Podgorica, PR Service
The Parliament of Montenegro, the Constitutional Court and the Agency for the Protection of Personal Data did not act proactively to oversight the decision-making of the Government of Montenegro during the coronavirus epidemic and failed to protect the rights of Montenegrin citizens.
This was stated during the panel discussion “Crisis Management – Lessons Learned from COVID-19”, organised by the Institute Alternative.
While presenting the Draft Analysis “Montenegro’s Response to COVID-19”, Dragana Jaćimović, Public Policy Researcher at Institute Alternative, said that Montenegro effectively managed the COVID-19 crisis in the early stages, and that systemic flaws were revealed over time.
She reminded that the key role in the management of the epidemic was initially played by the National Coordination Body, or NCB, while after the change of government, towards the end of 2020, that role was taken over by the Council for fighting Coronavirus.
“The fact that two different governments were in power during the COVID-19 crisis in Montenegro, reflected on the extent of the oppressiveness of the introduced measures and resulted in different approaches. “In the first wave of the pandemic, the citizens highly supported severe measures, but the support for the measures decreased over time,” Jaćimović said.
She assessed that the selective exchange of information, unclear communication of measures, violation of human rights and violation of the Constitution contributed to the negative attitude of the public towards the competent bodies.
“The lack of institutional proactivity in the oversight of the Government’s decision-making was evident when it came to the Parliament, the Constitutional Court and the Agency for Personal Data Protection, which failed to protect the rights of the citizens of Montenegro,” Jaćimović warned.
She pointed to the Government’s decision to publish a list of persons who were ordered mandatory isolation due to being abroad as a negative practice in terms of respect for human rights. “In the end, we also had court proceedings, where the state had to pay compensation to the citizens due to the publication of this data,” Jaćimović added.
Speaking about the negative practices regarding the management of the epidemic, in the part concerning the suppression of the spread of fake news and disinformation, Jaćimović said that in the first two months of the outbreak of the epidemic, Montenegro initiated five criminal proceedings for causing panic and disorder due to posts on social media networks.
“According to official data, Montenegro had 70 ventilators at the beginning of the pandemic. By April 2020, health institutions were additionally equipped, after which they had 151 ventilators at their disposal. The battle for ventilators that took place on the global market did not bypass Montenegro either, so Montenegro made urgent procurement without a defined delivery date and we also had a situation where a part of the purchased respirators was not functional,” Jaćimović said.
She pointed out that at the beginning of the epidemic, there was a shortage of protective masks, not only for citizens but also for medical personnel.
“The lack of protective equipment was not the only problem, but also the number of medical personnel was insufficient. According to the data of the Union of Doctors of Medicine, at that time there were 42 epidemiologists for the whole of Montenegro, and a very small number of people performed complete PCR diagnostics,” Jaćimović said.
Since there is no unified information on the total number of donated vaccines, based on the official announcements of the Government, which IA used as a source, about 660 000 doses of vaccines were donated to Montenegro.
“When it comes to the procurement of vaccines, protective equipment and tests for COVID-19, in the beginning, Montenegro mainly relied on donations from other countries and organisations. Later, the procurement of these funds was carried out through non-transparent and partially unsuccessful public procurement procedures,” Jaćimović said.
She added that Montenegro had very good cooperation with the World Health Organisation, as well as the European Union, which was demonstrated through joint activities and projects that were carried out throughout the pandemic.
The President of the Committee for Health, Labour and Social Welfare, Srđan Pavićević reminded that ten days after the formation of the executive power in December 2020, the first session of the Committee was held, at which the consultative hearing of the Minister of Health at that time, Jelena Borovinić Bojović, was held. Later on, two more sessions of the Committee dedicated to the coronavirus were held.
“I think that the Committee did a professional and fair job. I think that our monitoring of the situation was permanent, obvious and transparent,” Pavićević said.
He believes that, according to the capacities at his disposal, the Montenegrin medical system responded correctly to the first challenges when the coronavirus appeared.
“We have encountered everything that the world has encountered, including many developed countries and medical systems. We were faced with a lack of strategy, staff and consumables. “We supplied respirators very quickly,” Pavićević said.
He believes that it was a paradoxical situation that during the coronavirus epidemic, there were patients infected with the coronavirus in the Clinical Center, while the regular program was implemented for the patients in other hospitals. “I believe that there was enough space to do it differently, to ensure that contaminated zones and infected patients are distributed among hospitals and that the Clinical Center of Montenegro should have remained a basic, umbrella institution that guarantees a continuous life, for people who are infected with covid”, Pavićević said.
The head of the office of the World Health Organisation in Montenegro, Mina Brajović, indicated that immediately before the pandemic, at the end of 2018, the global body for monitoring preparedness at the world level, which was established by the World Health Organisation, made an assessment of preparedness capacities and concluded that no country in the world is ready in terms of response to the pandemic.
“As for Montenegro, in 2019, in cooperation with the Institute for Public Health, the Ministry of Health and all other sectors, we supported an extensive evaluation of national capacities for prevention, preparedness, readiness, response and recovery. That report showed that the level of capacity according to various criteria was at a modest level and that it was an alarm before the crisis; that it is necessary to invest and undertake urgent interventions to strengthen the capacities for health security”, Brajović said.
She said that the World Bank Report on the double shock indicated that the fiscal space at the global level for strengthening public health capacities for preparedness is drastically and alarmingly reduced.
“As a world, we are in a serious problem, because we did not learn the lesson from the pandemic, the largest in the history of the United Nations system, that it is necessary to invest in health security, because by investing in health and health security, we invest in the economy and international security,” Brajović said.
She claimed that currently, the data on the coronavirus at a global level, in the region and Montenegro is promising and encouraging.
“We from the World Health Organisation estimate that this year should be the year in which we put an end to the pandemic,” Brajović said.
“With surgical precision, COVID-19 pointed the finger and showed the weak points and links of the system in terms of preparedness and response to crises in Montenegro and around the world,” Brajović stated.
During the discussion, the Program Director of CAZAS, Sanja Šišović pointed out that the consequences of COVID are being forgotten.
“The research we did showed that the Clinical Center, which is the lifeblood of the health system, stopped outpatient examinations. We did a quick questionnaire among patients, which showed that 60% of them never got a new appointment, especially not promptly. And when it comes to mental health, I think it is a crisis that is knocking on all doors,” Šišović said.
Doctor Đorđije Krnjević, who is the Head of the Internal Medicine Clinic in the Clinical Center of Montenegro, said that many things could have been done better during the coronavirus epidemic if there had been “more hearing”.
“Unfortunately, we were in a position where turbulent social changes were taking place in Montenegro, an unstable political system where everyone was trying to use cheap tricks, through the health system, to add another voice and position themselves on the political scene. It cost us a lot,” Krnjević said.
He pointed to three problems that the Clinical Center of Montenegro is faced with – lack of spatial capacity, shortage of high and intermediate medical staff and anesthesiologists.
Social Democrats’ MP Boris Mugoša said that the coronavirus crisis showed the vulnerabilities of the health system, stating that we should now focus on areas in the health system that can be improved.
You can watch the recording of the panel discussion at this link: https://www.facebook.com/IAThinkTank/videos/884409812641187/
The panel discussion was organised as part of the regional project “Enabling Just Change in the International Health Care Governance COVID -19 Pandemic and Lessons Learned from the Western Balkans“, which is financially supported by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.