SSP to process organised abuse of the official position in the former MESCS

Centre for Civic Education (CCE) has submitted, along with part of the evidence, to the Special State Prosecutor’s Office (SSP) a criminal complaint against the former leadership of the Ministry of Education, Science, Culture and Sports (MESCS), headed with Vesna Bratić, due to the organized abuse of official position, in the manner that they illegally dismissed the directors of educational institutions in 2021, which has so far produced damage based on the Government’s estimate of around EUR 300,000 for the Budget of Montenegro.

The damage was caused by the actions of the then management of MESCS, which carried out an unprecedented process of mass dismissal of directors of public educational institutions, which resulted in over 150 lawsuits against those directors as injured persons. So far, around 60 final verdicts have been handed down, which confirm that these people were unlawfully dismissed in 2021. According to the data of the current leadership of the Ministry of Education, which were presented on 22 December 2022 at the Government session, that damage will reach the amount of about 300,000 EUR only for the completed procedures, and many are still ongoing and the damage will increase as the procedures are completed, according to the established judicial practice that confirms the illegality of these dismissals.

CCE indicates that the General Law on Education should ensure independent and impartial treatment during the election and dismissal of directors of public educational institutions. However, in practice, numerous cases were noted in which the spirit of this law was not respected during the work of all previous governments. This gained momentum with the amendments to the General Law on Education, from June 2021, which served as the basis for the controversial dismissal of directors in over 220 public educational institutions and the selection and employment of new directors. As this was preceded by the change of the multi-decade government in Montenegro, it was noticeable the intention of the then Minister of Education to replace the directors of public institutions of education and upbringing only because they were appointed by the previous government, and in order to have benefit for the representatives of the new government, among whom also Bratić, who strengthened her position with the part of the public in favour of those political structures.

CCE notes that this was not preceded by any individual assessment of their work, which was also reflected in the examples of the dismissal of deceased persons. This induced the initiation of more than 157 court proceedings by the dismissed directors, as also reported by Bratić, answering a parliamentary question in November 2021. The first first-instance court decisions soon began to arrive, and already dozens of final judgments in favour of the damaged parties, with with the tendency that, in accordance with the established judicial practice, all disputes of the damaged directors, resulting from the illegal and non-transparent process of dismissal, will be concluded in their favour. The Protector of Property and Legal Interests has announced recourse lawsuits against all those who, by exercising public authority, caused damage and future court proceedings, which the CCE welcomes.

It is important to note that the leadership of the then Ministry was publicly warned by a number of actors, including the CCE, that the announced mass dismissal process would be illegal. This indicates that the minister and her associates consciously and in organised manner abused their official position through a series of actions, which is why they are directly responsible for the damage caused. Bearing in mind that element of organisation in the illegal dismissal of the director, as well as the extent of the damage, which is all confirmed by the final judgments, the CCE assesses that the SSP is the institution that should process this case.

The CCE also reminds that this is the second criminal complaint that the CCE submitted to the SSP against the former leadership of the MESCSThe first one refers to the findings from the double negative opinion of the State Audit Institution (SAI) on the manner of financial management in that Ministry by the responsible persons, and based on it, the competent special prosecutor gave an order to the Special Police Department (SPD) to collect and seize financial and related documentation from the Ministry, as well as to collect information from Bratić, in the capacity of citizen, and other management persons (all state secretaries and general directors of all directorates), and if necessary from other persons, for the period covered by the SAI report. The CCE has no information on whether Bratić and the others have really been questioned about this case so far.

The CCE expects SSP to act efficiently on these reports, bearing in mind that it is about the officially established findings of the SAI, in the first case, that is, the court-determined harmful consequences, in the case of the second report, and by that the SSP would confirm its non-selectivity in the work.

Snežana Kaluđerović, Senior Legal Advisor