A third of municipalities did not publish the annual budget report for 2017, while only four local governments published semi-annual reports on budget execution.
With the aim of presenting current situation and relevance of proactive disclosure of information on local budgets, Institute Alternative and the NGO New Horizon conducted comparative research and analysis of the websites of 23 local governments in Montenegro.
We wanted to learn to what extent citizens can get familiar with the way their municipality collects, plans and spends the budget, only by searching official websites. This included an overview of the websites of the municipalities in Montenegro to determine whether key budgetary documents are being published. We searched for draft decisions on the municipal budget for 2018, adopted budget decisions for 2018, decisions on the final budget account for 2017, semi-annual reports on budget execution in 2017 and budget guides for citizens.
Out of all searched documents, the most regularly published document is budget decision (draft and adopted version), while in 2017 and 2018 no municipality published budget guide for citizens, which, for the purpose of our research, entailed simplified and citizen-friendly presentation of a budgetary document.
The worst ranked municipality is Plav, which did not have a functional website during the research period at all. The Municipality of Ulcinj, which has only one budgetary document (the 2018 budget decision) published, also shares very few information on public finances with its citizens.
Having in mind the importance of the final budget account as a document which, among the other things, should show the deviation of the local expenditure from the annual budget plan and include the report on capital projects, the fact that 8 out of the 23 municipalities did not publish the adopted version on the final account of the local budget is especially concerning. This means that the citizens were not able to obtain complete information on the execution of the 2017 local budgets through websites of municipalities of Budva, Gusinje, Kolašin, Kotor, Petnjica, Plav, Rožaje and Ulcinj.
Only four municipalities published reports on budget execution during the first six months of 2017 (Bijelo Polje, Nikšić, Pljevlja and Podgorica). In-year reporting on budget execution is important so that citizens and other stakeholders can have timely insight into the dynamics of public spending and an adequate baseline for planning of future budget priorities.
Even when the information concerned is published on the websites of the municipalities, it is often located in website sections, which are not easy to find and cannot be accessed directly from the home page. In certain cases, documents are presented under wrong and misspelled names. Example in this sense is the municipality of Nikšić which, although it published the final account of the budget for 2017, did it with misspelling each word in the name of the document and made it unsearchable for citizens who type the name of the document in the ‘search’ box. Also, most published documents are not available in a machine readable form, making it difficult to search and download key budgetary items that are especially important to particular groups of citizens.
Following the recommendation of Institute Alternative, the new Law on financing local governments has brought a series of novelties regarding the obligation of municipalities to submit in-year budgetary reports both to the Municipal Assembly and to the public. In the coming period, we will monitor how these new obligations are implemented.
The research on the openness of the local budgets was conducted within the project Money Watch: Civil Society, Guarding the Budget, which is implemented by the Institute Alternative in partnership with the Institute of Public Finance from Zagreb and NGO New Horizon from Ulcinj. The project is financed by European Union and co-financed by the Ministry of Public Administration. Findings of the research are sole responsibility of the Institute Alternative and NGO New Horizon and does not reflect the opinion of the European Union and Ministry of the Public Administration.