Cooperation of Government and NGO: one step forward, three backwards

A year of work of the Government of Montenegro, led by Prime Minister Dusko Markovic, has passed into an unexpectedly extremely unfavorable atmosphere for work and operation of non-governmental organizations. Namely, the Government has not made a single positive move towards fostering cooperation with the non-governmental sector, and certain Government actions in this field have taken us several years backwards.

Specifically, the Government of Montenegro has produced a Strategy for Enhancement of Encouraging Environment for Action of NGOs 2018-2020 in this year, without participation of NGOs to the end of this process. Something like this did not happen even in 2009 when the first Strategy for Cooperation between Government and NGOs was drafted. Even eight years ago, the Government recognized the need to involve NGO representatives in drafting a document that relates precisely to the position and work of NGOs. Now even this is being annulled. The Government itself completed the Strategy, feigning ‘involvement’ of NGOs by ‘enabling’ us to give opinions and suggestions at public discussion, when the possibility of influence on the document is very limited, although it is difficult to intervene on content of the document because of many deficiencies. No positive comment from the NGO representatives at the public discussion was directed to the Government Draft Strategy. It is therefore clear that, if such version of the Strategy is adopted, it will not help the further development of NGOs, but it can only serve the Government for formal reporting toward international actors.

The Government has adopted the Law on Amendments to the Law on Non-Governmental Organizations. However, the Decision on priority areas and the amount of funds for financing is far from needs of non-governmental sector. Six ministries did not plan funding for NGO projects in 2018 at all, as follows: the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Public Administration, the Ministry of Science, the Ministry of Sustainable Development and Tourism, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The Government has not solved the issue of the Council for Development of Non-Governmental Organizations for the full 12 months. Although the steps to concretely resolve the problem in the work of this body have been suggested to the President of the Government on several occasions, the Prime Minister did not even reply to letters of the Council members – representatives of NGOs. For a full year this body is not functioning, while significant legislation for NGOs is in large extent being adopted, about which the Council should be declaring itself. It is obvious that it is suitable for the Government for the laws and strategies to be passed without substantial consultation with the non-governmental sector.

The Government’s relationship towards NGOs is also well spoken by the statement of Prime Minister Dusko Markovic from September this year ‘Non-governmental organizations deem the entire year and every day to be in some kind of abuse because they live from donations rather than from real-field activities’, but from yesterday’s press conference during which he problematized the right of NGOs to have a critical review of the Government’s work. With these statements, the President of the Government has revealed a true relation towards the non-governmental sector, which irresistibly reminds of attitudes of his predecessor and represents a continuity of the extremely negative governmental relation towards NGOs. It is precisely these statements that are a sign to governmental and pro-governmental machinery to continue with filthy campaigns against those in the NGO sector who are not to the Government’s liking, to what we have been witnesses also in the past year.

The relationship of the Government towards the NGOs is well illustrated by the statement of the Prime Minister Duško Marković from this September “Non-governmental organisations during entire year and every single day see some misuse as they live from donations and not from field activities”, as well as from yesterday’s press conference when he challenged the right of NGOs to have critical stance concerning the work of the Government.

With an unconvincing explanation, the Government evaded to define policy and procedures for allocation of space and land in ownership for use of NGOs, although this was a strong recommendation from the European Commission, emphasized in the EC Report for Montenegro from 2016, but also of the Joint Consultative Committee of the EU and Montenegro in May 2017. The lack of transparent procedures in this area still leaves room for the Government to make discretionary decisions on which NGOs will be ceded land or space, certainly with regard to their political suitability, which the Government is indeed doing. Coalition of NGOs ‘Cooperation to the Goal’ has submitted to the President of the Government a concrete proposal of the by-law that regulates this issue in detail, adhering to the practices of EU countries, but no response has been received. President of the Government probably knows why he wants this area to remain unregulated.

In addition to these largest and systemically important problems, during these years we have had a series of concrete examples of attempts by the Government to intervene in the autonomous field of NGO sector operation.

Therefore, we conclude that a year of the work of this Government continued with a negative trend in relation towards non-governmental sector, which leaves no room for optimism, and in many ways, returns us back significantly.

NGO Coalition ‘Through Cooperation to the Goal’ currently gathers 99 non-governmental organizations from the entire Montenegro and represents a largest organized coalition of NGOs in Montenegro.

Ana Novakovic

President of the Managing Bord

  • Centre for Civic Education (CCE) is member of the NGO Coalition ‘Through Cooperation to the Goal’, and  in that capacity has also representative in the Managing Board