Inquiry, a parliamentary one!

Parliamentary majority should realize that parliamentary inquiry, like other mechanisms of overseeing the government, is a good opportunity for the government itself to reaffirm and present its policies with arguments, before MPs and the public

Decision to conduct the first parliamentary inquiry since the restoration of independence, has been made. A second one – the first was the one in which ‘Nacional’ wrote about tobacco smuggling and the involvement of the same guy suspected of being at the heart of ‘Telekom’ affair.

We are pleased that such a decision was made and we believe that conducting it has a significant potential for enhancing the parliamentary oversight in Montenegro. At this moment, it is less important how this decision was made and what was at stake in the political game. The role of SDP is of the greatest importance in launching the mechanisms of parliamentary oversight, which we pointed to even earlier, and that proved to be the case now, too. We would be pleased if the repeated calls of Institute Alternative and other non-governmental organizations contributed at least a bit to the opening of this parliamentary inquiry.

Earlier on, we used to indicate that the constitutional possibility of proposing and conducting parliamentary inquiry had been virtually unused in Montenegro. This control mechanism has not been carried out in the past ten years, and since the adoption of the existing Rulebook of the Parliament, which regulates the question of parliamentary inquiries, only twice was their launching proposed.

In Montenegro, there used to be a lack of political will of the parliamentary majority to initiate parliamentary inquiries, as well as the opposition’s lack of confidence about the possibility of their conduct. Besides, the opposition did not act in unison when initiating this mechanism in the past.

During the parliamentary inquiry, the inquiring committee could face the difficulty of gathering data because of: imprecisely defined investigative authority; impossibility of accessing secret data; absence of legal requirement for state officials, civil servants and other persons to be interrogated before the Committee, with the threat of sanction for the contempt of court or false testimony. Unlike in Montenegro, where parliamentary inquiries are regulated by the Rulebook, in a great number of EU member states, they are regulated by law – most frequently by a special law on parliamentary inquiry.

Determining a special legal framework for this control mechanism aims at its strengthening, as well as guaranteeing absolute requirement to respect all the provisions regulating it. Adoption of such a law in Montenegro would regulate the specificities of the inquiring committee’s sphere of competence, as well as criminal provisions, which would allow for an adequate application of this mechanism in practice.

Parliamentary inquiries are ‘suitable’ for examining a problem bearing a political dimension, because the consequences this control mechanism ‘produces’ are primarily political. An important goal of conducting parliamentary inquiries is, therefore, to determine the political responsibility of state bodies, but also the tendency to provide a systemic response to a social problem which triggered the launching of the inquiry.

Such goals of the parliamentary inquiry are achieved by granting the inquiring committees / investigative commissions undertaking them, a special authority, greater than the one granted to ‘permanent’ committees in the parliament.

For instance, in Italy and Portugal, the commission for inquiry has the same authority and restrictions at its disposal as the judicial bodies conducting the investigative work. Such greater authority is actually of investigative nature and is related to data gathering, witness interrogation, and requesting submission of data significant for the investigation.

Provisions regulating the conduct of criminal procedure may be applied during data gathering, as is the case in Germany, while in Denmark the Minister of Justice may appoint a special investigator who participates in gathering evidence during the investigation. A significant number of European countries have a special law on parliamentary inquiries. In countries where such a law does not exist, this control mechanism is regulated by other laws, in order to respond to the inquiring committee’s requests efficiently.

For a more frequent conduct of parliamentary inquiry, change in parliamentary majority is needed, as well as more intensive and cohesive demands of the opposition and the public. Parliamentary majority should understand that parliamentary inquiry, like other mechanisms of overseeing the government, is a good opportunity for the government itself to reaffirm and present its policies with arguments, before the MPs and the public.

By rejecting the opposition request to use the oversight mechanisms, parliamentary majority contributes to the impression that it wants to hide the facts that are not in its favor. On the other hand, before snatching the parliamentary inquiry, the parliamentary opposition should use its ‘softer’ MP rights in their full capacity. It is possible that some sort of a political agreement, allowing the opposition to launch a parliamentary inquiry at least once a year or once during each convocation, would finally make this mechanism of parliamentary oversight a reality.

While conducting the parliamentary inquiry, it is expected that many obstacles and limitations in the legal framework will emerge. Parliamentary inquiries need to be legally regulated, through a special Law on parliamentary inquiries, which would define the sphere of competence of the inquiring committee, its formation, organisation, operation, budget, way of conducting the investigation, way of reporting to the Parliament.

By defining the authority for investigation based on the model of criminal procedure, the inquiring committee would benefit from more reliable methods of obtaining information. The law should include criminal provisions which would relate to the failure to deliver information, failure to respond to a witness invitation, or for false testimony.

By approving a special budget to the inquiring committee, it is necessary to ensure autonomy and independence of its work. Amendments to the Information Secrecy Act should foresee the availability of secret data to the inquiring committee of the Parliament, in charge of the parliamentary inquiry.

Constitutional amendments should reduce the number of MPs needed to submit a proposal on launching the parliamentary inquiry. The goal is to allow for a greater number of initiatives and to have more frequent public votes on the initiatives of general public importance, which is a good comparative practice.

Stevo Muk
President of the Managing Board of Institute Alternative

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