Interview for Monitor: We seem to be in a prolonged state of emergency

Interview with Stevo Muk, President of the Managing Board of Institute Alternative for weekly Monitor

Institute Alternative has recently conducted a public opinion poll which has shown that problems within public administration are various. Nevertheless, it seems that the corruption and favouritism are burning issues. Would you say that it is only the follow-up of the “Audio Recording” affair?

Stevo MukCorruption is still widespread, while the recruitment and favouritism is only one of its forms.
The unfortunate follow-up of the “Audio Recording” affair happened in the Parliament, when Zoran Jelić, one of the key actors in that affair has been appointed in the State Audit Institution Senate – key institution for the oversight of the public financial system.

To prove that this situation is on the verge of paradox, the parliamentary committee has proposed his appointment on the same day when Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the EU, spoke in the Parliament of Montenegro. It is known that the EU has urged for judicial and political epilogue of the “Audio Recording” Affairs, but I truly doubt that they wanted political promotion instead of verdict.

Political crisis is deepening. What’s your view on the current situation and is what do you see as a way out?

Political situation looks like a prolonged state of emergency. Parliament works without the opposition on the verge of legitimacy. Political leaders of the Democratic front have been accused by the Special State Prosecutor’s Office to have participated in the attempted ”coup”, while they’re also being prosecuted for earlier similar acts. The rest of the self-proclaimed “civic” opposition, seems rather confused and outplayed, wedged between two poles. This state of affairs is particularly difficult for SDP and URA, which are under great pressure to, at least once, return to the Parliament, for which they claim to be the result of the ”coup” and irregular election.

Therefore, such Parliament should bring historically important decision on NATO membership. Bringing that decision in divided and half-empty Parliament could deepen the sense of injustice for significant part of the public and strengthen arguments of forces that oppose NATO for their future political action. Unfortunately, instead of a final settlement of this issue, I’m afraid that we will open a new page of deep historical division. History does not end by Montenegro joining NATO.

In my opinion, the solution of the political crisis would be a credible judicial process to all persons that DPS and Chief Special Prosecutor Katnić claim to be actor of the ”coup”, as well as the political dialogue of the government and opposition on early elections and in 2018 at all levels, including conditions for their organisation.

Expected outcome would be complete answer to the question: What happened on October 16th, who was involved and how, as well as – what needs to be done in order to convert this political crisis into a political dialogue within institutions. I am afraid that our, domestic institutions will not be strong enough to provide credible answer to citizens and that we will need some form of EU mediation.

After recently held local elections in Nikšić, DPS rules but with less than 40% of votes. There was also 11% of spoilt votes, which is perceived as resistance to the pressure of ruling structure. Đukanović has also lost the control over public broadcasting service (RTCG). We witness daily protests and social rebellion. What’s happening?

After having prevented candidates connected with ruling structures to be appointed as directors of RTCG, the public broadcaster now has a chance to begin a real transformation into public broadcaster. Whether this will happen depends on following appointments and personnel changes which are urgently needed for this media house. Impartial public broadcaster can make a significant contribution to the quality of the political process and help the healing of the media scene. For decades, citizens have set aside millions of euro for RTCG, but got very poor quality product. It is time that citizens get the value for the money they give.

I am glad to see awakenings in the professional association, such as those of health care workers, as well as the Union of medical doctors, and through changes in leadership in the Medical Chamber. This is a rare positive example in professional associations. Exactly because of this, these actions are met with obstructions and great resistance by the government, the same as the reform of the public broadcasting service.

Protest of mothers, after having their subsidies for three children reduced, has been temporarily stopped, due to Constitutional court ruling that the Law which reduced subsidies was legit. Do you consider it political decisions, having in mind that this court is in the grips of politics?

If there was necessary political savvy, that Law would have never been adopted, since it is the definition of fiscal irresponsibility, discrimination, costliness and on top of that, it does not achieve any of proclaimed goals, while also making damages in functioning of the state and society.

But the Government did not challenge this Law during the election campaign, only after, when it decided to significantly reduce the given subsidies. The problem arose from the expectation that mother benefits would be guaranteed for a lifetime in a fixed amount, and later, when the government decided to reduce its amount. The truth is that these women were misled, and then manipulated.

Instead of reviewing the constitutionality of the law, it has decided to review the constitutionality of its amendments. Other numerous decisions but also the postponement of important decisions are in favour of the claim that the Constitutional court makes political compromises, which is unfortunately expected, considering its composition and manner of appointment.

The Government had again tried to discredit a rebellion against their policy, by arguing that the protest is political.

When the protests are led by the person who is vice-president of the party – which is the member of the largest opposition group, the Government and their media were offered the key argument to mark the protest as political or oppositional. The presence of opposition leaders and activists has further encouraged the view that the opposition is waiting “for mothers to complete their work.” However, I have no doubt that the government would discredit these protests as anti-state even if they were led by someone else. However, then it would have less arguments and protests would have more legitimacy.

In your opinion, does the opposition adequately response to the current situation? Do you think that the boycott is effective?

Boycott cannot be only political strategy of the opposition. Beside boycott, opposition has to offer carefully designed political action. Strategy of waiting the crisis to solve itself cannot bring favourable outcome. Democratic front is persistent in offering protests as saving grace. The rest of the opposition rejects that method, but does not offer any alternative. I believe that four diverse parties “wedged” between DPS and DF have to come up with the best model of political cooperation and action, including the possibility of integration. Beforehand, SNP should solve its internal disagreements. At the end, what is of outmost importance, all opposition parties should remain free to advocate different individual stances and methods of action, as well as to be obliged to formulate common policy and practice which would distinguish them from the Government.

Cigarette smuggling is again hot topic. For decades, we have no adequate institutional answers to suspicions and accusations. Do you think we could get it now, when the Police entered the Tobacco Plant again?

Cigarette smuggling is only one of many practices within the organized crime. Unfortunately, for years, if not decades, the state perceives the organized crime as an economic opportunity, instead of a security threat. If you look at the description of different types and dimensions of organized crime, which is available in the analysis (SOCTA) prepared by the Police Directorate and compare it with results of the Police and Prosecutors, the conclusion is that we are still at the very beginning. In addition to action against “freelancers” in the drug trade (mainly skunk) and mandatory cooperation in the framework of international police actions, there is no progress worthy of attention.

Institute Alternative has recently assessed that 60% of activities envisaged in the Police Directorate Development Strategy has not been implemented. Does it tell us that changes are dominantly cosmetic?

For a long time, the Police was political resource for recruitment of politically suitable persons as well in the service of political, especially electoral processes. Important and large parts of the Police have been cooperating with organised crime groups, or have been hiding their activities, acting upon the orders of ruling elites. Reforming such system requires strong political will to make large and painful cuts. The lack of such will is evident also in this case, having in mind this unambitious Strategy which is implemented poorly. The resistance to reforms is obvious, and the changes are happening only under pressure. The key goal of the reform is to ensure that the competent staff with integrity gets recruited at important positions bearing great responsibility. The European Commission also demand that the reform continues, ensuring centralised and transparent recruitment process. Next to a number of oversight bodies which control the police work, abuses in the police service, ranging from torture after the protest to corruptive practices, are not investigated effectively.

At some earlier point, the public believed that the new prosecutorial duo works independently of their former colleagues, but now there are serious doubts that the prosecution is under the control of political leadership. How do you see the role of the Prosecutor’s Office, particularly regarding the ”coup”?

We have praised first results of the Special Prosecutor’s Office. Today, we are very reserved to results they achieve, the manner of conducting the most important investigations and their prioritisation of their work.

The public impression, perceived with a good reason, is that investigations are being lead only against those without actual political weight in government, and/or against those who do not belong to clan of Milo Djukanovic.

We are waiting for too long for the results of financial investigations, while the Prosecutor’s office penal policy is not convincing. There are serious doubts that the detention is used as prosecutorial pressure to accused for the purpose of entering into a plea agreement.

The method of leading the investigations of the ”coup” has deepened distrust of the public. Everyone who has seen the video footages from the trials can conclude that there are still many vague issues. And we can only suspect in which manner other investigations, which are not in the interest of the public and without such attention are being led. Therefore, it is important to provide the highest possible degree of access to documents on the work of the prosecution.

Interview, originally published in weekly Monitor, was led by Milena Perović – Korać

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