Petition “Our money, their flats and secret funds” stopped in its tracks
The Government of Montenegro Ministry of Public Administration (MPA) did not approve the launch of the e-petition of ten NGOs asking the Government to publish, at last, the information concerning the expenditure of budgetary reserve funds and the flats allocated to officials.
In its response, the Ministry provides argumentation which lacks any legal basis. It refers to the opinion of the phantom Commission for e-Petitions, composed of representatives of the Government’s General Secretariat, Ministry of Justice and MPA. It would be interesting to learn the composition of this body – unknown up until recently, as well as whose secrets it is hiding from citizens.
In mid-June, ten NGOs submitted a joint e-petition proposing a change in the Government policy on the publication of the reports on the work of the Commission for Housing Policy and the Commission for Distribution of Budgetary Reserve Funds. The petition was backed by the Institute Alternative (IA), Center for Development of NGOs (CRNVO), Civic Education Center (CGO), Network for Affirmation of NGO sector (MANS), Center for Monitoring and Research (CEMI), Politikon Network, Human Rights Action (HRA), Civil Freedoms Center (CEGAS), Center for Investigative Reporting (CIN CG) and Media Center. These NGOs believe that citizens are entitled to information concerning the spending of budgetary funds, including budgetary reserve, and concerning the funds allocated by the Government to address the housing needs of public officials.
The secrecy of the Commissions’ decisions undermines the Government’s openness and integrity and the public trust in the lawful and sensible spending of public funds, and is contrary to the provisions of the Law on Free Access to Information, which provides that authorities are required to publish individual documents and agreements concerning the disposal of public revenue funds.
The petition intended to ask the Government to do the following:
– De-classify all of the documents of the Commissions (dated 2006– 2019) and proactively publish them on the Government of Montenegro webpage;
– Pass a decision stipulating proactive publication of the Commissions’ documents on the Government of Montenegro webpage going forward.
This year’s European Commission Report on Montenegro , in the section on public administration, stated also that “the legislative and policy making process continues to suffer from insufficient transparency and a lack of genuine inclusion of relevant stakeholders”. Also, following harsh criticism over concealing information, one of the three key EC recommendations stated that the Government should “improve citizens’ access to public information by further reducing administrative silence and reversing the trend of declaring public information as classified”. Slightly more than a month passed after the publication of the EC Report and this Government’s refusal to even have citizens state their views on the petition demonstrated that it was ready to go straight against the EC recommendations in order to keep the veil of secrecy over budgetary funds.
The ban on the launch of our petition represents the strongest confirmation of the merits of its theme and serves as an indicator of the irresponsibility and non-transparency of this Government towards its citizens and the EC.
At the same time, this Government decision also essentially discourages all other citizens from making use of e-petitions and the concept of open government which it seemingly advocates. We will therefore continue to insist upon it, as citizens have the right to know how the Government is spending their money and we all have the right to live in a country whose Government prioritizes the country’s credibility and honouring of international commitments over its own party or particular interests.
Stevo Muk, President of the Managing Board, Institute Alternative (IA)
Ana Novakovic, Executive Director, Center for Development of NGOs (CRNVO)
Daliborka Uljarevic, Executive Director, Civic Education Center (CGO)
Vanja Calovic, Executive Director, Network for Affirmation of NGO Sector (MANS)
Zlatko Vujovic, President of the Managing Board, Center for Monitoring and Research (CEMI)
Jovana Marovic, Executive Director, Politikon Network
Tea Gorjanc Prelevic, Executive Director, Human Rights Action (HRA)
Boris Maric, Director, Civil Freedoms Center (CEGAS)
Milka Tadic Mijovic, President, Center for Investigative Reporting (CIN)
Goran Djurovic, Director, Media Center