The members of the new parliamentary majority have decided to follow in the footsteps of their predecessors and ignore clear warnings from the European Commission, once again proposing amendments to the Law on Local Self-Government that lower recruitment conditions.
We also remind you that the same amendments were proposed last year, which, among other things, aimed to lower the recruitment conditions in local government bodies and services. Additionally, the rule that acting officials should be appointed from among the already employed in the public body would be deleted. These amendments did not come into force due to the political crisis that ensued, and in the meantime, clear warnings from the European Commission have arrived.
It is particularly concerning the number of different political actors who are determined to adopt these changes, considering that the composition of the parliamentary majority has changed compared to last year. Despite the changes, if they persist in this initiative, the intention of political actors to, when in power, use it for the distribution of spoils in public administration will remain the same, and assurances of a different approach and meritocracy will be empty words.
In the 2023 Report on Montenegro, the European Commission warned that instead of improving the Law on Civil Servants and Employees, whose amendments had previously lowered employment conditions and introduced discretionary power for the dismissal of heads of bodies, controversial amendments to the Law on Local Self-Government were passed in the Parliament, disregarding their previous recommendations.
“Relaxed conditions are a constant source of concern when it comes to merit-based and competency-driven employment and the independence of civil servants,” warned the European Commission.
The proposed amendments are contrary to the ongoing work on amending the Law on Civil Servants and Employees, which aims to tighten recruitment conditions. The latest working version of the amendments, which the Institute Alternative had insight into through its membership in the working group, increases the number of required years of work experience for performing tasks at different levels of civil service, which is in line with our advocacy. Thus, the argument in the rationale for this legislative initiative about the need to harmonize employment conditions at the local and state levels simply does not hold.
We also remind you of a comprehensive analysis of the legal framework and practices of employment in the public sector conducted by the Institute Alternative. The research results are presented in an interactive form at https://mapa-rizika.me and show that basic conditions for preventing corruption and inappropriate influences during employment are mostly not met in state and local administration, public enterprises, and public institutions. The local level is, conditionally speaking, “best rated,” precisely because legal changes that would further undermine the institute of acting and conditions of employment were not introduced.
Therefore, we once again call on the MPs to abandon the proposed amendments, and the entire new convocation of the Parliament to address the “red flags” that practically legalize various forms of non-competitive employment not based on merit. The proposed amendments are a step further from pre-election promises about meritocracy in Montenegro and send a negative signal regarding obligations on the path to EU accession.