It will soon be a month since we wrote to the Government and called for greater transparency in the work through three concrete steps regarding the availability of information on the work and decision-making of the Government and its working bodies. We have not yet received the answer or noticed a change in practice.
It is necessary for citizens to be informed about the Government’s work and to have access to key documents on the Government’s agenda, regardless of the format of the session, while increasing transparency by publishing basic information on the work of Government’s commissions.
We proposed to the Government to adopt new practices and change those with which it started its mandate, in order to truly work in the spirit of the promise of publicity of the work from the Expose. In order to increase citizens’ trust in their work and provide comprehensive information on the decisions it makes, the Government need to take three steps:
Publishing of the complete agenda of the Government’s sessions
In cases when materials marked with certain degree of secrecy is discussed at the Government’s sessions, except that material is not published, the public can not even know that it was on the agenda of the session because the name of the material is excluded from the agenda. As the legal provisions defining data confidentiality are broad, in the mandate of the previous government this possibility was used for the various cases: for from contracts and decisions to redirecting money between budget units and using the budgetary reserve.
According to the IA’s research, based on the minutes from the Government’s sessions obtained through FOI, in the mandate of the previous Government, out of the total number of the items on agenda, more than 10% were completely hidden form the public (12.3%).
Understanding the need of the Government to decide or discuss classified materials in exceptional cases, it is unacceptable for the public not to be informed that they were on agenda at all, the classification number of the act and exact level of secrecy that could serve to gain access to them after the expiration of the secrecy period.
Publishing materials decided without holding a session
The Government began its mandate with the bad practice of not publishing the materials discussed without holding a session. In less than five months of the new Government’s work, the Government considered and adopted decisions 32 times without holding a session. That is more often than regular weekly sessions (of which there were 21 in the same period).
In this way, the Government discussed and decided on 62 items on the agenda, not including numerous personnel issues, without these materials being published on the Government’s portal. These are draft laws, decisions, information, conclusions, but also personnel decisions, which in some cases are only mentioned in government’s announcements, so that no details are given about which positions and persons were discussed or decided.
Deciding on certain issues without holding a session in urgent and particularly justified cases is provided by the Decree on the Government. This Decree also prescribes that the work of the Government is public. Publishing acts of the Government is particularly important for those types of material for which there is no obligation to publish in the Official Gazette. It is not for the Government to publish a statement in which it will briefly explain what was discussed. Citizens have the right to access complete documents and adopted conclusions. It is especially problematic that in this aspect the new Government has taken a step backwards compared to the previous one, which published materials from such sessions.
Publishing data on the work of Government’s working bodies
It is necessary for the citizens to have basic information on the work of Government’s commissions, permanent and temporary working bodies. The four permanent Government’s working bodies (Commission for Political System, Internal and Foreign Policy; Commission for Economic Policy and Financial System; Commission for Personnel and Administrative Affairs; Commission for Allocation of Funds from Budgetary Reserve) have numerous and significant competencies, from their role in recruitment procedures and appointments to the discretionary allocation of funds to individuals and legal entities.
Currently, there is no practice of publishing information on the sessions or on the overall activities of the four permanent or temporary working bodies of the Government. In the previous period, even the most basic information about the work of some of them was declared secret by the General-Secretariat of the Government.
Transparency in practice, not only in the Expose
Having in mind all the listed issues, and after a whole decade of validity, it is necessary to amend the Decision on Publishing Materials from the Session of the Government of Montenegro from 2011, and improve the openness of the Government in three important aspects:
- Publishing the complete agendas, which will also include the items marked with the degree of secrecy, the classification number of the act as well as the degree of secrecy declared, so that the public knows in which period the expiration date expires (two year for the degree “internally”, five years for degree “confidential” or some other)
- Integral publishing of all materials and decisions considered and adopted by Government without holding a session, in the same way as when the session is held.
- Publishing of basic information on the work of the Government’s working bodies (commissions).
In this way, the previous bad practices will be corrected and the level of openness of the work of the Government and its working bodies will be raised.