Who and why abolishes public discussions on key regulations

The Government of Montenegro, without public discussion, in a secret process and without any involvement of the public, passed the Amendments to the Law on State Administration. Amendments to the Law were determined at the session of 16 November 2017. Text of the amendments was not submitted for consideration even to the Public Administration Reform Council – an advisory body of the Government, which entirely paradoxically was precisely established in order to consider draft of regulations, strategic, planning and analytical documents in connection with public administration reform. The Law on State Administration is one of the key laws in the area of public administration reform.

With Amendments to the Law on State Administration, the Government has restricted implementation of public discussions ‘when the law, ie the strategy regulates issues in the area of defense and security and the annual budget; in emergency, urgent or unforeseeable circumstances; when the matter is not significantly regulated by law’. With this broad formulation, ministries have been given the opportunity to choose when to conduct a public discussion, namely, to avoid involvement of the public in the process of adopting acts of their choice.

Regarding the budget, the key reform document in this area, the Public Finance Management Reform Programme (integral part of the Public Administration Reform Strategy 2016-2020), has an objective to have greater openness and transparency of the state budget. The budget calendar defined by the Law on Budget and Fiscal Responsibility does not exclude possibility of a public discussion on the annual budget proposal, although the Ministry of Finance has not organized it so far. Instead of taking further steps in this direction, now another law is deemed to permanently provide public exclusion from the budget formulation process. We remind that public discussions on the budget of local self-governments are an explicit legal obligation, and that public discussion on the state budget is attempted to be explicitly prohibited by this proposal. Thus we come to a new paradox, which is that citizens are invited to participate in public budget discussions in their municipalities, while they are forbidden to participate in discussions on the state budget. It is obvious that the Government treats the state budget as a property that belongs to the Government, not to the citizens.

We are additionally surprised by these solutions because, as much as last year, the Ministry of the Interior, when discussing the Draft Decree on procedure and manner of conducting a public discussion in the preparation of the law, accepted the proposal of a number of NGOs to delete the prohibition of public discussion from this by-law act. The MI Directorate, who then accepted this proposal, is the same Directorate that has now directed the Government an exact opposite solution and is made by the very same officials who now work in the ministry with another name.

Therefore, we ask the MPA: what happened in the meantime that has influenced change in the attitude about public participation in creation of the most important legal acts? As it is stated in the MPA response, this decision was made in consultation with other bodies, so we ask: which bodies/ministries have proposed these regressive solutions? Could ministers of these departments, the Minister of Finance and the Minister of the Interior, have possibly asked for such solutions? If so, the public should be provided with an explanation of such a request so that even such argumentation can be objectively considered.

The offered response of MPA is unconvincing and does not provide opportunity for further argumentative discussion. The MPA states that the draft law prohibits public discussion for the law on budget and in the area of security and defence, in order to ‘create conditions for a quick reaction under a shortened procedure in certain emergency and urgent situations’. We estimate that it is about creating permanent exceptions in areas in which the public will never be consulted, either in an urgent or regular procedure.

From the so far reaction of the MPA in regards to this issue, we notice that the Government of Dusko Markovic has a new policy that differs from the previous Government, but which is worse for transparency and cooperation with non-governmental organizations and citizens. Amendments to the Law on State Administration are just one of a series of regressive policy trends of this Government towards the general public in the past year.

The Coalition of NGOs Cooperation to the Goal currently brings together 99 NGOs from the entire Montenegro and represents a largest organized coalition of NGOs in Montenegro.

Ana Novakovic

President of Management Board

  • Centre for Civic Education (CCE) is a member of the Coalition of NGOs Cooperation to the Goal, and in this capacity has a representative in the MB.