SEC did not fulfill OSCE recommendations, but additionally regressed

Centre for Civic Education (CCE) points out that the evident non-transparent work of the State Election Commission (SEC) starts to position itself as a negative factor in the assessment of the overall election process. The SEC has managed to make numerous controversial decisions in the past few months, to which the CCE duly warned, but also prosecuted some of them to the competent authorities to bring the SEC’s work within the framework of legality and best practices with joint efforts.

The central work of the SEC remains shrouded in secrecy. Notices of SEC’s sessions are published on the website shortly before, during and sometimes after the end of the sessions. The media cannot directly cover the SEC’s sessions, and press releases from these sessions are rare and crude, as well as the minutes themselves, which are published only after the next session. A single appearance of the SEC’s spokesperson, Mersudin Dautovic, was noted, and it provided more arguments to the critics of the SEC’s work than success in defending the SEC’s positions. Brief, but interesting, the CCE’s experience in observing SEC’s sessions reinforces our recommendation that SEC’s sessions must be open to direct media coverage of the discussion and positions of all its members.

The CCE notes the violation of the Law on Free Access to Information by the SEC, which is why we have so far submitted several complaints to the Agency for Protection of Personal Data and Free Access to Information.

Namely, the CCE did not receive from the SEC information related to the procedure and conditions of renting workspace in the hotel ‘Hilton’, as well as whether the SEC tried to find a solution through the use of some state-owned space before renting an expensive hall in this hotel. It is known to the public that the Government has allocated tens of thousands of euros for this purpose from the Current Budget Reserves, at the request of the SEC. The public should hear from the SEC why they chose this over-priced, and we suspect – illegal solution at a time of great economic uncertainty.

Also, the SEC did not submit to the CCE any documentation related to information on the use of software of Vuk Perisic, a former DPS councillor and employee in the Parliament of Montenegro. The public is aware that the OSCE Mission donated software for the same purpose to the SEC last year, and the SEC’s explanations that ‘Vuk Perisic’s software is faster than the one donated by the OSCE’ as well as that it requires the entry of a smaller amount of personal data, i.e. only unique identity number (JMBG), sound unconvincing, bearing in mind that for every citizen, when entering JMBG, a name also appears, which indicates the unauthorized generation of personal data in the software of Vuk Perisic with full SEC’s awareness of it. This case indicates a relaxed attitude towards public funds during the economic crisis, but also towards jeopardizing the protection of personal data.

CCE submitted two criminal charges to the Supreme State Prosecutor’s Office due to suspicion of abuses of official position in these two cases. Furthermore, in the case of software, we sent the Initiative to the Agency for Protection of Personal Data and Free Access to Information to initiate the inspection procedure.

CCE received partial information concerning part of financial management of the SEC, so we requested the SEC to execute the decision on approving access to information that they did not provide. Moreover, we urged the Agency for Free Access to Information to act in accordance with their competencies. Earlier, we pointed out the disputable decision on additional fees to SEC members.

The State Audit Institution (SAI), according to available data, has never conducted an audit in the SEC. Therefore, the CCE sent the Initiative to the SAI to give priority to the SEC’s financial operations during 2020 in its audit plan for 2021. We hope that the SAI senators will have an understanding for our Initiative, especially having in mind only a part of the controversy within the SEC’s finances that we have detected in the past few months, and that they will finally conduct an audit of this institution.

There are only 10 days until the parliamentary elections, and despite ‘faster’ software solutions, the public has not been given official information on the total number of signatures of support and their number on electoral lists, the information on how many signatures the SEC did not consider valid, nor which electoral lists submitted those signatures and how many of them. The SEC did not provide data on the number of citizens who reported the misuse of signatures, and it is not known what the SEC does in such cases.

Finally, the SEC did not explain to the public what was the determining factor in choosing a small printing house in Bijelo Polje for printing ballots, which has no previous experience in that business, nor whether and how it verified their capacity to do it properly. The public only knows that the ownership structure of that printing house is related to one of the candidates on the DPS electoral list, which, in addition to all other suspicious activities of the SEC, further puts into question the objectivity of the SEC.

In the reports for the previous elections, the OSCE recommended a significant improvement of the transparency of the SEC’s work, and in this year’s preliminary report it pointed out the deficiencies in this area. However, instead of progress, we note regression on all indicators, as well as that the SEC continues to create material that puts into question the legitimacy of the election process. CCE again urges all stakeholders to pay full attention to the SEC because we are concern that this kind of SEC’s work, accompanied by violations of the law and the Constitution, in drafting the Technical Recommendations, has no prospect of good assessments in international reports, and all this may open numerous questions in Montenegro as well.

Damir Suljevic, programme associate