On public discussions without a public discussion

Last Thursday, the Government of Montenegro drafted amendments to the Law on state administration without a public discussion, announcement or justification. These amendments limit public debates in a way that enables ministries to virtually skip this phase in decision-making whenever they please.

According to the draft, the public discussion will not be held “when the law, i.e. the strategy regulates issues in the field of defense and security and annual budget; in emergency, urgent or unforeseeable circumstances; when a matter is not differently regulated by law”.

An example of the abuse of this broad formulation is exactly the absurd situation in determining these specific amendments – which, although crucial, are referred to the Parliament without any consultation with the public on the matter. This draft law has not been considered by the Council for Public Administration Reform either.

During this year, there was a backslide when it comes to the inclusion of the public in decision making by the Government, on which the Institute Alternative wrote more extensively in the report “Public Administration Reform: How Far Is It 2020″.

The Government avoided discussions on crucial laws, such as the Law on public procurement, it conducted “partial” public discussions (amendments to the Law on free access to information), organized discussions under the so-called “urgent procedure” (amendments to the Law on social and child protection) or organized public consultations instead of public discussions (the set of eight laws in the field of education).

Regulating exceptions by the law, although this has previously been the subject of decrees, demonstrates clearly that the Government wants to ensure that citizens do not interfere with the most important issues – management of public finances and the levers of force-implementing powers.

Considering that all laws, including laws on security and defense, are public and citizens must be familiar with them and adjust accordingly behavior and everyday functioning – there is absolutely no justification for them to be drafted in secret. Even more so having in mind that these laws temporarily restrict the constitutional rights and freedoms of citizens.

The best example is the Law on internal affairs that regulates how and in which situations a police officer can exercise his authority over a citizen: calling for interview, arrest, temporary restraint of freedom of movement, seizure of objects, determining the presence of alcohol in the blood, and the most sensitive ones such as application of thirteen types of coercive measures ranging from physical force to the use of firearms.

It is also not clear what justifies the Government’s intention to forbid public discussions on strategies in the field of security and defense when these are not “secret” documents but published on the Government and ministries’ websites. If these documents contained anything that endangers national security, causes damage to the state interests or to the functioning of bodies they would not be publicly available.

According to the research conducted by the Institute Alternative, according to the globally used methodology “Open Budget Index”, Montenegro has achieved 7 out of the possible 100 points in the area of the public participation in the budget process. Prohibition of active public participation in the process of creating annual budget will further reduce Montenegro’s rating in this global ranking and prevent citizens and civil society from providing their suggestions and comments as is the case with any other legal act. Paradoxically, the intention of the law is to explicitly prohibit public discussion on the state budget, which is legally guaranteed at the local level.

IA Team

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