Without amending the Law on Free Access to Information, opening data on public spending and enabling citizens to be equal participants in the development of public policies, our administration remains closed to essential issues of interest to citizens.
This is the core of 15 proposals, which we have sent with the aim of improving the Action Plan prepared by the Ministry of Public Administration within the framework of the global Open Government Partnership initiative.
The abolition of tax and business secrecy as the base for limiting the access to information should be a priority measure of the administration’s opening. The current practice of state authorities is to declare information of public interest as tax or business secret. Thus, bodies, primarily in the service of citizens, are equated with private companies, and the public remains deprived of information that is very important for assessing effectiveness of these bodies.
We also submitted other proposals for improving the Law on Free Access to Information. Among the other, we proposed prescribing that the Agency for the Protection of Personal Data and Free Access to Information can annul the confidentiality of the data, if the secrecy mark is not sufficiently justified. Also, we proposed to re-introduce the former competence of the Agency to decide on appeals in the first instance.
Around 20 million euro is spent annually from the budgetary reserve without citizens knowing how. Only during the last year, the Government paid almost 2.5 million euro to the citizens for improving their financial situation, upon their requests. In addition, more than a million euro have been paid to the citizens for medical treatments and education. In order to insure equal treatment of all citizens and to improve the integrity of deciding on the allocation of the budgetary reserve funds, publishing of these decisions is of a great importance. Otherwise, doubts about potential political and other misuses of these funds remain justified.
We believe that creating a catalog of services provided by state administration bodies, local governments and organisations with public authorities would make it easier to access the basic information about the services available to citizens. Similarly, creating a register of obligors of the Law on Free Access to Information would enable a more consistent application of this law, while providing at the same time citizens all relevant contact information for free access to information in one place.
The authorities are now obliged to publish only salaries of public officials, while citizens remain deprived of information on salary scales for each individual title/job category. It is therefore necessary to proactively publish salary scales for all categories in all institutions that are funded by tax-payers’ money.
The openness of the public policy making process is also an important element of the transparency of the work of the public administration. Opinion of the European Commission experts on all drafts of Montenegrin laws should be available to citizens and members of the Parliament, who ultimately adopt laws. We also gave more detailed proposals for improving the transparency of Government sessions.
Individual annual reports of contracting authorities of implemented public procurement should be available in machine readable and searchable format, not as scanned PDF documents, which is now the case. This is particularly important if one takes into account that there are over 600 reports of contracting authorities with spending data exceeding half a billion euro a year, and are now unsearchable and very difficult to read. The annual public procurement reports prepared by the Public Procurement Agency, which contain a horizontal overview and a set of statistical data on public procurement procedures and are very extensive – nearly 200 pages, should also be machine readable and easily searchable. Thus, information on total public procurement spending would be easily accessible to citizens.
The Open Government Partnership (OGP) is an initiative established in 2011 with the aim of serving as an international platform for countries in the process of building more transparent and accountable public administrations. In 2017, Montenegro was suspended and marked as inactive state within the OGP, and the reason for this was the failure to fulfil its obligations. The Ministry of Public Administration should prepare a new Action Plan by the end of the year in order to regain Montenegro’s status as an active country within this initiative