Art exhibitions, football matches’ expenses, travel expenses for attending concerts, office furnishing – these are just some of the activities that fall under the category of short-term social assistance financed by municipalities.
In the electoral year of 2016, The Old Royal Capital of Cetinje has provided on multiple occasions a short-term assistance ranging from €150 to €500 to individuals. For example, A.Š. received €500 of short-term assistance for filming a video for the song “dedicated to the tenth anniversary of independence renewal“.
The Mayor of Cetinje, Aleksandar Bogdanović, signed a decision on May 26 last year, by which €193 of short-term assistance was provided to D.B. in the name of financial assistance for buying an airplane ticket, in order to represent the Old Royal Capital in Athens on the occasion of independence renewal.
The decisions also show that the short-term material assistance of €150 was provided to Lj. J. for an art exhibition, while G. Đ. got €200 of social assistance in order to travel to Israel on a study course.
According to Institute Alternative (IA) findings, the Old Royal Capital in 2013, 2014 and 2015 did not have any expenditures for social assistance, and the overall expenditure foreseen for social assistance for those years, as shown in the Ministry of Finance data, were €0,00.
On the other hand, the Old Royal Capital spent €139.921 for the same period for short-term social assistance, as pointed out by public policy researcher of IA, Ivana Bogojević. An interesting fact is that the expenditure was the highest in the electoral year of 2013.
“The expenditure was €95.240, which makes some 70% of overall three-year expenditure“, Bogojević stated.
The short-term assistance was also provided in a similar manner in Nikšić, which can be seen from the analytical cards that the Centre for Investigative Reporting (CIN-CG) had an insight into, according to the IA documentation that this organisation obtained via Freedom of Information Request.
J.Ž. from Nikšić, obtained €150 of social assistance for her daughter for an internship. V.M. got the same amount for social assistance from the municipality for the organisation of graduation art exhibition, while the local community “Kočani“ obtained €400 for renovating their offices. In April, Š.S. obtained €135 in order to attend an “international convention in Germany“, while T.M. obtained a short-term assistance to publish a book of poems.
Neither from Nikšić, nor from the Old Royal Capital, have we obtained an answer to CIN-CG question regarding the allocation of short-term material assistance for the abovementioned purposes, and whether this is a particular practice taking place in electoral years.
Bogojević claims that it is not clear just how much is allocated for social protection at the local level. She further explains that in the final accounts of local self-administrations there are no expenses for social protection, because the short-term social assistance is not classified as social protection, but as a transfer to institutions, individuals, NGOs and public sector.
Bogojević considers that such classification results in untrustworthy financial reporting, by hiding a real image of social assistance expenditure and unrealistic planning for the jeopardized category of citizens’ actual needs.
“The municipalities that according to their final accounts did not have any expenditures for social assistance in the period from 2013 to 2015 are Cetinje, Herceg Novi, Nikšić, Plav, Podgorica, Šavnik and Tivat, which does not mean that these have not provided social assistance in the form of short-term social assistance or home care assistance for the elderly, where the Capital, Herceg Novi and Nikšić effectively dominate“, Bogojević pointed out.
The President of the Municipality Decides Who Gets Social Assistance
Bogojević further explained that the short-term social assistance can be provided for an individual or a family whose very existence is jeopardised due to a difficult material, housing and health state, but that the allocation of this assistance on a local level is established differently.
Local self-administrations allocate such assistance based on their internal acts, decisions or rulebooks on social assistance allocation or short-term financial assistance. Bogojević pointed out that Nikšić is the only municipality that does not have such a document and does not have an established system of assistance allocation. “In some local self-administrations, decisions on the assistance allocation are made by the president of the municipality, while in some municipalities this question is dealt with by a special commission. In any case, in all local self-administrations the president of the municipality has a right to make a decision in urgent cases. Therefore, the internal acts partially limit the discretionary right in allocating short-term social assistance“, Bogojević said.
The discretionary right of the president in the allocation of this assistance is provided by the Old Royal Capital, but also Kolašin, Bar, Pljevlja, Berane, Andrijevica, Plužine, Kotor, Herceg Novi and Šavnik.
Nobody Controls Analytical Cards
CIN-CG inquired the Ministry of Finance whether it has encountered examples of local municipalities’ inappropriate allocation of short-term assistance, how much does it control the content of analytical cards and what are the sanction procedures for the local municipalities when they encounter irregularities in financial reporting.
However, the Ministry claims that local municipalities are independent and that their rights cannot be limited and denied by state authorities, except in the cases and under conditions determined by the law.
“Municipalities are obligated to submit quarterly reports to the Ministry of Finance on planned and realised revenues, expenditures and budget indebtedness, no later than 30 days after the end of a quarter …” stated the response. The Ministry claims that the content of analytical cards and any irregularity are being recognised through audit opinion and noted in the audit report and that they have no jurisdiction in this area. Analytical cards, their form and content, are obviously not controlled by any institution.
According to the Law on Financing of Political Parties and Election Campaigns, the Agency for Prevention of Corruption controls whether local self-government publishes analytical cards, but not its content, that is, the accuracy and comprehensiveness the data.
When the question of analytical cards content was raised during the previous parliamentary elections’ campaign, both the Agency for Prevention of Corruption and the Ministry of Finance stated it had no competence in this issue. Therefore, the information displayed on the analytical cards depends of the will of local self-governments.
The State Audit Institution did not answer the question of CIN-CG whether it considers that the short-term social assistance, allocated for the opening of an exhibition of paintings, poetry, printing, office equipment for local communities, is money spent inappropriately.
Identical Situation at the National Level
According to research conducted by IPSOS, 57 percent of citizens believe that public administration do not spend money for the right purposes in most cases or not at all.
The Commission for the Allocation of Budget Reserve Funds exists at the national level, as a permanent Government body, which independently decides on the distribution of funds to individuals, some organisations, societies and associations on the basis of submitted requests and relevant documents. These funds can be allocated for assistance in medical treatment, training, financial situation improvement, but also for “other purposes in accordance with the Law”.
The total amount spent on “the current budget reserve” for the past four years was more than €62 million. However, it is not known for whom and where these funds went, as well as how much of the current budget reserve was spent via Commissions’ decisions. IA appealed to the decision of the General Secretariat of the Government to declare the documentation on the work of the Commission secret, but the Agency has not responded to the appeal for more than a year.
In January, New Serbian Democracy party presented documentation showing that the Ministry of Education, led by Slavoljub Stijepović, allocated from 300 to 1,000 euros to individuals from the government, on the grounds of short-term assistance because of the difficult financial situation. Thus, the short-term assistance was allocated to, among others, former Central Bank chief economist Nikola Fabris, who said that the money was intended for book print, and not as a social welfare.
Author: Ana Komatina
The article was originally published on the website of the Centre for Investigative Reporting in Montenegro.
You can read the story in Albanian language here.
This article was created with the help of the European Union within the project “Civil Society for Good Governance: to Serve and Deserve!”, conducted by the Institute Alternative, Bonum, Natura, New Horizon and the Centre for Investigative Reporting. The contents of this article are the sole responsibility of the author and in no way reflect the views of the European Union.