Greater transparency; legislative and control roles need enhancement
During the first year of the current convocation, Parliament has considerably opened its work, but also engaged in legislative activity which was not grounded in sound analysis and legally predictable procedures. Control mechanisms have not been used to push conclusions and tangible recommendations for the executive.
- Greater transparency and normative changes
Live streaming of the work of parliamentary committees, which was the IA’s frequently voiced recommendation, and launching of parliamentary channel on the public service broadcaster are important milestones in transparency of the Parliament’s work, but also indirectly, in empowerment of citizens who now have easier access to important discussions on public policies.
The late 2020 Amendments to the Rules of Procedure of the Parliament have also created preconditions for strengthening the control role of the Parliament. Among other things, there is an opportunity for a more frequent use of the so called “minority initiative“, according to which one third of the committee members may initiate control hearings on certain issues two times during the Parliament’s regular session. Moreover, parliamentary committees were explicitly tasked to monitor implementation of conclusions, adopted as a result of hearings. Amendments to the Rules of Procedure have also ensured representation of women and minority parties at Parliament’s vice-presidential positions. The Women’s Club was established in March, as an informal parliamentary body aimed at gender-mainstreaming of decision making at all levels. According to the published information, the Women’s club had two sessions so far. A working group was also formed for drafting the Law on the Parliament. However, after the initial session, there were no significant changes in the work on this act, whose finalisation was initially planned for October 1, 2021.
- Legislative activity: No necessary analysis and equal participation
The kick-off of new convocation was marked by the intensification of the legislative activity of Members of Parliament (MPs). For the first time in several decades, MPs have overtaken the Government in the number of legislative proposals: they have submitted 49 out of a total of 97 legislative proposals that have entered the parliamentary procedure in the past year. However, this trend is not accompanied by elaborate procedures, which would provide the necessary data and inclusiveness of the law-making process. Legislative proposals, proposed by the Government, are regulated and, as a rule, accompanied by ex ante regulatory impact analysis, public consultations and debates, and participation of NGOs in working groups. Although these Government’s procedures are implemented with many impediments, they are not elaborated at the level of the Parliament. The chairs of the committees arbitrarily decide whom to include in the law-making process. External actors do take part in the work of the Parliament regarding legislative proposals, but the lack of clear criteria and procedures leads to unequal treatment of individuals and organisations. The most drastic example was inability of representatives of the Montenegrin Ortodox Church to take part in the work of the Committee on Human Rights and Freedoms during discussion of the amendments to the Law on Freedom of Religion or Belief and the Legal Status of Religious Organisations.
The adoption rate of the legislative proposals, initiated by the opposition, has been very low so far. Only one Law, on elimination of the consequences of the confiscation of Valdanos area, was adopted, upon the initiative of Genci Nimanbegu, the opposition MP.
The amendments of MPs were also marked by numerous controversies. They often distort the spirit of law in question. Amendments to the regulations on labor and internal affairs, which lowered the retirement age and directly exposed appointment of police director to the undue political influence, serve as a warning for better justification and wider deliberation of the amendments, filed by MPs.
- Control mechanisms without “epilogue”
The occasional boycott of the Parliament by the Democratic Party of Socialists from the opposition, but also by the Democratic Front, a key constituent of the parliamentary majority, has affected the quality of its work. Parliamentary committees have not performed “at full speed”. On average, 11.7 sessions per committee was held, which is slightly more than one session per month. In quantitative terms, the most active was the Committee on Political System, Judiciary and Administration with 24 sessions, and the most passive was the Committee for Anti-Corruption with only 3 sessions.
Parliamentary committees held 11 consultative and 9 control hearings, and 3 of them were delayed. The two thirds of all control hearings were held by the Security and Defense Committee. Only two reports on control hearings provided concrete conclusions and recommended actions to the executive bodies, whose representatives were summoned. One of the key reasons is that the subjects of control hearings were at the same time addressed by judiciary or that they included secret documents.
The committees discussed 49 reports on the work of institutions. Unlike previous years, 44% of the considered reports was not adopted (22 of them). However, there were mostly no concrete conclusions and recommendations which would improve the situation in certain areas based on the reported state of the afafirs. Only following the five reports which were adopted by the Committee on Human Rights and Freedoms, concrete conclusions tacking the details of the work of competent institutions, were adopted.
Until September 2021, MPs have posed more parliamentary questions (261) than during the whole of 2020 (213), when intensity of the work of the Parliament was reduced due to the outbreak of coronavirus epidemic. The two so-called “ministerial hours” were held, after this new institute had been introduced by amendments to the Rules of Procedure in December 2020. The Minister of Health and the Minister of Foreign Affairs answered questions regarding the topics of immunisation against coronavirus and the diplomatic-consular network. Unlike in previous years, during 2021, the opposition was more active than the parliamentary majority in asking parliamentary questions: 51% of questions were asked by representatives of the opposition parliamentary clubs. The quality of responses to MPs’ questions varies. MPs often warn of the Government’s delays in providing the requested information. Control function of parliamentary questions is undermined since the Government does not always comply with the obligation to provide MPs information they require with their regular performance of parliamentary duties, within the prescribed deadline of 15 days. Consequently, they are often forced to repeat requests for those information through parliamentary questions.