MPs and Government to redefine their relationship

There is a room for laws on Parliament and the Government to better regulate the mutual relationship between executive and legislative branches of power. This relationship, however, will always be determined by the political context and parliamentary practice – it is concluded at the conference organised by Institute Alternative (IA).

Conference “Legislative and Control Function of the Parliament of Montenegro” was organised today in Podgorica, within the project implemented by the IA with the support of National Endowment for Democracy (NED).

Milena Muk from Institute Alternative has reminded participants that laws on Parliament and the Government should have been drafted by the end of the year. She said with the shift of power and political circumstances it became evident that procedures of law making within the Parliament were neglected over the years.

Muk explained that, unlike the bills initiated by the Government, the bills, which are being increasingly initiated by the Members of Parliament (MPs), are not accompanied by the detailed procedure of the ex-ante impact assessment. “On the other hand, MPs do not use their own competences to scrutinise and control the impact assessments, conducted by the Government. For example, we have publicly criticised the lack of information and analyses accompanying the “Europe Now” plan. MPs and parliamentary service should check the data presented in the impact assessments of the bills, submitted to the Parliament. Yesterday’s withdrawal of bills, which aimed at abolishing the threshold of guaranteed financing for a number of institutions, demonstrated that the process of consulting the stakeholders, as an integral part of the impact assessment, had not been pursued by the Government”, she added.

Government does not obey its own obligation to provide MPs with the requested information, while MPs are reluctant to define conclusions and recommendations as a follow up to control hearings and discussion of performance reports of institutions whose work they should control. The enhancement of control mechanisms by the late 2020 amendments to the Rules of Procedures has thus not triggered tangible improvements of parliamentary practice.

“The best illustration of communication gaps between Government and Parliament is the fact that reports of ministries are usually not submitted to MPs. Such practice has never existed”, Muk explained, with the caveat that the previous period saw an important precedent in the parliamentary practice. The minister was dismissed in the previous period, by the so-called asymmetric voting of constituents of both parliamentary majority and the opposition.

Branka Bošnjak, vice-president of Parliament of Montenegro, said that Montenegro is in a political crisis, which lasts since the very establishment of the current Government.

“it is really difficult to manage a system which faces instability and the construction error, by the establishment of Government which neglected the voters’ preferences. That is the reason why we face problems from the very start”, Bošnjak said. She added that many ministers are not experienced with public administration, that they do not have enough knowledge of the system and its functioning. “Many ministers did not know what the communication with the Parliament should look like: that they should provide opinions about the bills, that there is a deadline for such opinion, that they have to participate in the work of parliamentary committees etc.”, she added, emphasising that the laws on the Parliament and the Government are much needed.

However, Bošnjak highlighted that Parliament did achieve some important breakthroughs as well.

“In past convocation, we did not have any interpellation. Now, we have three. There is a will for the Parliament to be critical of the Government’s work”, she stated, by reminding that there have been statements that Government should be independent, which is unimaginable because the Parliament is the one to control the Government.

She pinpointed the lack of communication between parliamentary majority and the Government during the law-making activities, which often results in the Government’s resentment towards amendments subsequently lodged by the MPs. Bošnjak also thinks that Parliamentary Service is less and less involved in the legislative role, but Research Center and Parliamentary Budget Office provide significant support to MPs.

Dritan Abazović, vice-president of the Government of Montenegro, agreed that it is true that there is a “communication noise” between the Government and the Parliament. Still, this “noise” goes both ways, because the parliamentary majority is the one to boycott the Parliament.

“We have never had more transparency and democracy level until now, and we have a situation that each MP is equally important as an individual”, he said, with the remark that the large number of control hearings speaks in favour of the increasing transparency.

Abazović pinpointed that, even in the context of the best legal solutions, the relationship between the Government and the Parliament would exclusively depend on political relations.

“At the moment, we have a political issue and we cannot pass decisions in the Parliament“, Abazović added, emphasising that everybody is to blame for such situation and that joint solutions are needed.

“This country needs social consensus”, he said, adding that he does not share opinion that this Government is less transparent than its predecessor, since its representatives are much more present in the Parliament.  In his opinion, many initiatives, but also dismissal of the minister, substantiate such thesis.

During the participants’ discussion, Marija Popović from Center for Civic Liberties said that many laws are prepared without public debates, singling out the problematic procedure of drafting the law on medically assisted reproduction.

Marina Vujačić, from Association of Youth With Disabilities of Montenegro, said that the civil society’s initiatives are not being taken up during the new convocation of the Parliament. Their initiative for holding a plenary session on the occasion of International Day of People With Disabilities (December 3) is one of the examples which failed to receive a timely support.

She also thinks that the Parliament has not done enough to ensure accessibility of its premises despite the press releases, which suggested the progress in the field in an unacceptable manner. She said that halls at all floors are not accessible, along with the main entrance. Only side entrance has been adapted.

The second panel centered on the work of parliamentary committees, especially five of them monitored by the IA in the previous period (Committee on Anti-Corruption, Committee for Security and Defence, Committee for Economy, Finance and Budget, Committee for Political System, Judiciary and Administration, Committee for Human rights and Freedoms).

Nikoleta Pavićević, from Institute Alternative, explained that none of the five committees had achieved a half of activities, envisaged by their own annual work plans.  Government also has a stake in such result, since its own law-making activities have not followed the envisaged pace.

“Our reports also showcase that Government representative do not always respond to the invitations of the committees to take part in their work. By doing so, they fail to  uphold their own obligations, and they avoid accountability and chance to contribute to the work of the Parliament. Representatives of the executive branch of power were the least responsive to the Committee for Human Rights and Freedoms”, Pavićević added.

The Committee for Security and Defence stands out among other committees due to the significant use of control mechanisms. Even two thirds of all control hearings by October 2021 were conducted in this body. Nonetheless, MPs usually do not define conclusions and recommendations upon the conducted hearings.

“There is an example of the exhaustive control hearing of the finance minister in front of the Committee for Economy, Finance and Budget about the debt of 750 million euro following the emission of Eurobonds. The hearing served its purpose by providing answers to specific questions, but no conclusions were formulated as a result”, Pavićević explained.

She pinpointed that the role of parliamentary committees in scrutinising budget execution has been particularly neglected.

The general conclusion of the monitoring of the work of five committees, is that their work has not been intensive, and that the discussion of performance reports of the institutions whose work they should oversee was only a check box on the way of implementation of activities – not a chance for strengthening parliamentary control. Control hearings do not have an epilogue while committees perform their legislative role in a reduced manner.

Momo Koprivica, chair of the Committee for Political System, Judiciary and Administration, said that the Parliament would be a ballot box if the law making activities of the MPs did not increase.

In his opinion, the transparency of the Parliament has been upgraded to extraordinary levels, while the amendments to the Rules of Procedure have doubled the number of control hearings, which can be initiated by the opposition. The ministers were obliged to participate in sessions discussing their bills, while MPs are provided with the final say during the Prime Minister’s Hour.

The Committee, chaired by him, was the most active, but its activities were not reduced solely to discussion of bills. “Consultative hearings are unjustifiably downgraded in comparison to control hearings, despite being a good method of collecting information”, he said, with the remark that the Committee for Political System, Judiciary and Administration conducted most consultative hearings in comparison to other committees.

He said that there is a working version of the Law on Parliament, which requires further improvements. He also reminded that his committee proposed seven conclusions, following the control hearing of the acting Supreme State Prosecutor.

Daliborka Pejović, chair of the Anti-Corruption Committee, stated that this committee is not in charge of any law, which was the reason for the former chair to call for its abolishment. For her, such situation is a clear signal that system needs a change.

She agreed that the legislative role of the Parliament is deficient: “When we submit the bill as MPs, we often want to meet demands of a specific target group, and we miss the wider picture. Mechanisms for public participation and financial estimates are missing, so we can face the problem of an unsustainable budget”.

She said that her colleagues and her are often confused about the character of the opinions provided by the Parliamentary Service”: whether they are mandatory or not and to whom they should serve. Pejovic explained that within her committee they try to avoid infinite discussions without proposing specific solutions. Regarding the relationship between different institutions, she stressed that not each independence is the same: there is objective and absolute independence, but the boundaries between them are not always clear.

Pejovic announced that the Anti-Corruption Committee will try to define methodology for acting upon the citizens’ petitions.

Milena Vuković Sekulović, Deputy of the Secretary General of Parliament of Montenegro, presented the role of Parliamentary Service in providing support to MPs. She highlighted the active role of Research Center and Parliamentary Budget Office, recently established unit with three employees working on financial analyses and budget overviews. She expects further support through the “InterPares“ project, which brings cooperation with the parliaments from eight EU member states. Priorities of the project largely coincide with the recommendations provided by the IA. They aim at enhancing legislative role, post-legislative scrutiny, and at empowering MPs to get the requested information from the Government.

During the follow-up discussion, Marko Sošić from Institute Alternative said that the bills initiated by the MPs are over-reliant on the Government’s opinions. He underlined that the bill on compensation of mothers of three and more children, which can have a significant budget impact, contains two sentences of financial estimate.

Stevo Muk, president of the IA’s Managing Board,  said that there are many issues, which connect the laws on the Parliament and the Government. The joint communication is needed during their preparation, because they will regulate mutual rights and duties and it would be bad to open those issues too late in the process.

“Intensive communication is needed in order for the two laws to be adopted at the same time and to pass a single, joint public debate,” Muk said.

You can watch a recording of the conference here:

 

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