Centre for Civic Education (CCE) today sent the new urgency to the new composition of the Council of the Agency for Prevention of Corruption (APC) for precise information concerning the outcome of the Initiative for launching proceedings against MPs who failed to report accurate and complete data in the 2017 revenue and property reports of the public officials, which was submitted by the CCE on 14 May 2018.
A year and three months ago, the CCE filed an Initiative requesting APC to establish liability and to initiate misdemeanor proceedings against 25 MPs of Montenegrin Parliament who did not report data on income and assets pursuant to the Law on Prevention of Corruption, which is directly related to the variable received by the MPs in December 2017. The CCE found that 24 of then MPs were in violation of the Law on Prevention of Corruption, as well as one former MP who became the mayor during the submission of the Initiative. They violated Articles 9, 23 and 24 of the Law on Prevention of Corruption, which stipulate the obligation of public official to report to the APC the accurate and complete information on the income s/he obtains by exercising an activity, and that the public official is obliged to give accurate and complete information in the report on revenues and assets, i.e. that the report contains all information regarding the public function he performs and which includes all revenues.
Even after a year and three months and a series of urgencies and requests, the CCE did not receive definitive and precise information from the APC. We were only able to find out that proceedings were initiated against eight (8) MPs on the basis of the CCE Initiative, but neither we were given their names nor what was the result of these proceedings.
Also, it was explained to us in the same letter that ‘in relation to the other 17 proceedings were not initiated because the though the checking it was found that 9 MPs amended the Report concerning the given variable before the Initiative was submitted, while in the Reports of the remaining 8, there are small discrepancies in income, which are consequence of the calculation of the crisis tax on personal income in the reports of the Departure of Public Revenues’. The CCE has to date not received the names of MPs by these categories, nor the explanation how it can be possible that certain MPs could have amended the report after the deadline for its submission, which was obviously incomplete and incorrect, and which represent violation of those articles of the Law on Prevention on Corruption, outlined by the CCE Initiative. Also, the Law on Prevention of Corruption does not recognize ‘small discrepancies in revenues’.
The CCE wants to believe that the new APC Council, although elected only by the votes of the ruling majority, will not have the restriction that such election carries, and will contribute to the final processing of this Initiative and to inform the CCE as the applicant of its outcome. Also, the CCE wants to believe that the new composition of the APC Council will not have selective approach to public officials, and that in this particular case it will find mechanism to ensure that this Initiative is legally processed, given that there is already established practice of sanctioning public officials for such omissions. The session of the APC Council is tomorrow, on 20 August 2019 and it is open to the media.
The CCE recalls that APC has repeatedly and promptly initiated proceedings against critics of the governing structure and with less basis and clarity than the CCE’s Initiative contains. Therefore, it is even more strange that for a year and three months, the APC cannot determine whether 25 MPs of governing structure have incorrectly declared their revenues, and it particularly concerns the creative interpretation of legal norms in an attempt to protect a number of these MPs from consistent law enforcement. It seems that during this period, since the Initiative was submitted, the APC was much more dedicated to protecting these MPs than to lawfully prosecute them, thereby further eroding its credibility, as also noted in the EC Montenegro 2019 Report, which brings number of very serious objections to the work of the APC. It is the credibility, independence and prioritization of work that are identified as challenges that APC must address urgently.
Montenegro needs strong anti-corruption institutions that enforce the law in non-discriminatory manner and within their powers, and which are resistent to under undue political influence. From an institution established to fight corruption, the APC has allowed itself to be an actor in several high-profile cases of confrontation with critics of the Montenegrin authorities. It is up to the new APC Council to demonstrate whether it will continue the work of the previous one or make necessary cuts that the interested public has expected for long time. That is why, with this urgency, the CCE sets the first test towards the new APC Council to find out as soon as possible whether that Council will work for the benefit of those who voted for it or in the public interest.
Željka Ćetković, Programme Associate