Initiative to Review the Constitutionality of the Ban of Political Gatherings – Filed

Human Rights Action (HRA) and Institute Alternative (IA) filed today an initiative to the Constitutional Court challenging the constitutionality of the order of the Minister of Health to ban political gatherings and restriction of religious assembly from 26 June 2020, and proposed suspension of those measures.

By the order for taking temporary measures to prevent and suppress the transmission of the coronavirus on 26.06.2020. Minister of health banned political gatherings in open public space, while religious assemblies were limited to open spaces within religious facilities.

HRA and IA believe that the order introduces excessive, disproportionate restrictions on Freedom of Assembly for the protection of health and that they are discriminatory. We believe that the goal of public health care could be achieved with a milder measure, such as assemblies with the obligatory use of masks and maintaining physical distance. We pointed out that the fact that indoor gatherings, which carry a higher risk of infection, are not banned, as well as the fact that non-political assemblies, celebrations, weddings and other events are not banned, indicates the discriminatory character of the order.

The initiative also pointed out that the Constitution of Montenegro in Article 52 allows only a temporary restriction, and not the abolition of rights to peaceful assembly, as introduced in in relation to political gatherings. During a state of war or emergency, right to freedom of assembly may, according to Article 25, be restricted “to the extent necessary”, but such a state has not been declared.

Prohibition did not achieve the necessary balance between the protection of public health and the right to freedom of assembly, which is the foundation of democracy. We pointed out that, for example, Constitutional Court of Germany concluded on 15 April 2020, that the right to freedom of assembly and peaceful protests, must be secured during pandemic with the application of restrictions such as masks and maintaining physical distance. On that occasion, the court pointed out that the authorities’ concern regarding the protection of health could not serve as a justification to completely limit the right to peaceful assembly.

By that order, in a discriminatory way was restricted right to freedom of assembly, considering the fact that indoor gatherings, public transportation, non-political assemblies which carry a higher risk of infection are not banned.

Having in mind previous practice of the Constitutional Court in examining the constitutionality of provisions during COVID-19 pandemic, which was either too slow or did not exist, we don’t expect the Constitutional Court to act in a timely manner this time as well. However, we believe that it is our obligation to endure in encouraging institutions to act as they should in a democratic state, in order to protect human rights from the arbitrariness of the authorities, in accordance with its responsibilities.

HRA and IA jointly implement the project ‘’Voice Your Rights! – Expanding Space for Free Assemblies’’, supported by European Union through the Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights, Program for Montenegro 2018. Content of this initiative is sole responsibility of IA and HRA and in no way reflect the views of European Union.

Highest positions in Public Administration – less achievable for women

Although more numerous in our public administration, women rarely hold better paid decision-making positions, contrary, and the higher we go on the hierarchical ladder in ministries and municipalities, number of woman is decreasing – according to the Institute alternative’s research.

Traps of collective math may lead to the conclusion that the position of women in public administration is satisfactory, considering that, in a total number of ministries, there are more women than men. However, analysis of available lists of civil servants and employees in the ministries shows that the representation of women is highest in the lowest positions, and that they, therefore, have lower salaries and authorities.

Out of the total 17 ministries, ministerial position covers as many as 82% of men, while only Ministry of Public Administration, Science, and Economy is headed by women. Their position is even worse at the local level, considering that in total number of employed women in municipalities is less than the number of men, and that only 3 out of a total of 25 municipalities have a woman for president.

Apart from the rare case that woman being at the top position, only a quarter of the state secretaries are held by women, and they are less represented in the senior management staff. On the other hand, a significantly higher number of women (88%) compared to men in the ministries cover the position of employees, who perform tasks related to printing and reproduction of materials, provision of services, maintenance of cleanliness and other similar tasks. Even though obliged to, the Ministry of Economy hasn’t published, nor has been submitted us with a list of civil servants and employees with their titles, so our detailed analysis of women’s representation by job categories doesn’t include this ministry.

Although they are more educated, women are less likely to apply for high level management positions, which means their discouragement. For example, in our society more women than man complete specialist (67%) and master academic studies (61.6%), but they make only a third of the candidates who applied for the highest positions in our administration during 2020.

In local governments, all parameters show a worrying situation when it comes to the position of women. Except that in the municipalities total number of women are underrepresented, they hold just over a fifth (23%) of official’s positions. On the other side, on the lowest paying positions and those with the least authority at the local level, there are more women than men.

Research on the representation and position of women in public administration was conducted by the Institute Alternative, within the project ‘‘More than quotas: Gender mainstreaming and public policies in Montenegro’’ which we implement with financial support of Ministry for Human and Minority Rights of Montenegro.

An infographic that contains all findings of our research on the representation and position of women in ministries and municipalities, can be found here.

Institute Alternative Team

IA and HRA Call: Give a Chance to Peace and Ensure Respect for Human Rights of Dissidents

Institute Alternative (IA) and Human Rights Action (HRA) invite the Government, Director of the Police Administration, State Prosecution Office and Ombudsman, to urgently ensure respect for human rights and rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, prohibition of abuse of freedom of expression in Montenegro, in accordance with the Constitution and international standards. In this time of increased political tensions, we invite everyone to behave reasonably and non-violently, and state authorities to ensure respect of human rights and political dissidents. We expect that the political conflict in Budva, which caused the protests, will be resolved through dialogue, with the help of mediator.

We are considering filing an initiative to review the constitutionality of the announced measures banning political and religious gatherings, because such measures are considered disproportionate and discriminatory. We are waiting for the measures to be officially announced. The right to protest must be ensured in time of pandemic, with mandatory compliance of measures such as masks and physical distance, as already decided, e.g. by the Constitutional Court of Germany.

We appeal to all who participate in protests not to use any kind of violence. Besides being prohibited and punishable, violence does not give legitimacy to any progressive idea. Oyster attacks on the police cannot be justified. Also, the recurrence of police brutality on the streets of Montenegro is absolutely unacceptable. All state authorities, especially the Government, should immediately condemn the obvious police abuse of citizens in Budva, which was recorded by videos watched by the whole world. It is truly unfortunate that the Head of Delegation of European Union need to remind the Prime Minister of Montenegro to do so. We invite the Director of the Police Administration as well as State prosecutors, to urgently ensure the identification and prosecution of all police officers seen on footage kicking and beating up people laying incapacitated or not resisting, or the citizen who was shouting “ne damo svetinje”. Such officers must leave the police once and for all. We remind you that they were never identified, and that the Police administration still employs officers who abused Milorad Martinović and people in Zlatarska street and other locations in Podgorica in 2015, as well as many other before them, who abused Aleksandar Pejanović. The police must not be a team responsible for torture, and those responsible for tolerating torture must bear the consequences. Today is International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, and Montenegro does not provide a ban of torture and other, in accordance with international standards.

Police Administration must ensure peaceful and spontaneous assemblies, even if they are not reported. This is allowed by the Law in Montenegro, as well as in Europe. Citizens must be given enough time to express their views on such assemblies. Arresting and punishing people who peacefully protest and do not participate in acts of violence is a violation of civil rights and may only cause revolt. And blocking roads must be tolerated for a reasonable time period until the protest is expressed. Protests in Berane only responded to human rights demands. Citizens were able to express their views, and the police did not use force. The same cannot be said for other cities, where the police from the start ordered the citizens to disperse and arrested those who did not want to do so. Peaceful protest, without violence and attacks on the police, must enjoy protection even if they are not reported. Although the Director of the Police Administration and its officials do not agree with messages of protests, they still have to secure it so that this disagreement is not noticeable. The police should not be a tool for political confrontation.

To the gathered in Podgorica, police used means to break up the protest less than half an hour after the beginning of protest, which is really short tome to express any position. In a situation of a peaceful assembly, police had no basis to break up such gathering after a short period of time. Those responsible for responding to protests in the police, must know European standards in this regard.

Selective treatment of citizens was also noticeable and compared to the time they spent in police stations after their arrest. In Podgorica, citizens spent up to 15 hours in the police, while citizens of Bar were released after 2 hours. According to the information we received, some individuals in Podgorica spent the night in the police station sitting in crowded room with 25 other people, while the police officers were not wearing the protective masks, nor they distribute them to those present. Is that responsible behaviour during the epidemic?

The use of force in protests is acceptable only when it is strictly necessary to restore order and protect the rights, while respecting the rules on the use of corrective measures which obliges every police officer. We demand an urgent and impartial investigation on the incident of throwing tear gas into a sports object in Budva, which endangered children.

Calling on investigative interview persons who posted information on social media that protest are being organised also endangers their freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. Threats that in case of riots they will be marked as organisers and therefore prosecuted, represent an inadmissible intimidation that does a disservice to the development of democracy in Montenegro. These persons informed about the protest, which as a reaction to the events in Budva are categorised as spontaneous assemblies, which if they are not violent, should be secured.

The uniforms of the police officers are still unmarked, as required by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture 12 years ago, although in the meantime Decree amending Decree on the colour and markings of vehicles and vessels, weapons and special equipment, was adopted. Such irresponsibility of the Police Directorate, not to comply with the regulations and so allows its officials to avoid liability, jeopardises the trust of citizens. Someone has to take responsibility for that.

Stevo Muk, President of the managing board of the Institute Alternative (IA)
Tea Gorjanc Prelević, Executive Director of the NGO Human Rights Action (HRA)

Opening Governments in Times of Lockdown

Lessons Learned for Citizen-Oriented Administrations from the COVID-19 Crisis in the Western Balkans

The ongoing coronavirus crisis has spurred a myriad of measures from governments in the Western Balkans to better inform their citizens and provide services in emergency circumstances. Yet, responses to the pandemic and the institution of unprecedented lockdown measures have introduced various challenges to already fragile standards of transparency, accountability and rule of law, as well as have exposed shortcomings in the functioning of public administrations, in the Western Balkans. The crisis is increasingly being used as an excuse to backslide on previously achieved progress. The way emergency measures were adopted and enforced, and how citizens were informed, require close scrutiny, so as to ensure that the practices developed during this crisis do not become the "new normal".

This policy brief, developed as part of the regional WeBER initiative, examines the approaches of public administrations in the Western Balkans to the COVID-19 crisis. It looks at the quality of communication and implementation of the measures taken by the governments of the Western Balkans to respond to the pandemic. It argues that simple and streamlined communication and transparency in the implementation of such measures are equally, if not more, important in times of emergencies and crises, when citizens are more vulnerable in their relationship with the government than in normal times. Based on an overview of positive and negative practices exhibited in the region, this brief offers a set of recommendations for governments to consider as soon as possible, in order to ensure maximum learning from this experience.

Weekly Monitor: Interview on Public Procurement in Montenegro

Ana Đurnić, Public Policy Researcher at Institute Alternative (IA) spoke about public procurement practices in Montenegro weekly newspaper Monitor.

1. How do you comment on your organisation’s latest public opinion survey findings, according to which 71% of citizens don’t know what public procurement means? What does that tell us?

Ana Đurnić

Ana Đurnić: This finding is quite worrisome, especially if we keep in mind that compared to 2015, this number has almost doubled. In 2015, when we have conducted a similar research, the share of citizens who did not know what public procurement are was 37%. This year’s data of 71% of uninformed citizens increases further when this group is combined with those who provided incorrect answers (e.g. “import and export of goods”) and those who mentioned “corruption”, “money laundering” and “abuse of office”. These negative terms should be interpreted more as an attitude towards public procurement procedures in Montenegro rather than awareness of the concept.

This indicates that public procurement are a massive bureaucratic complicated process that citizens simply do not understand. And it must not be so. Public procurement make a significant part of public spending, they are paid with citizens’ money. Public procurement are not much different from going to the market – a situation that probably every citizen of every country could easily relate to. In public, however, public procurement are mostly being presented as a great enigma, which suits the Government perfectly. When there is very little or no public engagement, there is a plenty of room for abuse and malversation of various kinds.

A few days ago,  we published an infographic to explaining public procurement, comparing it to shopping. We are hoping that it will help citizens to better understand these bureaucratic processes. I believe that this, among other things, is necessary in order to reduce abuses – greater citizens’ awareness about public procurement, greater interest, and thus greater public control. When you know that everyone is watching, you take good care of what you do, right?

2. The year of 2019 notes the highest public procurement spending and the lowest competition intensity ever since the first Public Procurement Law started implementing. How would you explain why this information should be alarming for the average Montenegrin citizen?

Ana Đurnić: As a rule, low competition intensity means low quality of procured goods, works and services that are being procured, and automatically a higher prices. Or even simpler – if only one seller sells cherries, 1 KG costs about 4 euros. If you love them, you have no choice but to buy from that one seller, even if they are not of a highest quality. But as more cherry sellers appear on the market, the price drops and the choice grows. The final result is that you will end up buying tastier cherries while spending less money. Of course, provided that all cherry sellers participate in the market under the same conditions.

It is similar in public procurement – the more bidders participate in tenders, the greater are chances that the state will procure better quality of goods, services and works at a lower prices. But the precondition for that is equal conditions for all bidders, which is not always the case in our public procurement system. This is exactly what the 2019 data which you mentioned shows us.

3. What is your comment on the recent statement of Jelena Jovetić, Director General of the Directorate for Public Procurement Policy within the Ministry of Finance, that, according to the European Commission’s TAIEX peer-review mission experts, the Montenegrin public procurement system is one of the most stable in the region? What could be the counter-arguments to this claim? The fact that, with the abolition of the Public Procurement Administration, Montenegro became the only country in the region without an independent state body to monitor public procurement, could only be one in a row…

Ana Đurnić: Experts have repeatedly mentioned in the same report that Public Procurement Law was in the Parliamentary procedure at the time of their mission and numerous problems that they noticed should be resolved by the adoption and application of the new Law. They also stated that this situation made it  “extremely difficult for them to provide detailed recommendations” for improvement.

The fact is that they did notice problems in our public procurement system, and stated in the report that there are challenges that still need to be faced, as well as plenty room for improvement.

Although this Law was adopted a month after the expert mission, its implementation has not begin yet, and bylaws are still under preparation. Only in the next few years of implementation, we will be able to see if the Law will really meet expectations and solve existing problems or whether it will create new ones.

However, since 2015, with the exception of the amendments to the Law on Public Procurement from June 2017, Montenegro has not had so many problems with the legal solutions themselves, as with the implementation. We have seen that, for example, urgent procurement in the last period have been abused to procure something that was not really urgent, and that all of the control instances failed to map and process those abuses. We have witnessed situations where good legal solutions were somehow “twisted” through poor bylaws, and that through implementation, they lose even more meaning.

Considering very dynamic processes over the past few years – several amendments to the Law, introduction of new procedures, changes in institutional and personnel set up, variations in the average number of bids per tender and the expenditure, etc. – STABLE is not exactly the word I would use to describe public procurement system in Montenegro.

Author: Andrea Jelić, Monitor

Article was originally published in weekly Monitor, and online version is available on the link.

IA, CGO, CIN and Media centre: To open the dialogue as soon as possible

We are, with concern, following up the latest events in Budva, which have their roots in the ongoing and deepening divisions within Montenegrin society, accompanied by the feeling of injustice, but also the willingness of the authorities to choose any means necessary to shape the electoral will of citizens, including widespread abuse of power and institutions.

Instead of being open to dialogue and compromise, the government threatens, encourages tensions, provokes reactions and revolt of the citizens of this municipality, but also of wider stakeholders. The selective law enforcement demonstrated by the authorities cannot be covered by the constant repetition of theses on the jeopardy of the state, destabilization, and coup d’ état from the right and left fronts. There is a growing impression that the government is the most interested in presenting itself as the exclusive guarantor of peace and stability, both in the country and in international circles, by causing chaos and instability.

Violent resistance cannot be the solution, but it can be an impetus for further escalation of the problem and material for the authorities to, playing the fear card, present any further resistance to injustice as violence, savagery and primitivism. Therefore, we call on the citizens to refrain from attacks on the police and political opponents and to resist injustice and abuses of laws and institutions in a dignified manner.

Furthermore, we urge the members of the police to refrain from any abuse of power, excessive use of force, and to respect every citizen who exercises the right to freedom of assembly and expression, i.e. to conduct their activities solely within the legal framework and best practices.

We consider that it is necessary to open genuine dialogue between the authorities and the opposition, but also between the authorities and the citizens, with adequate involvement of the European Union, the UK and the USA to alleviate the ongoing tensions and we will strongly support all the efforts aimed at establishing such a dialogue.

Stevo Muk, President of the Managing Board, Institute alternative (IA)
Milka Tadic Mijovic, President, Centre for Investigative Journalisms (CIN CG)
Daliborka Uljarevic, Executive Director, Centre for Civic Education (CCE)
Goran Djurovic, director, Media centre