Political will is crucial in the fight against corruption at the local level

Podgorica, PR Press Service – Although there is a great responsibility of the local authorities, corruption at the local level is not only local problem, and the fight against corruption requires multisectoral and comprehensive response.

This was concluded at the annual national conference on fighting against corruption at the local level, organized by the Centre for Civic Education (CCE).

CCE Executive Director, Daliborka Uljarevic said that grey channels of various interests are the way of spreading corruption throughout the system.

She assessed that in order for society to say that it has become resistant to systemic corruption it must have accountable and controlled decision-makers in all relevant institutions, final verdicts for high-level corruption, but also proactive citizens.

CGO - Politička volja ključna u borbi protiv korupcije na lokalnom nivou

‘This is the only way we can develop sustainable prevention system, and only in such a context repressive measures will not be an instrument of political clashes, but an expression of dedicated and indiscriminate fight against corruption that will  change our society for the better,’ stated Uljarević.

According to her, the prerequisite for successful fight against corruption are the existence of unquestionable political will, functioning anti-corruption legislative and institutional framework, as well as continuous, consistent and substantive implementation of strategic documents.

‘Consequently, the lack track record should be sought in the absence of political will, inefficiency of the existing system, but also in the formalistic approach to this issue taken by the competent institutions at national and local level,’ explained Uljarević.

She also assessed that ‘key levers of the fight against corruption have an excess of undue political influence and lack of integrity, professionalism and courage, which is a serious constraint of the essential fight against corruption.’

Uljarevic recommends to the Government to change the system of unequal treatment of municipalities depending on who manages them, and to the Prosecution, Agency for Prevention of Corruption (APC) and the State Audit Institution (SAI) to give the necessary stamp to fight against corruption, ‘without selectivity and inertia that characterizes their work today.’

‘I believe that our citizens realized that the fight against corruption and its bearers essentially represents fight for our future and better quality of life,’ she stated with conclusion that ‘the development of civic activism is the hardest strike for systemic corruption.’

Executive Director at Centre for Monitoring and Research (CeMI), Nikoleta Djukanovic, while presentinh report on the effectiveness of competent state prosecutions and courts in fight against corruption, noted that concerning small number of corruption cases is observed, which were initiated in 2017 and 2018.

‘This trend is also typical for the previous period. A significant number of Basic State Prosecutions did not have cases for this type of crime at all,’ Djukanovic said.

She explained that only six Prosecutor’s Offices responded, although they sent a request for free access to information to each one, with the assessment that there is no unique methodological approach for keeping records of this type of crime, ‘which we consider problematic, given their importance.’

‘Two cases in Kotor are in progress against five persons for the criminal offense misconducts in public office. Four criminal charges have been filed in Ulcinj in relation to corruption at the local level. In Rozaje, we have two cases related to violation of equality in employment, one case concerning evasion of taxes and contributions, persuasion to certifying false content and three cases concerning misconducts in public office. The Prosecutions in Kolasin and Pljevlja informed us that they did not have any cases related to the prosecution of corruption,’ Djukanovic elaborated.

‘It is worrying that the number of unresolved criminal charges against payment transactions and business conduct is increasing,’ Djukanovic pointed.

She said that the fight against corruption at the local level should be conducted also within the Basic State Prosecutor’s Offices and Basic Courts.

‘When we analysed the processed and resolved cases of high corruption and money laundering at the local level, it was noticeable that there has been an increase in the number of pending charges related to high corruption. There are more charges in 2017 than in 2018, but there are smaller number of unsolved cases in 2017 than in 2018,’ Djukanovic said.

She also claimed that the number of pending charges for crimes of high corruption is growing. ‘At the end of 2017, that number was 33, and at the end of 2018, 53 charges were unresolved,” Djukanovic specified.

CGO - Politička volja ključna u borbi protiv korupcije na lokalnom nivou

Head of Cooperation in the EU Delegation to Montenegro, Hermann Spitz, said that good functioning of the rule of law is a fundamental requirement for a democratic country.

‘This is why the reforms in the area of ​​the rule of law are important and critical, and the EU has emphasized on numerous occasions that Montenegro’s progress in reforming the rule of law sector will set the speed of accession negotiations,’ Spic said.

He assessed that decentralization of governance and public accountability of decision-makers at the local level are prerequisites for an effective fight against corruption, especially given that the local self-government level is the closest to the citizens.

‘Preventing corruption contributes to the growth of municipal revenues and, thus to greater opportunities for local community development. It also leads to the improvement of the quality of citizen-related services, that place citizen at the centre of attention of local authorities and encourages public confidence in their work,’ he said.

He noted that he was pleased to see more and more Montenegrin citizens at the local level ‘raising their voices’, pointing to corruption cases and taking action to protect public interest. ‘Voicing their dissatisfaction is not only a citizen’s right, it is also a citizen’s duty,’ emphasized Spitz.

‘Turning a blind eye to corruption means denying citizens the advantages of development, including quality of services. The use of public resources must serve the public, and not the interests of a few,’ he emphasized.

‘Corruption at the local level, as in any other field, will not vanish on its own. It requires painful cuts and effective processes conducted by competent authorities, as well as firm political will,’ Spitz said.

Minister of Public Administration, Suzana Pribilovic, thanked to the CCE and CEMI, as well as their partner organizations at the local level for ‘persistent contribution to improving transparency of local self-governments and anti-corruption policies through these activities.’

She stated that corruption jeopardizes the universal principle of equality of citizens before the law which has broader implications.

‘Therefore, the fight against corruption at the local level, as the first and the closest level to citizens and the economy, represents a key challenge in the rule of law building, as the foundation of a democratic society that Montenegro also strives for,’ she said.

‘Unfortunately, we often forget that one of the basic characteristics of democracy is the transparency of the system. In transparency lies the beginning and end of all our efforts to fight corruption… We are aware of the fact that good public administration is only the one that is genuine service of citizens at all levels and at any times, and which is aware that it exists for the citizens who pay it,’ underlined Pribilovic.

She recalled that in the previous period, through the adoption of the new Law on Local Self-Government and the Open Government Partnership Action Plan, the Ministry has initiated series of activities that should contribute to improvement of the transparency of local self-governments.

‘At the same time, through the implementation of the optimization process, as well as the appropriate implementation of the new Law on Civil Servants and State Employees at the local level, we have significantly improved the transparency of the employment process, and generally the civil servant system, which represents the engine of every quality administration’, explained Pribilovic.

She recalled that Government had also adopted an Operational document for the prevention of corruption in areas of particular risk –  as an Annex to the Action Plan for Chapter 23 – Judiciary and Fundamental Rights, that amongst seven areas of particular risk for corruption encompasses the area of local self-government. Finally, she expressed confidence that ‘local self-governments will also focus their activities on implementing local action plans to combat corruption in the coming period.’

State Secretary at the Ministry of Finance, Nemanja Katnic, stated that this sector is focused on strengthening the stability of public finances, establishment of an effective regulation, as well as increasing of the transparency of the system with full awareness that reducing the risk of corruption is one of the prerequisite for successful implementation of reforms.

‘In that regard, progress in achieving that long-term objective also depends on the introduction of internal controls. A well-established system of internal controls significantly reduces the possibility of corruption in public sector entities’, highlighted Katnic.

According to him, strengthening responsibility for decisions and budget management is crucial for effective state administration and the fight against corruption within it.

‘The Ministry of Finance has recognized the importance of establishing a risk management process in the public sector and through the Law on governance and internal controls in the public sector it provided solid framework for managerial accountability and establishment of internal controls for risk management, including corruption risks’, Katnic said.

As he pointed out, referring to the relationship between Government and local self-governments, the intention to strengthen the stability of local self-government finances also resulted in the new Law on Local Self-Government Financing.

‘The solutions from the Law improve the system of control and earmarked spending of budget funds and establish a greater degree of budgetary fiscal discipline by local self-government units’, he concluded.

Programme associate in the CCE, Mira Popovic, while presenting some of the key findings of the annual report on the implementation of mechanisms for prevention and fight against corruption at the local level in Montenegro, explained that there is continuous practice of inertia of municipal governments in fulfilment of commitments defined by national documents, ‘including the lack of proactivity, i.e. initiative for their own designed activities’.

‘The activities of the central government in establishing the institutional and legislative anti-corruption framework still have not achieved a visible effect on the local level government in the area of implementation of adequate anti-corruption policies and mechanisms’, Popovic noted.

She said that integrity plans as new mechanism for preventing the emergence and development of corrupt behaviour within the local self-government bodies in Montenegro, in the so far implementation, proved dysfunctional.

CGO - Politička volja ključna u borbi protiv korupcije na lokalnom nivou

The project “Let’s put corruption into museum!” is implemented by the CCE in cooperation with NGO Centre for Monitoring and Research (CeMI), NGO Bonum from Pljevlja, NGO UL-Info from Ulcinj and NGO Za Druga from Petrovac, with the Anti-corruption Agency as associate and with the support of EU Delegation to Montenegro and Ministry of Public Administration.