Unconvincing view of political impartiality in the state administration

Replies to our initiatives addressed to the Ethics Committee and the Administrative Inspection related to the nomination of civil servants for local elections indicate passivity of these institutions and the vagueness of legal regulations governing political impartiality of civil servants.

The Ethics Committee and the Administrative Inspection are of the opinion that running for local councilors public officials do not violate the Law on Civil Servants and State Employees, which provides that they shall refrain from public expression of their political beliefs.

Both institutions believe that this provision applies only to the period of conducting activities as civil servants, and that restricting their right to stand as candidates in the elections was contrary to the Constitution, which in the Article 45 states that the right to to elect and to be elected is the right of every citizen of Montenegro who is 18 years old and has at least two years of residence in Montenegro.

However, the Ethics Committee has, in its reply, admitted that the Article 9 paragraph 2 of the Law on Civil Servants and State Employees is not fully clear whether the civil servant is obliged to refrain from any public expression of political beliefs at every opportunity or just during the working hours.

Therefore, the Ethics Committee believes, this norm can be interpreted in accordance with the Article 45 of the Constitution.

Institute Alternative finds this interpretation of the Law to be incorrect, because in comparative practice, with all due respect for the universal electoral right, public officials and directors in the public administration often have to freeze or leave their functions to be nominated for the elections.

Additionally, although the Administrative Inspection deemed to restrict constitutionally guaranteed rights law was unconstitutional, Institute Alternative recalls that the electoral law already limits the right to take any part in the election campaign to police officers and officials of the National Security Agency.

Hence, we consider the answers of the two institutions inconclusive. In the end, they show the vagueness of legal rules governing the political impartiality of civil servants as one of the main principles of the professionalization of public administration, but also the lack of harmonization of the Montenegrin legal regulations.

Furthermore, IA regrets that neither Administrative Inspection nor the Ethics Committee have not dealt with our request to examine whether public officials committed a serious breach of their obligations by expressing political beliefs during the conduct of activities, especially in the light of media reports indicating that certain employees and public officials participated in the campaign during working hours.

The response from the Ethics Committee

The response from the Administrative Inspection

Milena Milošević
Policy Analyst
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