Big and small election narratives

Milena MiloševićFor the purpose of building election trust, besides dealing with great stories of democratic dialogue, it is necessary to tackle public policies in depth, so that, in four years time, we do not again witness sudden, short-term attempts of “fixing” the issues which have been previously largely neglected by politicians.

The 2016 is the election year and election trust is its leitmotif.

The attention is focused on the dialogue, aimed at ensuring conditions for fair and just elections. Even though the need for inducing trust in elections is unquestionable, there is a danger for decision makers to remain trapped in the game of symbols, which only sporadically reaches citizens, in their every day routines and stand-by mode until the Government pays damages in Limenka case.

Big stories hold the line. Political subjects of parliamentary dialogue. Control of use of public resources. Election process. It is true that systematic problems demand systematic solutions. Nevertheless, in this case, in a certain manner, the less is more.

So how does that work?

Audio Recording Affair is four years old, or, using political vocabulary – one election cycle. It represents a sterling example of interweaving of public resources and private party dowry, which has rightly gotten the extent of a scandal.

Institute Alternative has closely followed this romantic embrace of state and party from 2012 onwards, by monitoring civil service recruitment. This work is, however, anything but simple. Opposition politicians who may enter the so-called interim government, should not deceive themselves that in a few months they will manage to expose misuses of employment procedures in state and local authorities, regulatory agencies, public institutions and enterprises, which have been piling up for years. And the truth is, these are all different forms of institutions, “cohabitating” in the cumbersome public sector. There are no unique rules applicable to functioning of public institutions and organizations.

Maybe there would be some rules if the citizens, MPs and opposition advocates ever wondered what happened, for instance, with the Analysis of the position of the organizations performing public services, which should have been created by the Government several years ago, with the declared aim of fighting the so called agencification of Montenegro and deteriorating rule of law.

Maybe the new Audio Recording Affair would be less probable if the decision makers have paid attention to the warnings about the lack of preconditions for analogous implementation of The Law On Civil Servants And State Employees to the local level. Lack of complete data on the state of play in local governments is not a jaw-dropping surprise, given that both Institute Alternative and Association of Municipalities have previously warned about the legal insecurity regarding local servants, since the “analogous implementation”, as such, is too abstract.

Abstraction and legal loopholes are fuel for corruption, misuse of public resources and other affairs, which are subjects of big parliamentary dialogues. Nevertheless, they are only the aftermath of small omissions, which have been multiplying over time while suppressed by the “newspeak” of various political parties. On the other hand, it is not popular or desirable to talk about the ‘’small’’ issues, such as the data exchange between the Ministry of Finance and the Human Resources Management Authority or evaluation of public policies based on previously defined indicators.

The only opposition initiative aimed at improving public administration recruitment was based on a superficial estimate that grade point average during studies should be decisive criterion of merit-based employment. Plagiarism and 20 euro term papers have nothing to do with it.

The well developed debate on direct conditions for an efficient and transparent election procedure, such as the electronic identification of voters or maintenance of electoral roll, is an exception. However, for what is about to happen in the upcoming four years, everything else is equally important.

‘’Little things mean a lot’’ – call it a cliché, but it is nevertheless extremely applicable these days to the popular domain of building trust in the election process. It is true that this is about the electoral process, which does not float alone in a single point in time. On the contrary, it is gradually built over time, especially given contemporary notion of accountability and legitimacy of the government, which entails civic rights of asking and receiving feedback on progress in fulfillment of promises delivered to them.

Drafting of the new 2016-2020 Public Administration Reform Strategy in Montenegro is ongoing. This is an umbrella document for many activities tackling the complex relations between state, business and citizens, which Government plans to undertake in the period until the next elections. Institute Alternative submitted more than 40 pages of comments and recommendations to the Ministry of Interior, which is in charge of preparation of this strategic document. We have covered many topics, sometimes with nitty-gritty technical details, which pretty much fit into the “meta-narrative” on building the election trust. Unfortunately, the Government is persistent in refusing some of our key measures, such as reduction of discretionary rights of ministers and monitoring turn-overs of senior civil servants in post-election periods. Senior servants will make decisions on our behalf in the period between the two elections. Life will not be put on hold in the meantime – neither the interest of political parties and civil society for abuse of public resources should be.

Public policy researcher

Text originally published in the section ,,Forum” of Daily Vijesti

Press Release: Civil Society For Our Administration

Institute Alternative agreed to establish the network entitled “Our Administration”, together with its partners Centre for Investigative Journalism from Podgorica, Bonum from Pljevlja, New Horizon from Ulcinj, and Natura from Kolašin.

Hereby, the implementation of the project “Civil Society for Good Governance: To Act and Account!”, funded by the European Union (EU) in the framework of the EU assistance programme aimed at supporting the development of local civil society organizations (Instrument for Civil Society) has officially begun.

The backbone of the 28 months long project represents conducting independent monitoring of public administration reform by civil society organizations and engaging in dialogue with key decision makers. In parallel, we will be focused on strengthening the capacities of Montenegrin civil society, including the media, with the aim of empowering them for greater involvement in the process of public administration reform.

Public administration reform has taken an important place in the latest EU Enlargement Strategy. Along with rule of law and economic governance, it represents one of the fundamental pillars in respect to which the readiness of the Western Balkan countries to join the EU will be accessed.

Preparation of the new Montenegrin Public Administration Reform Strategy for the period of four years is under way. Therefore, the first activities within this project will be related to designing a possible methodological approach to monitoring the implementation of this strategic document.

Institute Alternative provided its contribution to the formulation of the Draft Strategy, but we are still dissatisfied with the quality of this document. Particularly insubstantial measures have been envisaged for the areas of accountability and integrity which are closely related to the fight against corruption. Local self-governments have also been almost entirely neglected.

One of the objectives of the project “Civil Society for Good Governance: To Act and Account!” is to strengthen local ownership of the public administration reform and to put emphasis on the so far neglected area of service delivery at the local level. This objective will be achieved through joint efforts of civil society organizations which together have 43 years of experience working with local communities in the north and the south of Montenegro.

See below the animation prepared by the Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations (DG NEAR) of the European Commission, with the aim of explaining the European principles of public administration.

Team of Institute Alternative

Cooperation of SAI and Prosecution – you take up where I left off

The State Prosecutor’s Office should not use the absence of criminal charges as an excuse, but also, the State Audit Institution (SAI) does not have to be absolutely sure about the outcome of its criminal charges in order to proactively act, it was assessed at the conference organised yesterday by Institute alternative (IA).

The conference “Auditors and Prosecutors on the Same Task” was organised with the financial support of British Embassy Podgorica, within the namesake project.

Stevo Muk, President of the Managing Board of IA, opened the conference by pointing out that, even though the missions of the State Audit Institution and State Prosecutor’s Office are very much different, both of them have an extremely significant role in combating corruption.

“In at least eight cases, SAI has submitted particularly worrying audit reports to the State Prosecutor’s Office. However, no one is being held accountable for determined violations of the laws”, he added, recalling the already familiar thesis on the cooperation of these two institutions.

“On the one side, there is a thesis that the SAI is not using its legally prescribed possibility of filing criminal charges and that its reports are written in a way that requires an unnecessary additional work of Prosecution. On the other side, there is a counterargument of SAI that the reports it submits to the State Prosecutor’s Office are particularly problematic in terms of abuse of public resources”, explained Muk.

Ian Whitting, British Ambassador to Montenegro, pointed out that this kind of gathering is a chance to discuss on joint objectives, but also to hear examples of good practices and experiences from the EU countries: “It is our common task to, eventually, get a judiciary with the face of the citizens of this country.”

“Not only that prosecutors and auditors are on the same task, but all the colleagues from Montenegro who want to progress in terms of European integrations”, added Whitting.

Milan Dabovic, President of the Senate of SAI, stressed that the SAI and Prosecution are autonomous and independent authorities, but that there is always room for improvement of their mutual cooperation.

“It is necessary to organise joint meetings, trainings and workshops aimed at exchanging information on capacity building”, suggested Dabovic.
Veselin Vuckovic, Deputy Chief State Prosecutor, agrees that there is a need for improving mutual cooperation.

He reminded of previous joint initiatives also aimed at strengthening cooperation among institutions, including determining guidelines for state auditors for reporting criminal offenses.

“The anti-corruption legal framework and regulatory instruments themselves are not sufficient without institutional conditions”, he said, pointing out that SAI reports, in that context, play a significant role.

The panel discussion within yesterday’s conference, moderated by Jovana Marović, research coordinator at IA, gathered representatives of SAI and Prosecution, but also the colleagues from the region, who shared useful comparative experiences.

Dr. Branislav Radulovic, member of the Senate of SAI, suggested the establishment of special department within State Prosecutor’s Office that would follow SAI’s findings. “Our reports are at the high level of professional processing”, he explained.

He ended his presentation with verses “You take up where I left off”, alluding to the necessity of taking into account adverse SAI reports in Prosecution’s work.

Veljko Rutovic, Special Prosecutor for Combating Corruption and Organised Crime, explained that, when it comes to SAI reports, the wrong perception is being created in public, i.e. the fact that SAI submits the report with adverse opinion does not necessary mean that criminal offense has been committed.

He stressed that Prosecution’s work would be facilitated if SAI would clearly single out the facts that point to a serious violation of the law. In other words, the existing form of SAI reports is not adequate for analytical processing and slows down the work of the Prosecution.

Milena Milinkovic, Manager of the Group for Legal Audit Support in State Audit Institution of Serbia, presented work results of the institution where she works from its establishment in 2007 until today.

“Since 2011 until the end of 2015, we have submitted over one thousand requests for initiating misdemeanor proceedings, 96 charges for economic crimes and at least 110 criminal charges”, she explained.

Most of the criminal charges refer to criminal offense misuse of budget funds. However, in Montenegro misuse of budget funds is not considered criminal offense, and as a misdemeanor it was stipulated only two years ago, in 2014.

Srdjan Blagovcanin, President of the Board of Directors of Transparency International Bosnia and Herzegovina, argues that the common characteristic of the region are closed and distrustful institutions.

The specificity of his country are basic problems arising from complex administrative-territorial division. Also, the political influence over institutions is systemically present.

“We have had some comical situations where highly-positioned party officials were appointed for state auditors,” said Blagovcanin.

He suggested formalization of cooperation between auditors and prosecutors and reduction of discretion, i.e. arbitrary deciding, in order to prevent different classification of in, fact, identical situations.

Prof. Dr. Vladimir Goati, President of the Transparency Serbia, stressed another regional problem – “mentality of corruption”.

“The politicians think that it takes one mandate to combat corruption, but it takes the entire generation”, said Goati.

Jovana Marović from IA, summarizing the discussion at the conference concluded that, although the agreement between these two institutions would be expected next step towards their mutual cooperation, from their representatives’ presentations follows that they should only do their job within their legally defined jurisdiction.

Within the project “Auditors and Prosecutors on the Same Task”, IA will publish a study on cooperation between SAI and State Prosecutor’s Office by the end of month.

Conference announcement: “Auditors and prosecutors on the same task”

The conference is part of the project implemented by Institute Alternative and supported by the British Embassy Podgorica. The project aims at improving the cooperation between these two institutions, which will lead towards a more efficient use of State Audit Institution findings, and greater dissemination of the work and cooperation of these institutions. Given the significance of the experience of the countries that have like Montenegro looked for additional mechanism for networking the activities of these institutions in order to fight corruption more efficiently, one of the aims of this project is the presentation of good practices and the exchange of information and experience in the EU countries as well as candidate countries.

Law demands an agreement, but…

Dina BajramspahićAfter all the twists and the upheaval that followed the appointment of the Head of Special police unit, I would like to express a deep personal belief that the obstruction is not the issue, but the lack of capacity to reach compromise.

First of all, we should reiterate the legal formulation: the head of the Police Department is appointed by the Director of Police Department, with the consent of the Chief Special Prosecutor. This provision is in no way provisionary as it determines that due to a common interest, both parties should be satisfied with the solution and that the systemic issue with the cooperation of the Police and the Prosecutor’s Office should be overcome with agreements and not by force. For this reason I do not support the amendments to the law for the benefit of one party or the other.

Amidst the loud disputes on this issue, an important fact is being ignored – that the Director of police appoints and dismisses all heads of departments within the Police, which is not the case only in Montenegro but in every other country in the world, given that he is the responsible for the work of the Police. However, having in mind the necessity of closer cooperation between prosecutors and police inspectors, such provision is adopted and the chief special prosecutor is involved in the procedure of appointment of the head of a department in a completely different organisational unit. If the statement of the head special prosecutor that he is ‘’the responsible one and should be the one making the decision’’ had been completely true, it would have been possible to dismiss all head of departments within the police so that the prosecutors can be responsible for the work of police. Nevertheless, it takes much imagination for anyone to recall that the issue of the dispute can be any word of the general legal provision. Now, let’s move on to the overview of the 6-months-long negotiations.

First of all, Katnić proposed three candidates. Stojanović then refused proposals, insisting that Katnić is breaking the law with the very initiative of proposal, meaning that it is not up to Katnić to make the proposition, but that he should be the one making the proposition to Katnić in order for him to merely agree. Perhaps he did not like the proposals, or someone who is de facto more in charge than him did not like it, which is a likely scenario. Next, Katnić proposed one more candidate. Stojanović responded by proposing two names that Katnić has already proposed the first time. By doing so, the entire obstruction argument becomes invalid, because Stojanović has agreed upon the two ‘’Katnić’s’’ candidates and by that the law could have been implemented and unit formed. But Katnić was no longer interested in doing so, this time he only wanted the last candidate and none other.

The law has inexorably demanded for the agreement to be reached. To make things worse, both of them are absolutely certain that they are driven by principles and morals and that they have demonstrated their best will to resolve the issue. However, the responsibility is shared by law; therefore the failure is to be shared too.

While having an enormous respect and recognition for the previous work and results of the Head Special Prosecutor, I believe that everyone who thinks that they are helping by trying to link the special police unit to the Special Prosecutor’s Office and completely isolate it from the police, the criminal police sector in particular, are actually not helpful. No matter how good, a police officer cannot do much on his own in Montenegro am small as it is, because they depend on operational field data, and quite often also depend on what is heard second-hand, which is the starting point for further evidence collection, particularly in organised criminal groups. At some point, the exhaustion of years of filling and neglecting criminal charges will happen and thus the bigger burden for the police to uncover criminal acts.

There is one more reason why I consider that the Director of police should resign today. At the control hearing in the Committee on Political System, Justice and Administration, the Chief special prosecutor introduced the public to the fact that although there were requests made to the police, the police has not acted accordingly regarding the PGS Agency case – which is absolutely unacceptable.

Within its work related to the police integrity IA has, during 2015, pointed out the neglect of the issue of ‘’buying for free software’’ at the Police which the internal control of the Ministry of Interior has submitted to the Special Prosecutor’s Office in 2012. The case was based on doubt that the company PGS has during three years of cooperation installed an otherwise free software for police systems to the police, after downloading it online, and regularly submitted the receipts for paying ‘’intellectual service’’. In April 2014, the prosecutor’s office submitted the entire documentation to the police with an instruction to do a comparison of the documentation to the software applications that were installed at the police and determine if the services were actually provided. Up until today, after five urgencies, the police have not completed the requirements of the Prosecutor’s office.

This is not the first or the only issue where the former Police department management is suspected of misuse, or the say the least carelessness, and the current Head of the police directorate has not invested even a minimum effort for the issue to be investigated and finally lead towards a result – prosecution or annulment of accusations. In distant 2006, Zlatica camp was sold and in 2011 it was bought again for the double amount. There were no changes thus far. The responsibility for the vast damage of the state budget has still not been determined regarding the illegal construction of the Police Directorate. Not to mention that only two police officers are responsible for the abuse of power after the protests. Not resolving these issues is undoubtedly the responsibility of Director of Police department. Even though the police has shown a certain level of integrity in sanctioning police officers for obstruction of the law, official duty, and ethics, it still continues to nurture the politics of pushing under the rug serious doubts that in the top of the police certain decisions were brought against public interest.

Public Policy Researcher

Text originally published in the section ,,Forum” of Daily Vijesti

Talks and agreements

Stevo MukIt seems that the parliamentary dialogue process is heading in a good direction. Such conclusion is to be made considering the series of events: the meeting of political leaders, opposition parties meetings, the confirmation of SNP (Socialist People’s Party) to participate in the dialogue and participation in the interim government of the authority and opposition, as well as the participation of the government and the opposition upon the agreement on manner of forming local communities. As the Government has made its offers more precise, the opposition parties have further specified their demands. What is particularly important now is that the parliamentary dialogue followed by an agreement do not become simple “deal” on participation of opposition in the Government, but to include other important pillars of election process control.

The agreement must also include the analysis of the implementation of action plans of the State Audit Institution and the Ministry of Interior when it comes to the implementation of the electoral legislation – particularly when it comes to obligations on establishing a functional voters’ list and the implementation of the electronic identification of voters. The expected local elections in Tivat will show to what extent the competent institutions are ready for the organisation of the process at the parliamentary elections.

When it comes to the people that will represent the opposition in political positions, the opposition must finally take the responsibility and stop having second thoughts and look for its replacement in the civil sector and other places. The responsibility for success or failure of this unique mission cannot be taken over by anyone else. The members of current Government belonging to ruling parties and the opposition responsible for the organisation of these elections will be formed at this very moment and probably never again, which carries a historical risk of the legitimisation of the process, not only for this election cycle but for the future as well.

When it comes to opposition ministers in the government, the opposition and the members of current Government belonging to ruling parties must further agree upon a few extra rules, so that their participation does not limit the implementation of adopted public policies, or to lead to the daily confrontation within the government, or to a competition in use and misuse of state resources and ministerial authority.

A certain number of positions in public institutions which the opposition parties are requesting, without question belongs to the circle of political appointments – the government appoints and dismisses persons on those positions, therefore as such cannot be disputed. However, when it comes to positions that are according to Law subjected to public announcements and competition processes, it is crucial to preserve their independence. I say this by knowing, which Institute alternative has been continuously pointing out, just how deeply these positions are poisoned in terms of political parties. However, I believe that the law and a determined objective, professionalization and depolitisation of the senior civil servants which includes assistants to ministers (now called general directors of directorates) must be preserved.

As an alternative, in order to achieve the goals of electorate trust, the possibility could be found in the institute of the state secretary. Namely, this position is de facto assistant to minister who could have all the competences of a minister and is to be appointed politically. According to the Law on state administration, the state secretary is appointed and dismissed by the Government, at minister’s proposal, without public call and its mandate ends simultaneously with the end of its minister’s mandate. Given the legal provisions mentioned above, it is transparent that this position creates room for naming the persons (from the opposition) in an elegant and legal manner in the ministries where the opposition is not represented within the concept of ministers, and thus creating a significant scope of control.

Having in mind the widespread vote-buying practice and other misuse regarding election rights, the role of prosecution, the police and other bodies in determining and prosecuting of its inevitable perpetrators (instructing parties and executors from both sides of the trade) of those criminal acts. Therefore an important part of the political agreement must be a decision that the Parliament of Montenegro requests in a written form the state prosecutor to prioritise in 2016, during local and upcoming parliamentary elections, the prosecutions against the criminal act against freedom of choice and misuse of authority, in relation to mentioned criminal acts. The Parliament of Montenegro would in accordance with such an agreement recommend that the prosecutor’s office puts on the top of their agenda the pursuit of criminal acts perpetrators, given its professional attention, internal organisation, available resources as well as communication and cooperation with the Police Directorate and other authorities in order to, therefore, determine and guarantee the timely and efficient investigation of election frauds. The Parliament of Montenegro, that is its signatories, parliamentary clubs, would commit to be regularly informed, at least once a month, on the activities of the state prosecutor’s office, police directorate and other state bodies in uncovering and prosecuting perpetrators of these acts. I have already reiterated the necessity for the Audio Recordings Affair 2016 to be placed on the top of agenda of the state prosecutor’s at the meeting of NGOs with supreme state prosecutor and heads of special, high and basic prosecutor’s offices. Earlier findings are showing traces that mostly lead towards a ‘’cave’’ so if that decision is to be made, prosecutor’s job would be simplified, if the actors in the election process decide to repeat the old practice.

Last, but not least, what is really important in the long run, I believe that the current political dialogue is an opportunity for the political parties which are currently forming the Government and the opposition to come to an agreement that the adoption of a legal framework and appointment of this particular Council of Agency for prevention of corruption, is a result of a rotten political compromise that has ruined the basis of the new Agency and its possibility to do its job in the least serious and independent manner. This is why an agreement on the necessary modification of the legal framework and personal constitution of the Council and directors of the Agency can be a long term contribution of this political process to further fight against corruption.

Stevo MUK
President of the Managing Board

Text originally published in the section ,,Forum” of Daily Vijesti