Pandora’s box of SEC and blind eye of the Agency for Personal Protection Data

Centre for Civic Education (CCE) received from the State Election Commission (SEC), in line with the Free Access to Information Law, service contracts that the SEC signed with employees of the Parliament of Montenegro, and these undoubtedly open a new affair related to the work of this institution.

Temporary service contracts were concluded with 10 employees, as stated, to verify signatures of support submitted by the electoral lists for parliamentary elections held on 30 August 2020. In overall, these envisage obligations in terms of data entry, control and matching of data to the submitted signatures of support, while part of the contracts also refers to the numbering of the submitted lists, administration, as well as design and maintenance of the website, and finally coordination tasks, work on application solution and reporting.

Insight into these contracts, but also into the Agreement on professional and technical cooperation to which the SEC refers in these contracts, leads to the obvious conclusion that there is no part which stipulates any obligations for the employees of the Parliament that would refer to the manner of processing personal data of citizens. The controllers of the Agency for personal data protection and free access to information were obliged to take notes about this when, pursuant to a CCE initiative, they supervised the SEC and found that allegedly there were no irregularities in their work.

According to regulations and practices in the field of personal data protection, these employees of the Parliament had to have precisely defined obligations regarding the storage, processing, and destruction of personal data to be able to say that the signature verification was carried out legally. It is incomprehensible how such things could have been missed by the controllers of the Agency for personal data protection. Furthermore, the Agency for personal data protection in its record stated that 11 employees were engaged for these jobs, while the SEC submitted to the CCE documentation for 10, and even that puts into question the factual situation established by the Agency for personal data protection. It all strengthens reasonable doubts about the independence and impartiality of the Agency, which with this superficial approach protects more the state bodies and responsible officials than the citizens of Montenegro, which is its duty.

Temporary service contracts also predict compensation for employees of the Parliament. Hence, the employees of the Parliament – Vasilije Popović, Petar Mijović, Petar Vujović, Jovana Petrušić,  Martin Popović, and Lazar Jakić earned EUR 1,500 each, employee Hajdana Boričić EUR 700, employee Ana Krstović EUR 2,000, and employees Srđan Tomović and Vuko Perišić EUR 3,000, ie.  EUR 3,200. In total, 10 employees of Parliament of Montenegro on the eve of the elections earned 17,900 EUR in three days, according to the contracts which were concluded on 13/08/2020 and having in mind that on 16/08/2020 last signature verification reports were already referred to the SEC. These amounts significantly exceed the average monthly earnings in Montenegro, and we believe their (multi)monthly salaries in the Parliament of Montenegro.

It is also unknown on what basis one part of the employees of the Parliament earned 700 EUR and the others 1500 EUR, as their contracts are identical in terms of scope of work and obligations. Also, it is unknown how the contract concluded with Srđan Tomović stipulates the obligation to create a website having into account that this site existed since the 2018 Presidential elections. On the official lists of employees of the Parliament of Montenegro from July and September 2020, the name of Srđan Tomović does not exist, which raises the question of whether that person works in Parliament, which is why we call on the new leadership of the Parliament of Montenegro to check the basis of this engagement.

Furthermore, the expertise of those hired to verify the signatures of support is unclear, because it is not just about people from the IT sector but also to those from the Department of Protocol or the Department of Phonography and Printing of Records, whose job descriptions do not correspond to the job descriptions they performed in the SEC. For example, for the processing of the signature of support was engaged the person who is, amongst the other, in the Parliament in charge of monitoring of the work of sessions, keeping records and statistics on the number of speeches by MPs and their duration, or a person which job description relates to the preparation of halls, salons and other premises during visits of domestic and foreign delegation.

The contracts, signed on behalf of the SEC by President Aleksa Ivanović and Secretary Veljo Čadjenović, open the question of another job given under non-transparent circumstances to privileged persons and paid with taxpayers’ money, which should be the subject of interest of the competent authority. Also, the CCE will following with the collected documentation submit a supplement to the previously submitted criminal charge to the competent Prosecutor’s concerning to the so-called software support to the SEC.

CCE also expresses hope that any further activity aimed at monitoring the work of the SEC will not necessarily lead to the involvement of other bodies that are carrying out controls or investigative actions, how this has so far, unfortunately, been the case.

Daliborka Uljarević, Executive director