They promise publicly but fail to deliver data later

Centre for Civic Education (CCE) again wishes to call the attention once again to the lack of transparency in public administration bodies, especially in the Ministry of Finance which, after the publication of CCE’s preliminary report titled “How much managers within the state administration bodies earned in 2012?”, promised the media on 28 July 2013 that it will deliver information on salaries of the top officials in the ministry to CCE as soon as possible. More than 20 have passed since then, but CCE did not receive the information. The ministry thus remains, as noted in the study, one of the least transparent bodies. In addition, it shows itself as a body that promises one thing to the public, but does something completely different in practice.

The project “How much managers within the state administration bodies earned in 2012?” is part of the CCE’s sub-programme Accountability and transparency of authorities, and its goal is to contribute to raising awareness of responsible spending of the public money. The specific aim of this project was to find out how much the top officials in public administration bodies earned in 2012 as compensation for performing their duties, or in the form of other benefits financed from the budget of Montenegro. CCE collected these information using the provisions of the Law on Free Access to Information between 2 June and 25 July 2013, and announced the results at the press conference on 26 July 2013. Originally, the project covered 45 public administration bodies, 7 of which never submitted the requested information.

Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Education and Sports and Ministry of Transport and Maritime submitted no information whatsoever, which put them on the so-called “black list” in terms of transparency.

Ministry of Science, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and European Integration, Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Sustainable Development and Tourism, Ministry of Justice, Ministry for Information Society and Telecommunications, Ministry of Health and Ministry without portfolio did submit the requested information, but often with delay or with missing information.

Ministry of Economy, Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, Ministry of Interior Affairs and Ministry for Human and Minority Rights, have, on the other hand, responded to our requests within the legal deadline, submitting all the requested information, which earned them a placement on the so-called “white list” in reference to this study.

Other public administration bodies mostly respected the law, submitting timely and substantial information in response to CCE’s requests. The received information contained precise figures on monthly or annual net wages of all top officials for 2012, together with the organisational structure of the administrative body in question, and additional benefits and compensations where appropriate.

According to the data collected by CCE, in the course of 2012, leading officials of 38 bodies for which we received information – ministries, directorates, bureaus, agencies and Secretariat of the Government of Montenegro – received a total of €2 446 745 in net annual wages and other benefits. This figure does not include the salaries paid by sever public administration bodies which failed to submit the requested information, avoiding this duty in various ways, and limiting the comprehensiveness of the study. The bodies in question are three ministries (Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Education and Sports and Ministry of Land and Maritime Transport) and four directorates (Directorate for Anti-Corruption Initiative, Directorate for Lottery Games, Real Estate Directorate and Directorate for Youth and Sports). As some of these ministries and directorates are very large bodies, it is safe to assume that the total amount of wages and benefits to top officials is in reality much larger.

Similarly, the responses which followed the publication of this study indicate that the public still has no information on the earnings of some o the ministers, see http://cgo-cce.org/en/2013/08/03/mnogo-nejasnoca-koje-traze-odgovore-nadleznih-institucija/#.UiiOohajDfY

For the largest part, employees of public administration bodies have no understanding of the purpose and importance of the Law on Free Access to information, and the duty they have to abide by its clauses, both regard to the deadlines and the content of deliverables. The impression we got is that there is not even the minimum sense of responsibility in public administration when it comes to the requirements of this law. It is especially worrying that the law is systematically ignored by some of the largest and systemically most important ministries such as the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Education and Sports and Ministry of Transport and Maritime, as well as by other important bodies.

The findings indicate a conscious choice of a non-transparent approach, which is pervasive in some public administration bodies, raising concerns about their level of adherence to other laws. CCE believes it would be useful for the NGOs and media do keep “black” and “white” lists, ranking public administration bodies according to their readiness to respect hte Law on Free Access to Information, in order to influence them to become more open, but also in order to point to the responsibility of the leading officials who are paid by the taxpayers to serve public interest, not to hide information from the citizens and violate the laws.

Even the most superficial comparison of the practices related to the law on free access to information in Montenegro in 2011, 2012 and 2013, i.e. the transparency, speed and quality of information acquired according to the same procedures in these three years indicates that public administration bodies are becoming less open to the public, that they are showing higher propensity to ignore the law which obliges them to act transparently, and that they are becoming highly intolerant in their communication with the citizens who request information of public interest.

Negative trends in the transparency of public administration bodies, in the context of Montenegro’s progress towards European Union, are worrying and certainly cast doubts on the genuine commitment of the Government of Montenegro to this process, which is also supposed to improve the quality of the rule of law in the country, including conscientious adherence to the laws, above all those written and adopted by the same authorities. Moreover, this “closure” of public administration bodies sends the wrong message to the overall process of cooperation between the Government and the civil sector. This cooperation cannot be reduced to programmes of information and education – it must also cover exchange of information, however sensitive they might seem to the public administration bodies.

Vladimir Vučković
Programme assistant