to participate in public discussions on budgets in their municipalities, while they are forbidden to participate in discussions on the state budget. It is obvious that the Government treats the state budget as a property belonging to the Government, and not the citizens.
Further, we are surprised by these solutions given that a year ago the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MIA), when discussing the draft Decree on the procedure and the manner of conducting public discussions in preparing laws, accepted the proposal of a large number of NGOs to delete the ban on public discussions from this by-law. The MIA Directorate which accepted this proposal is the same Directorate who sent the Government the exact opposite solution now although it consists to a large degree of the same state employees now working in the ministry with another name
Therefore, we ask the Ministry of Public Administration (MPA) – what has happened in the meantime that affected the changed attitude on public participation in the creation of the most important legal acts? As stated in the MPA response, this decision was made in consultation with other bodies, so we ask – which bodies / ministries proposed these backward solutions? Did maybe the ministers from these departments – the finance minister and interior minister seek such solutions? If so, their justifications of such request should be presented to the public, so that such arguments can be examined objectively.
MPA response is unconvincing and does not provide an opportunity for further constructive discussion. MPA states that the draft law prohibits public discussion on the budget law and the area of security and defense, in order to “create conditions for a quick reaction under a shortened procedure in certain emergency situations”.
We consider this matter to be about creating permanent exceptions in areas in which public will never be consulted, in urgent or regular procedure.
From the previous reactions of MPA in this regard we notice that the Government of Duško Marković has a new policy that differs from the previous government, and which is worse for transparency and cooperation with non-governmental organizations and citizens. Amendments to the Law on state administration are just one in a series of regressive trends of this government’s policy towards the wider public in the course of the past year.
On behalf of the NGO Coalition – By Cooperation to the Goal, which currently brings together 99 non-governmental organizations from Montenegro,
President of the Managing Board