On reforms in security sector and Rule of law

What Montenegro gained, and what did it lose after achieving independence?

Dina BajramspahićWhen it comes to democratic and civic oversight of security sector and the rule of law, this decade was marked by major reform projects under the pressure of the Euro-Atlantic and European integration. It cannot be denied that a lot has been done at the legislative and institutional level. However, we still do not see the benefits of established mechanisms, nor the impact of new actors in charge to limit the power of repressive levers of government, primarily intelligence services and the police. An example is unique Law on Parliamentary Oversight of Security and Defence Sector which provides control mechanisms, but members of parliamentary Committee on Security and Defence have not uses them for five years since it was adopted. The Committee members have performed control visits to Montenegrin National Security Agency (NSA) in 2010, and to the Police in 2013. The Anti-Corruption Committee has almost completely given up its jurisdiction and it has held only one consultative hearing since July last year.

Independent institutions have also been provided with important mechanisms for the control of this sector, including the Protector of Human Rights and Freedoms and the Agency for Protection of Personal Data, which have access without restriction to all premises and documents of these services, but the control is performed rarely and reluctantly. These institutions still have not built themselves an image of the authority whose main task is confrontation with the executive branch as well as the improvement of accountability in public authorities. A similar situation is with the Agency for Prevention of Corruption and the Administration for Prevention of Money Laundering which insufficiently contribute to combating conflict of interest, corruption and money laundering due to their passivity.
One of the examples which confirms little progress in the transparency of security services’ work is the fact that, although contrary to the judgements of the European Court of Human Rights, the NSA is consistently refusing to disclose the number of persons who were under secret surveillance measures, arguing that by revealing that fact, national security could be compromised, while the police do not find it necessary to keep statistics of applied measures.
The past decade was marked by a tough fight for the establishment of a specialized Prosecutor’s Office for fighting corruption and organized crime and irresponsibility of prosecutors for lack of results and the cases that had been waiting in the drawers for years. Despite all the pressure from the European Commission, very little progress in transparency and objectification of appointment of judges and prosecutors as well as in measuring their impact has been achieved. A unique opportunity to fundamentally reform the personnel in Prosecution through the process of general re-election is missed, since they were all re-elected and stayed within the system, including those who did not show professional results for years.
Last October’s protests have shown that excessive use of force is still tolerated in Montenegrin police. Also, it became evident that conclusions and recommendations of authorities for police work oversight are powerless in forcing competent institutions to prosecute police officers who abused their power.
In the future, special attention should be paid to strengthening the institutions and sustainability of reforms, because the years behind us showed that even when we witness sporadic advancements and changes, they are very fragile and can easily be stopped.

Comment by Dina Bajramspahić, IA’s Public policy researcher, for Daily Vijesti about reforms on the occasion of first decade of Montenegrin independence

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